LEWISTON — As people navigate the third year of remote working tied to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers are still struggling with whether or not to call employees back to the office.

TD Bank and OpenText are among the local employers who have decided to allow hybrid or fully remote schedules, and many state employees remain mostly remote.

HighSpeedInternet.com, a website that tracks internet service providers and advocates for high-speed internet, has released the results of a survey of remote workers’ daily work life with some expected and — some unexpected — results.

For example, a whopping 71% of those surveyed admitted they have worked or attended a meeting in their pajamas — not exactly a surprise to many people. Three out of four remote workers surveyed said they struggle with a work-life balance, saying work and free time feel less separate and that co-workers can call them at any time of day.

Source: HighSpeedInternet.com

Under the category of unproductive remote work habits, 77% of those surveyed said they have felt unproductive at work. The same percentage of respondents admitted to using a work computer to shop online or to check social media. Fifty-four percent said they have played video games rather than work and 51% admitted spending the day streaming movies or TV shows.

According to the survey, remote workers have developed ways to avoid work or take a break — half said they have faked a bad internet connection to avoid joining a video call, 53% said they have added a fake meeting to their calendar to give themselves a break.


So what? That’s the reaction from Reeshad Dalal, professor of industrial and organizational psychology at George Mason University, who studies job performance and behavior. “What is the problem with remote employees taking more breaks to get food from the fridge or vacuum their rug or whatever,” Dalal wrote, “as long as remote employees get their work done on time and are available and responsive during pre-specified hours?”

Research on remote work ranges from no effect to a positive effect of remote work, with negative effects of remote work being rarely and inconsistently found. Dalal said a review of all research reveals that remote employees have higher autonomy, job performance, job satisfaction, organizational commitment and engagement and intentions to stay (as opposed to quit) when compared to office-based employees.

The same analysis finds no evidence that remote work has an adverse effect on workplace relationships or on work-life balance. Dalal points out that the survey from HighSpeedInternet.com does not include any comparison group of nonremote employees and begs the question, what percentage of nonremote employees have struggled with work-life balance?

Barbara Lovejoy is a member of the Central Maine Human Resources Association, who works remotely for a telecommunications company. She said the survey results don’t really shock her, because during the pandemic, employers moved workers to remote status who had probably never worked that way before, had no time to adjust or establish new work habits. Some of the blame falls on the companies and management.

“I will also say that we didn’t equip managers to be able to productively lead or support a remote workforce,” Lovejoy said. Inexperience managing a remote workforce could also be playing a role. “I was a little surprised that 77% of remote workers felt unproductive. I wouldn’t have thought it was that high.”

Lovejoy agrees with professor Dalal when it comes to remote workers taking a break, mowing the lawn or similar distractions. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing for somebody to take a 10-minute break to maybe fold some laundry or do the dishes,” she said.


Lovejoy points out that over 25 years in the business, she’s seen plenty of employees sit at their desks and talk about their weekend for 30-35 minutes.

Carrie Bolduc is another human resources professional connected with the Central Maine Human Resources Association. She also works remotely and manages a team of 40 remote workers. “It seems the survey was designed to elicit negative responses and portray a bad outlook of remote work,” she said. “I also feel like this is a push for employer paid internet,” she added.

Professor Dalal said more research needs to be done on counterproductive or deviant behavior, which his lab group is doing. Preliminary results of their work show that contrary to the concerns of managers and organizations, remote work is not associated with higher levels of counterproductive work behavior.

As employers weigh the pros and cons of remote work versus the traditional office environment, Dalal suggests they consider these positive aspects of remote work: less need for office space, the ability to recruit in a wider geographic area (leading potentially to a more diverse workforce and the best talent), less traffic congestion in cities (and lower demand for fuels) and the potential revitalization of rural areas. But for that last piece of the puzzle to work, everyone agrees there is a need for wider access to high-speed internet, especially in rural areas of Maine.

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