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Are Your Remote Workers Just Pretending to Work?

remote workers

Do remote workers get more or less done compared to their colleagues? The debate rages on. We’ve seen great things from remote workers, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t outliers. We recently witnessed an executive-level sales professional caught in the act of NOT working for months while collecting a handsome compensation. There are even reports of fake candidates getting jobs (and access to sensitive data). Thankfully those instances are few and far between, but what if you simply suspect your remote workers aren’t pulling their weight?

Is Remote Work the Problem?

Elon Musk famously insinuated that remote workers mostly fake working. At face value, a study by Qatalog and Gitlab confirms this. But we looked closer. In the survey, 2,000 knowledge workers admit to pretending to OVERWORK and creating an illusion of being “always on” to satisfy their bosses. Findings show employees spend an extra 67 minutes online due to obvious (unspoken) pressure that adds an additional 5.5 hours to their workweeks. More than half feel pressure to show their managers and peers they are online and working at certain times, and a whopping 73% find it awkward not to reply to emails and texts after hours. Another survey, this one by Preply, found that 44% of remote workers and 33% of bosses have faked being active on a work chat app.

At the same time, Zippa found that 40% of remote workers claimed that working remotely increased their productivity. Other studies show that those who work from home spend 10 minutes less a day being unproductive, work one more day a week, and are 47% more productive.

These aren’t conflicting studies. They represent a disconnect between actual productivity and presenteeism (that pressure to appear as though you’re always working). There are TikToks devoted to this issue: When remote workers can be more productive at home and often feel forced to fake “busy-ness” the remainder of the day, long after their work is done (and sometimes even beyond regular working hours). It’s gotten to the point where 79% of remote workers admit to having had two jobs at once, according to findings from a Resume Builder survey.

What’s the Solution?

Some employers are doubling down on digital presenteeism by logging keystrokes, tracking web browsing, or requiring live video feeds. But this can undoubtedly backfire. It can be legally questionable in some states, plus it can mess with retention: says nearly 70% of companies have had employees quit over monitoring concerns.

As we mentioned, focusing primarily on presenteeism seems to be the problem, not the solution. The HT Group President Chad Macy explains in our latest article about returning to the workplace that many organizations have learned to pivot to measurements of productivity beyond BIS (butts in seats).

“We are more focused on the end result versus the exact schedule each person is working to achieve that success. In fact, work productivity has increased for those who are self-motivated,” Macy says.

And, yes, technology can be useful in ensuring productivity among remote workers, but not as a way to monitor presenteeism. Instead, project management and other software can track milestones and pave the way for collaboration (here are some examples from the Employment Hero team). When remote workers are connected, engaged in collaboration, and are working toward measurable results (instead of just time at their desks), there’s no reason to question their dedication and productivity.