5 myths — and facts — about working from home

Negative myths about working from home have persisted for many years. And when people with disabilities have asked for this accommodation in the past, they’ve often been denied

But the coronavirus pandemic has proven that remote work is possible. And more than that, working from home can help employees to thrive. 

Here are some common myths about working from home — and why they don’t measure up to the facts.

Myth #1: Employees working from home won’t be as productive.

Many managers worry that employees who are working from home will be distracted, or simply choose not to work. 

The fact: Evidence has shown that performance actually increases when employees work from home. After the U.S. Patent & Trade Office started its work-from-anywhere policy, they saw productivity go up by more than 4 percent.

And Trip.com, one of the largest travel agencies in the world, ran a randomized, controlled trial on working from home. The results? Employees who worked from home were 13 percent more efficient than their office-based colleagues.

For some employees with disabilities, working from home can be a key productivity support. “All my energy before, when I worked in an office, was spent on trying to be physically at work. It was spent on the commute and not having my symptoms get so bad that I’d have to leave midday,” communications manager and self-described queer disabled activist Alaina Leary Lavoie told the Washington Post

Myth #2: The technology is limiting.

Some managers believe that remote work tools are too tricky to get right. Karrie Higgins, a writer and artist, has heard that explanation from conference organizers in the past: 

So because abled people might get sick now: -conferences will livestream & Skype even though they told disabled members it would mean "bad reviews" & glitches when disabled people asked for that accommodation 1/— Karrie Higgins (@karriehiggins) March 5, 2020

The fact: The COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly shown how doable it is for businesses to use online tools

“It’s a mindset-shifting of what’s capable,” says Katie Aholt, director of people engagement and operations for Understood. “[The world is] learning now in this moment that the work is continuing to get done.”

Myth #3: We can’t do it unless everyone’s working from home.

Some managers may worry about the appearance of “playing favorites” if only some employees work from home. 

“We have been made to feel that, as the only one in a class or at a workplace, we didn’t warrant ‘special’ treatment, even when that treatment would only be allowing us to attend classes or work at the same level as any other student or employee,” writes Cynthia McDonald, an author who has brain cancer, on Facebook

The fact: For people with disabilities, working from home can be a reasonable accommodation, according to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC). 

The EEOC provides detailed guidance to help employers craft work-from-home policies to support people with disabilities.

Myth #4: Remote work is a security risk.

Twitter user Brittany H says that her work-from-home request was denied by a large corporation due to security-risk concerns:

So, you’ve probably seen mine and other disabled people’s pissed off tweets about the response to the #CoronaVirus. You’re probably wondering why were #DisabledAndSaltyAF. Here’s a thread as to why. Join me, if you please... 1/?— Imani Barbarin(@Imani_Barbarin) March 12, 2020Go off sis!!! I requested wfh accommodations 5 years ago, and was told it was a security risk and that it was an undo hardship (to a large corporation) so nope, sorry not wfh for you. But now all of a sudden the ableds need it so, it’s wfh for everyone!!!!— Brittany H (@Brittanyehig88) March 14, 2020

The fact: Companies have ways to secure their work remotely. Businesses commonly use technologies like virtual private network (VPN) access to maintain remote security.

“Multinational corporations have done this for many, many years,” says Aholt. “I don’t think it’s a reason to not [allow] remote work.”

Myth #5: Employees who work from home won’t be as engaged with the team.

For some managers, “an extra hurdle that working remotely can present is connection and relationship-building,” says Aholt. Managers may fear that it won’t be possible for employees to feel like part of a team.

The fact: During the coronavirus pandemic, people have found creative ways to bond in their professional lives even while social distancing. From virtual office lunches to one-on-one video calls, teams are figuring out how to stay in touch.

Olivia Liddell, a technical curriculum developer, tweeted that working from home has made it easier to balance depression, anxiety, and team communication:

If you're a person who works from home some or all of the time, what's your favorite part of it? Many people choose to work in an office for a reason and they're bummed to be stuck at home alone. Let's give them some things to be excited about!— Laurie (@laurieontech) March 9, 2020Being able to handle my depression and anxiety better, since I don’t have to deal with trying to pretend that I’m okay when I’m really not. I can still reach out to my team whenever I want, but I don’t have to worry about having to look better than I might actually be feeling.— Olivia Liddell (@oliravi) March 9, 2020

Inclusive workplace practices that disability advocates have long pushed for, including working from home, have suddenly become more common. And now that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown everyone what’s possible, disability advocate Steve Lieberman hopes that permanent changes will take hold: 

The premise that employers can’t offer telework accommodations has been blown to smithereens. As disability policy professionals, it is our job now to ensure that door, blown wide open, is never shut again on a community that has been asking for these accommodations for decades.— Steve Lieberman (@stevemlieberman) April 3, 2020

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