How to diffuse rising tensions about remote work

How to diffuse rising tensions about remote work

The topic of remote work has evolved from a mere workplace experiment into a battleground of conflicting opinions and impassioned debates. The pandemic swung remote work into the spotlight, and its impact continues to ripple through the world of work. While some advocate for the benefits of remote work, others, including high-profile figures like Elon Musk, remain sceptical. This polarised landscape is giving rise to escalating tensions, and it’s important to understand why these tensions are on the rise, and how this can be resolved.

The Divide: Employer vs. Employee

The remote work debate is fuelled by a fundamental disconnect between employers and employees. To bridge this gap, it’s essential to break down the discussion into small chunks to better understand the matter.

The Motivation Behind Remote Work

The starting point of any discussion should be a clear understanding of why remote work is on the table. Is it about boosting productivity, talent retention or nurturing workplace relationships? The first step is to pinpoint the driving motivation behind the discussion.

Defining Performance

Performance is a central aspect of remote work debates, but it’s a term that often lacks consensus. Is it productivity in terms of lines of code produced, for example, or is it about output quality and efficiency? For instance, cutting out commute time may seem like an obvious benefit, but it can also eliminate a buffer between work and personal life, affecting employees’ overall well-being.

Tailoring Policies to the Work

Different types of work have different flexibility requirements. Customer service calls can be handled remotely, but manual tasks like packing products or processing passport applications depend on the location of the products or paperwork. Identifying the types of work and their specific needs sets the boundaries for remote work policies.

Balancing Short-Term Gains and Long-Term Effects

Balancing short-term benefits with long-term consequences is a challenge. For instance, offering employees more flexibility may eliminate the daily commute, but it could also lead to a loss of mentorship when schedules no longer align. It’s essential to consider both immediate advantages and future repercussions.

Prioritising Interests

Work policies affect individuals and the collective differently. While allowing at-will remote work benefits individuals’ work-life balance, it may erode the collective sense of culture within the organisation. Leaders must weigh whose interests or outcomes they prioritise and act accordingly.

Facilitating Productive Dialogue

To navigate these complex dimensions of remote work, leaders and employees must engage in open, ongoing discussions. This dialogue should be built upon the principles of balance, respect and adaptability, with a focus on finding mutually optimal solutions rather than winning debates.


Effective dialogue begins with both sides acknowledging the importance of remote work policies. Leaders should take ownership of any missteps and recognise their responsibility in shaping these policies. This is not a time for pride but an opportunity to show vulnerability and a willingness to learn.

Setting Clear Expectations

Creating an environment of psychological safety and fostering a growth mindset are critical. Everyone involved should feel safe sharing their needs and constraints, while also accepting that policies may need to adapt as circumstances change.

Go Straight to The Point

Avoid oversimplified, black-and-white statements that do not capture the complexity of the issue. Acknowledge that remote work has both advantages and drawbacks and promote nuanced discussions that encourage dialogue over entrenched positions.


Allocate dedicated time for meaningful discussions. Formalise these dialogues to give them legitimacy, and ensure they are a regular part of the organisational agenda. Predictability builds trust and demonstrates a commitment to addressing the remote work issue effectively.

About Sam P

EnterpriseZone Staff Writer

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