Main image of article Has Remote Work Eliminated the Worst Habits of In-Office Work?

In theory, remote work was supposed to free technologists from some of the traditional office’s most annoying features. Remote workers didn’t have to “look busy” in order to satisfy a boss who might wander past their cubicle at any moment; they could also work according to their own schedule, with more flexibility for setting meetings at times that worked for them.

But in reality, many remote workers might be continuing some of those old, bad habits. A new study from GitLab and Qatalag suggests knowledge workers who work remotely spend an extra 67 minutes every day on “digital presenteeism,” or being visibly online to show everyone else they’re working. Symptoms of digital presenteeism include everything from replying to comments in shared documents to posting emojis in corporate messaging threads.   

“This culture of presenteeism likely comes from the top, with 63 percent of workers holding the view that management and senior leadership within their organization ‘prefer a traditional culture with employees in the office,’” the report added. “Another 54 percent also said their colleagues are stuck in old habits, making it hard to shift to asynchronous working.”

The study also found that only 33 percent of knowledge workers actually operate asynchronously: “Almost three quarters (74 percent) of those in the C-Suite said they work asynchronously ‘Often’ or ‘Always,’ compared to 48 percent of those at Vice President or Director level, 32 percent of those at a Manager or Consultant level, and 24 percent of those in Analyst or Administrative roles.”

Although some companies are serious about bringing employees back to the office full-time—Tesla CEO Elon Musk famously termed remote work “no longer acceptable”—many CEOs have chosen to embrace hybrid and remote work for their workforces. But remote work isn’t effective if employees feel compelled to embrace the worst habits of the traditional office, while declining to embrace the efficiencies that working from home provides. Managers need to make their remote-work policies and expectations completely transparent, and communicate frequently with their team to ensure everyone is happy—and nobody feels the need to engage in busywork.