4 Toxic Things No One Should Say to People Who Work Remotely

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April 16, 2024 at 2:51PM UTC
In a post-COVID world, a whole lot more people will be working remotely than in 2019. In fact, Upwork estimates that 22% of the workforce (36.2 million Americans) will work remotely by 2025. That would represent an 87% increase from pre-COVID numbers. 
But despite the normalization of remote work done by the pandemic-era workplace — and despite the fact most American workers prefer a hybrid work model with work days in and out of the office — there are still many toxic beliefs swirling around remote workers. Just last week, the Wall Street Journal published an article titled "Bosses Still Aren't Sure Remote Workers Have 'Hustle.'" Before that, WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani sparked national conversation when he said "those who are least engaged [with their work] are very comfortable working from home." 
These beliefs aren't just misled (after all, Americans who work from home tend to report feeling more productive when they do so than when they work in an office), they can create workplace cultures that limit remote workers inclusion and overall success at work. This is disappointing, as remote work opens opportunities to hardworking, talented people who work better from home or who genuinely need the flexibility, like people who live in small job markets, people with certain disabilities, people with care responsibilities and more. 
While we may not all be CEOs or journalists with a platform, what we say to and about remote workers matters to creating an inclusive culture. Here are five things not to say to your colleagues, friends or relatives about their remote work. 

1. "I just care too much to work from home."

You may not mean anything by it, but telling remote workers that you go into the office because you're dedicated to your career indicates that they're not dedicated. We've already said it, but there are a whole host of reasons people may choose to work remote. Don't reinforce a stereotype that limits other peoples success. 

2. "You'll just be at home all day/night, right? So I can give you a call whenever?"

While many remote workers may work from home, their working from home and also living at home shouldn't mean they're considered "in" all the time. Just like people who work in the office are able to turn off their computer and leave for the night, remote workers should be able to unplug at the end of their work day. Making someone feel guilty for not always being "on" because its "so easy" for them to hop on a call when their desk is in their living room promotes unhealthy boundaries and burn out. If you manage a hybrid team, encourage all of your employees to have set schedules that they regularly communicate with their colleagues to encourage communication thats efficient and respectful. 

3. "What do you do all day?"

It should go without saying, but just because someone isn't sitting at a desk surveilled by the rest of their team or spending 45 minutes a day on their commute, that doesn't mean they're slacking or filling their schedule with free time. While remote employees should go out of their way to provide transparency into their output and to make their successes visible, teammates can also work to be inclusive by highlighting the work they see their remote colleagues doing well. 

4. "Oh, sorry, we didn't think you'd want to be invited."

Just because a colleague works from home, that doesn't mean that they want to be excluded from office social events, work trips and more. If you're a manager, check in with your remote employees regularly to see what availability they have for face-time outside of normal business hours. If you're the colleague of someone working remote, an invitation to an event — even one they can't make — goes a long way towards making them feel like part of the team. 

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