What Makes People Quit a Great Remote Job?

Remote work has so many benefits for individuals and companies but sometimes it just falls apart. Here are the most common reasons why.

Ugh! Enough! I’m going back to my quiet office.

Working from home is paradise. You don’t have to get dressed to earn an income, no one is at a desk next to you loudly talking on the phone or trimming their fingernails and you are finally in control of your own environment. Who would want to leave that?

Turns out that remote work is not for everyone. Sure, it gets a lot of media attention for high marks on job satisfaction, low stress and getting the laundry done, but hidden in those rosy numbers is the harsh reality that not everyone is cut out for remote work (see the related article below).

In more than a dozen years of remotely managing real humans working all over the western hemisphere, I have seen just about every possible way that remote work disenchantment can manifest itself. I have learned the hard way to identify the signs that someone is likely not going to make it past a year working remotely within the first thirty minutes of an interview (that’s a great topic for another article so stay tuned to this channel). But what you are here for is ‘WHY’.

Whenever someone has elected to leave my employment (impossible to imagine as it is), I never miss the opportunity to dig into why. It helps that I am not a psycho, vindictive kind of boss who makes quitting difficult. I understand they are leaving. I’m disappointed that the situation has arisen and I am truly interested in preventing it from happening in the future if I can. If the cause is something that I could have controlled, I want to make changes. But not every reason someone leaves a remote job can be blamed on the company, the manager or the workload.

Here are the main reasons that I see people leave the wonderful world of working from home.

Lack of self-motivation

Can you work without your boss looking over your shoulder or your colleagues industriously hammering away on their keyboards around you? If so, I might have a job for you. Remote team members need bucketloads of self-motivation to meet goals and deadlines. It’s too easy for them to tell themselves and their boss that everything is fine and on target right up until the moment something important is due. Suddenly all of that fridge reorganizing procrastination comes back to bite them in the butt and if it happens once, it will likely happen again and again. This is the point where remote employees who lack that special drive begin to panic, lose confidence and ultimately resign instead of facing their supervisor’s wrath.

Lack of organization

Even if a remote employee is part of a large company or a close-knit team, they still need to think like an independent contractor. The ability to organize schedules, maintain documentation, set up work environments and manage breaks is crucial. No one else is going to show up to impose order in the chaos. Without this skill, remote employees work hard but miss deadlines, can’t locate important client meeting notes and eventually fall apart. Frustrated and demoralized, they slink back to the office.

Belief that they are being passed over for promotion

A feeling of being disconnected from everyday brick and mortar office politics can be a good thing. For some, it removes a common source of distraction and allows them to simply get on with their work. For others, it evolves into paranoia and a feeling of missing out. This is often true for mixed remote/office environments but, if solid remote team communication practices aren’t in place, it can happen in 100% remote companies as well. All it takes is a coworker inexplicably being promoted for others to feel like their remote position is causing their career to stagnate and trigger frantic job seeking.

Are you being paid less while actually earning more?

Belief that they are being paid less

There is a common belief that remote work pays less than the equivalent position in an office in the same city. This isn’t without merit. If you live in San Francisco and work for a company out of Biloxi, Mississippi it’s very likely that you aren’t being compensated at the same level as your neighbor living in the illegally converted garage bay next to yours. However, reversing those locations can mean that the remote position pays more if the company calculating compensation rates near the national average.

On top of that, many factors go into the calculation of whether an employee is being paid less for the same work just because they are remote. But those factors are rarely taken into consideration by the employees themselves. Most fail to realize the inherent personal cost savings of working outside of an office. In some cases you actually take home less pay working in an office, but once the seed of unfair compensation is planted, no amount of math is going to shift it. In the end, an otherwise talented remote employee jumps ship for the first office job paying more.

Unsuitable work environment

Wait! What? How can your own home be an unsuitable work environment? Have you met my kids? Seriously, you DINKs have no idea. Not everyone lives in a quiet house in the country with room for a dedicated office. Tiny apartments with roommates and pre-school aged kids ransacking the living house of a two bedroom house don’t make good work environments. Sure, you can go to a cafe or the library, but who’s going to watch the kids? Sometimes the stress of constantly muting conference calls to keep the screams from frightening clients or the rhythmic thumping from your inconsiderate roommates’ blaring stereo becomes too much. Suddenly, commuting to work for 30 minutes each way in a quiet car sounds like heaven.

Lack of work-life balance

When you drive home from work in the evening it’s simple to transition. Once you reach home, you know you are home. But what if home is work and work is home? Full time remote employees need to establish and protect boundaries. Yes, it’s perfectly fine to clean the fish tank while on a conference call but answering emails during family dinner? No way. Your flex schedule can’t flex its way into your entire life without consequences. Sometimes it can seem like once the balance is thrown off, there is no going back. I have seen this happen with remote employees several times over the years and I hate to hear that someone is quitting because they feel like they are always working. I endeavor to remind my teams to pay attention to their work-life balance and make small corrections along the way. Unfortunately, every once in a while I lose one.

Loneliness

After problems with work-life balance, loneliness is the next biggest personal issue that causes great remote employees to run back to the office. I lost one of my best team members several years ago because she decided to take advantage of the flexibility that her remote position provided to head west. Regrettably, she lost her family and friend support network when she moved and had a difficult time making new connections in her desert Shangri-la. Within three months she was so miserable that she quit her professional position for a low paying local job where she could meet living, breathing humans. Frustratingly, there was nothing that I or my company could do to help.

If you are a remote manager, keep your ears open for signs of these issues. Some, such as motivation, promotion and work-life balance can be fixed through good communication, training and clear stated expectations. Others, such as work environment and loneliness can be discussed during the interview process.

If you are a remote employee, talk to your manager as these issues arise. If they have years of experience working remotely, they may even have gone through some of these issues themselves. Seek advice where you can (these articles are a good start) and try to fix it before quitting. If you really are suited for working remotely, you may regret going back to the office.