6 Myths About Remote Work You (and Your Boss) Can Stop Believing

This illustration shows different ways people work from home.
Getty Images

Despite years of research that shows workers are, in fact, competent and capable grown-ups who can get work done at home, a lot of people still seem very worried about the idea.

The prospect of working from home — whether because your company is shuttered for the pandemic or your dream job happens to be in another state — conjures images of distracted loners and freeloaders wasting company time.

I’ve been working from home in some form for a decade, and I can attest this is not what it’s about.

Working from home is a wonderful gift technology has given us, one that lets us find the jobs we want, no matter where we live; live the lives we want, no matter what we do for work; and make money on our own terms.

In support of my ongoing quest to turn more workers and employers on to the joys of remote work, I’m going to squash some common fears that might be holding you back.

6 Myths About Remote Work You Should Stop Believing

Here are some work-from-home myths I commonly hear — and what’s really going on.

1. 🚫 Working From Home Hurts Productivity

The most common fear I hear about remote work is that employees just won’t get any work done.

Why anyone believes offices are unbeatable bastions of productivity is beyond me — but my opinion on the matter is unnecessary. Science has you covered.

A team at Stanford Graduate School of Business (GBS) conducted a study a couple of years ago that confirmed the benefits remote workers have been touting:

  • Work-from-home employees’ productivity went up 13%.
  • The company earned about $2,000 more profit per remote employee.

Subsequent studies (of varying scientific rigor) have found similar results:

  • A survey by gig app Airtasker found remote employees work an average 1.4 more days per month than office employees and waste 10 fewer minutes per work day.
  • Prodoscore, an employee visibility software company, found an overall 47% year-over-year increase in productivity in March and April 2020, amid the coronavirus interruption and massive shift toward remote work.
  • Productivity app RescueTime found employees spend about 68% of their time on “core work” from home, compared with 63% in the office — which works out to over an hour per week more productivity working from home.

Fact: Remote employees work more hours more efficiently and earn more money for their companies than their in-office counterparts.

2. 🚫 Home Has Too Many Distractions

Worried you won’t be able to concentrate on work if you’re not in the office? Have you ever… been in an office?

Yes, your home ostensibly has laundry, dishes, pets, family members or roommates, Netflix, Amazon deliveries and your neighbor’s incessant weed wacker.

But what about all those meetings in the office, watercooler chit chat, brownies in the break room, and oh my goodness, how loud can one person possibly chew, Karen?? Offices come with distractions, too.

That same Stanford GSB study said workers can concentrate better working from home and are more likely to work a full shift. No coming in late because of traffic or leaving early to meet a repair person, and no long lunches or getting cornered by a chatty Kathy in the hallway.

Plus, you’re a grown-up. You know you can’t watch Netflix during work hours, right?

Fact: Workers concentrate better from home, free from workplace distractions.

3. 🚫 Remote Work Is Totally Solitary

Coworkers talk via video chat in this illustration.
Getty Images

Some extroverts cringe at the idea of working from home, because they thrive on the energy of an office full of coworkers. But I know lots (er, at least two) of extroverts who love working from home.

Working from home doesn’t mean going it alone — if you don’t want it to.

Connect with coworkers through messaging apps, video conferencing and phone calls. I’ve spent many a work-from-home day talking to my team in calls all day long. You can even set up quick calls just to catch up and maintain a personal connection with coworkers.

And you don’t have to rely on your own coworkers for social stimulus. Join a coworking space if you want to be surrounded by others while you work. Hang out with friends after work, network through Meetup groups or join a yoga class.

Fact: Remote work can be just as social and collaborative as in-office work, if you want it to be.

4. 🚫 You Have to Have a Home Office

You might look around your 500-square-foot apartment and wonder where you’d even work from home. I’d say: Anywhere!

I’m writing this from my living room couch, which has been my workplace of choice for years. I even set up a desk in a different room for a while, but never used it. I work from my kitchen table, hotel beds, coffee shops, front porches, airplanes — that’s the beauty of online work.

The only requirements to work from home in most jobs are:

  • An up-to-date computer or laptop.
  • A high-speed internet connection.
  • A phone. Customer service jobs often require a hard-wired phone line, but otherwise, your cell phone will do.

A familiar work space is definitely useful for putting yourself in a productive mindset — I won’t deny that. And a quiet, private space is necessary for remote meetings and work calls.

But neither of these requires a dedicated home office or work space.

Instead, they require a good mindset — which you can achieve by:

  • Showering and getting dressed in daytime clothes each morning.
  • Staying in touch with coworkers.
  • Creating a realistic to-do list.
  • Keeping a regular schedule to start work, have lunch, take breaks and end the day.
  • Blocking your time to stay focused on tasks.
  • Group calls with coworkers or colleagues to hold each other accountable to goals.
  • Popping on white noise or noise-cancelling headphones.

Don’t worry that you have to invest in a home renovation or even new furniture just because you want to work from home. (And don’t be intimidated if a nosy interviewer asks about your work space in an interview for a work-from-home job.)

Fact: You can do remote work from almost anywhere you’re comfortable. Just choose the right kind of online job for the environment you want to work in.

5. 🚫 Online Workers Are Distracted by the Internet All day

If you have to be online for work throughout the day, will you linger on those Twitter threads a little longer? Watch a few more bread-baking videos on Instagram? Snag a couple of wardrobe recommendations from Pinterest?

Maybe. But you’d probably do it in the office, too.

Workers pop into social media sites (or apps) on work time, according to a Pew Research Center study from 2016, for a range of personal reasons, among them:

  • 34% to take a mental break from work.
  • 27% to connect with friends and family.
  • 17% to learn about someone they work with.

And we already know working from home tends to increase productivity — so maybe it doesn’t matter if you want to unwind with a few minutes of Tik Tok before diving into the quarterly run-down.

Fact: In-house employees are just as connected to the internet as at-home employees, so you’ll face online distractions either way. But remote workers are still more productive.

6. 🚫 Working at Home Means No Schedule

Commuters get a clear start and end to the work day — you enter the office, you leave the office. At home, you work in the same environment where you cook, play and relax. How do you keep work and life from coagulating into one big stress blob?

In reality, workers overall aren’t great at drawing work/life lines — working from home isn’t the culprit.

In 2019, RescueTime found:

  • 28% of workers start working before 8:30 a.m. (5% before 7 a.m.).
  • 40% use their computers after 10 p.m.
  • 26% of work happens outside of normal working hours.

Your job might impose a schedule by expecting you to be available roughly between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or by scheduling regular meetings. You can commit to your own schedule if it doesn’t.

Either way, stick to it.

Treat a work-from-home day as if you have to be ready to leave the house and head to the office by the start of the day. Shower, finish your breakfast, pour your coffee, walk the dog, log on and greet your coworkers. Log off at a regular time each day to maintain balance.

Fact: Work-life balance is a challenge for any worker, but you can take strides when you work from home to maintain it.

Don’t Be Afraid to Work From Home

Remote work challenges our common conception of work. That’s a serious hurdle to overcome, considering how fundamental work is in our culture.

But remaining chained to old ideas of work costs you — more than just the freedom of an afternoon walk.

Employers could save thousands of dollars each year by expanding telecommuting options, according to a report from FlexJobs. Workers would save 8 billion vehicle trips and pump 54 million fewer tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Your increased productivity could lead to better career opportunities. Increased flexibility could improve your mood and your relationship with your family.

You might even enjoy your job more.

If you’re ready to make the move to remote work, here’s how to talk to your boss about working from home.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) has been writing and editing since 2011, covering personal finance, careers and digital media.