I'm the only remote worker in my team at work. This is hardly surprising since Facebook is well known to be way over on the "not only colocated but in an open office" side of the work-environment spectrum. Last week, I wrote an internal post about dealing with remote workers. My team has actually been pretty great about that, BTW, and about putting up with me in other ways as well. Still, one of the points I was making was about the importance of writing stuff down, so it only seemed fair that I follow my own advice. I've been down this road before, so I read Brian de Haaff's article in Inc with some interest. Unfortunately, I think the article makes things sound too easy. For one thing, it relies heavily on self-reported figures to make its points.
According to a nationwide survey, 65 percent of workers said that remote work would give their productivity a boost. Another 86 percent said that working alone allows them to hit maximum productivity.
An astounding 92 percent of workers say the video collaboration actually improves their teamwork.
That first "65 percent" is particularly suspicious. "Would give" implies that the respondents weren't even remote workers. That means it's a guess, or a hypothetical result of a change they desire. But let's look at the actual claim it's attached to.
With no office distractions and greater autonomy, remote workers have the freedom to get more done.
"No office distractions" doesn't mean no distractions. Believe me, I know. A large part of the reason I work remotely is so that "distractions" such as caring for family or doing stuff around the house can be taken care of with a minimum of context-switch time. Brian even sort of alludes to this later when he talks about "designing their workday" but it has its dark side too. I work from home most of the time but also spend about a week a month on-site with my team (an important part of remote-worker success IMO) and I find little difference in distraction levels. They're just different distractions.
Another downside to working alone (which is not quite the same as working remotely but close enough for current purposes) is that there's no social pressure to stay focused. Even in offices I see people who spend half the day surfing or doing other things instead of working. The temptation to do even more of that is even greater when nobody can see. I admit that I've occasionally yielded to temptation and spent part of my "work" day playing video games. I make up for it later in the day (which actually ends up working quite well because of time-zone) issues, but it takes a significant application of will. One of the most important points that I think anyone writing about remote work needs to address is that working remotely requires more self discipline than working in an office. I'm fortunate to have a personality that works for that, but not everyone does.
Speaking of self discipline, that brings us to another of Brian's points.
Despite the distance, remote workers make the best teammates. This is because that distance demands more communication
Demanding more communication doesn't make anyone a better teammate. Having that communication does, and that doesn't just happen on its own. One of the hardest parts about working remotely is the discipline of everyone on the team writing stuff down and making sure everyone who needs to be included in a conversation is. Part of the reason it's hard is that the very same kind of person who's mostly likely to benefit from working remotely is also likely to be the kind of person who does not enjoy trying to influence others' behavior. Teammates resist some of these habits, and not without reason because their old "everything happens face to face" habits really are more convenient for them. Sometimes they even resent being asked to change. That doesn't mean the change shouldn't occur, but it is definitely a significant challenge that has to be overcome before claims about the benefits of remote work become reality.
I don't mean to be too hard on Brian. He was clearly trying to cover the topic in a hurry - this post already contains more words than the text version of his article - and when you do that nuances get left out. I think it's great that he's working to enable and encourage remote work. However, I think the result needs to be taken with a big grain of salt. Like many things, remote work can be great but only once the price is paid and even then it just might not be for everyone. People and companies need to think very carefully about what they're willing to do and what results they expect to get from remote work.