The 4 Unexpected Problems With Remote Work

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What are some unexpected problems with remote work? What are the biggest problems, according to research?

Remote work has many proven benefits—like reducing commuting headaches or allowing employees to work wherever they want—but it has created some drawbacks, too. If you’re considering working remotely, it’s important to know about some of the emerging problems with remote work.

Read on to discover the four unexpected problems with remote work faced by remote employees.

Unexpected Problems With Remote Work

A growing body of research suggests that remote work may pose unexpected but wide-ranging consequences for employees and society at large. In this article, we’ll explore the four problems with remote work that aren’t immediately apparent from the outside looking in, from increased inequality and toxic behavior in the virtual workplace to worsening gender and economic disparity.

Problem #1: Toxic Behavior Goes Remote

Despite hopes that remote work would have the side effect of eliminating interpersonal tensions, research suggests that remote work may actually increase toxic behaviors. For instance, in a 2021 survey, 59% of respondents said they’d experienced or witnessed online workplace bullying, and 25% said bullying had increased in their workplace since 2020.

Why is this happening? Psychologists note that in a remote work setting, coworkers lack the social cues and signals that might allow them to interrupt bullying, support the victim—or even notice that anything inappropriate is happening. Others observers point out that video meetings make it harder to conceal personal details (such as socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation) that might fuel discriminatory and abusive behavior.

Problem #2: Workplace Stratification and Job Loss

Remote work offers a wider range of workers access to a wider range of jobs—a fact that might be a mixed blessing for workers. Some experts warn that because they’re no longer limited to the job-seekers who live in the local area, employers might start to shop around for the best talent, thereby leading to “office superstars” who command massive salaries and make it harder for average performers to find work. Alternatively, some employers might decide to cut costs by outsourcing remote jobs to foreign workers who can offer cheaper labor.

Even if these more extreme scenarios don’t come to pass, remote work could lead to stratification within companies. Before Covid-19, remote workers were only half as likely to be promoted and 62% as likely to receive bonuses as their in-person colleagues. Those numbers may reflect a stigma against remote work—and with the current return-to-office push, some businesses could end up with a two-tiered workplace class system that privileges on-site workers over those who spend less (or no) time at the office.

Problem #3: Widening Gender Gaps

Another one of the problems with remote work is the potential for widening the workplace gender gap. If remote work does lead to a two-class system, experts warn that the division could exacerbate existing gender inequalities. Studies find that women are more likely than men to choose remote work, so it’s possible that more men than women will soon return to the office—which would give men more opportunities to advance than their remote-working female counterparts

Experts believe that these numbers reflect an uneven gendered division of household responsibilities, pointing out that women (especially in heterosexual couples) typically shoulder the bulk of the family’s cognitive and emotional work such as planning household logistics and keeping the peace. In Burnout, Emily and Amelia Nagoski argue that women are expected to manage unsustainable amounts of domestic work, and now, working from home appears to be making this problem worse—for example, one study found that remote-working women—but not men—take on more housework on workdays

Problem #4: Increased Social Inequity

A final concern is that remote work’s benefits are only available to those who already have economic advantages. For instance, remote work is more feasible in lucrative knowledge work professions than in manufacturing, retail, and service jobs. Researchers therefore worry that remote work will gradually widen the economic divide between socioeconomic classes and between wealthier and poorer countries.

Part of the problem is that remote work requires certain resources and infrastructure—such as a high speed internet connection. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced a $759 million grant to expand broadband infrastructure, for the time being, many in the rural U.S. lack the reliable high-speed connections needed to work from home (meanwhile, only 35% of people in developing countries have internet access).

The 4 Unexpected Problems With Remote Work

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Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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