Elon Musk says remote workers are pretending to work. Turns out he was (sort of) right
“Remote work is no longer acceptable,” thundered Elon Musk in a leaked memo to Tesla employees in late May.

The world’s richest man doubled down when he confirmed the news on Twitter, writing that remote workers “should pretend they’re working somewhere else”.

So remote workers seem to pretend to work a lot, but pretending to work is hard work.

New data from Qatalag and GitLab highlighted this: Knowledge workers are wasting an additional 67 minutes online per day engaged in menial tasks to explicitly verify with their managers and colleagues that they are available and working.

It takes a load. The survey of 2,000 knowledge workers found that more than half of them (54%) said they felt pressured to show their online presence by replying to emails and Slack messages, posting comments on Google Docs, or updating project management tools.

This is a new twist in the growing telecommuting saga and shows that escaping the culture of presenteeism is not as simple as escaping the (physical) office.

“Digital Presentation”
The report calls this “digital presenteeism”. This is a distant version of traditional presenteeism, where workers stay at their desks for no other reason than to prove to their bosses that they are working.

Digital presentations depend on the same visibility — whether that means “responding to notifications or sitting in Zoom meetings you don’t have to attend,” the report says. And just like office presenteeism doesn’t correlate with better job performance. Concerns about keeping active on Slack were not found. Many CEOs besides Musk have expressed their belief in the primacy of personal work.

Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon has called telecommuting an “aberration,” while telecommuting is seen as incompatible with the office when it comes to learning, growing, and creating upward mobility, says Chris Merrill, CEO of capital markets firm Harrison Street. “It’s very important to get young employees in the office, to work together and work hard,” he said.
Seven out of 10 people who work asynchronously – at times that work best for them, not necessarily when their partners are online – feel this pressure more acutely and report high levels of anxiety people don’t realize they’re working. Absenteeism is higher for workers who are reluctant to take time off when they need it, such as when they are sick. According to a March report by global consultancy WTW, people with high COVID are 54% more likely to engage in presentations or show up at work when they are not fully functional, Fortune reported.

This is also a problem limited to people with employers; 68% of C-level executives report feeling the same grip. That should be their signal to change; 63% of workers believe their company leaders “favor traditional office worker culture.” This may be why they emphasize perfect presentation online when not in person; they may think it’s the next best thing.

In addition, employees report spending 67 minutes online each day, just to quickly avoid the suspicion that they are not working enough: more than five and a half hours a week. Worse: these hours do nothing for the employee or the company. During overtime, only 25% of people say they are very productive.

That time could be better spent on almost anything else, but when it comes to producing quality work, flexibility is paramount. More than four in five respondents (81%) say they are more productive and produce better output if they can work flexible hours, and agree that sometimes being online just for the sake of being online is counterproductive.