Work from home is one of the buzzwords of 2020. Everybody talks about it, now that we are forced to adopt it as a new way of working. Although many companies encourage it as a means of avoiding infection with COVID-19, working from home has advantages and disadvantages.
A 2019 research conducted by IWG showed that 80% of workers in the U.S. would rather choose a job that offered flexible working. 30% of the respondents even said that they valued being able to choose location and not an increase in vacation days.
On the other hand, although working from home may allow employees to have a more flexible schedule, we are social beings, so face to face interaction is vital. Even if we have replaced live communication with video calls, this is not a viable approach for the long term.
In this article, we will talk about both pros and cons of what might be the future of work.
Safety & Health
Working from home has, first of all, a huge safety advantage, as it allows people to physically distance themselves and live in a more controlled space. All recommendations state that a minimum distance of 2m should be kept between people (some real estate agents, such as Cushman, have even introduced a new office space design that marks safe paths in the office and many landlords have already set measures that ensure this distancing).
And it’s not just about the current virus. Working from home makes people take less sick days, as they are less exposed to other germs as well. According to Indeed’s Remote Work Survey, 50% of remote employees said that their number of sick days decreased because of working from home. For 56% of them, remote working reduced their absences.
Remote working even reduces stress – according to Global Workplace Analytics, 90% of the employees feel flexible work increases morale, which can also lead to a better employer retention – 72% of employers said that remote work helped better retain employees.
Such a distance is even harder to maintain in public transportation means, avoiding using them being another advantage of home offices. Not to mention the time and money savings people benefit from when they don’t have to spend hours of their day commuting.
On the other hand, employers save money by not needing to buy office supplies and coffee anymore.
It’s good for the environment
Not leaving your house that much also means lower green emissions.
The 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce report stated that: “If the work-at-home workforce expanded to include those who could and wanted to telecommute half of the time, the GHG savings would equate to taking 10 million cars off the road.”
Flexibility is definitely one of the biggest pro arguments. More and more people feel the need to make their own schedule, as the regular 9 to 6 schedule doesn’t work for them anymore. Creativity and inspiration don’t necessarily come during working hours. A rigid schedule doesn’t even translate into more productivity and efficiency.
Also, now it is easier than ever to work from home, on your own terms. With tons of productivity and project management applications such as Asana, Trello, Notion and as many communication platforms – Zoom, Slack, Skype, to name a few, people find it easier to organize their schedule and to stay in touch.
According to the same IWG study mentioned above, 85% of businesses said that productivity has increased because they offered flexibility.
Location doesn’t matter anymore when working remotely. There are many platforms that help people find jobs located outside their geographical area (i.e. Upwork), jobs that are paid better or are more adequate for them.
It’s the same for employers, who can find the best candidates in other cities or countries without being forced to pay for their working spaces.
Loneliness and depression
While physical distancing is recommended, social distancing can bring alienation, loneliness and even depression. It would seem that our mental wellbeing is in danger when we work from home for too long.
19% of people working remotely have declared they felt lonely, according to the State of Remote Work study. This is even more alarming when considering that loneliness and isolation can be “twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity.”
Some might even feel even more stressed, with 41% of remote employees feeling higher levels of stress compared with only 25% of those who work in an office, according to a 2017 report conducted by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions.
It’s not that simple for those with kids
Productivity is definitely affected for people with small children at home who cannot go to school or kindergarten anymore.
It is harder for them to focus and to participate in all of those online meetings when having to take care of kids or various house chores.
Lack of real communication
Calls or written messages cannot compete with actual face to face interaction. Many people even accuse video calls of draining their energy.
It is harder to actually communicate, persuade, transmit a message via Slack than it is in person, when you can adapt to the other person’s non-verbal reactions more easily: “Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat, says Petriglieri. Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy.“ said Insead associate professor Gianpiero Petriglieri in an interview for BBC.
Not having a schedule can easily eliminate that line between work and personal life. You might end up working even more than before and not actually manage to disconnect and spend time doing relaxing activities. When you sleep and work in the same place, it’s harder to have boundaries.
Actually, a 2019 researched showed that 82% of remote tech workers in the U.S. felt burnt out and 52% reported that they worked longer hours than those working in the office.
Also, because you’re at home, you might feel the pressure to be online all the time, which also leads to stress, anxiety and ultimately, burnout. As certified personal development and career transition coach Jane Scudder declared, “Because you’re not present in an office, you may feel pressure to be online every hour, make yourself constantly available or otherwise prove you’re spending your time in a productive way.”
Last but not least, working from the same place where you sleep can also affect your wellbeing. A research conducted by Harvard’s Division of Sleep Medicine showed that having electronic devices in your bedroom increases artificial light exposure which ends up affecting your sleep.
Other type of threats
Working from home or remotely can bring a new series of IT safety risks for the company. As Alex Boghiu said in an interview for Bright Insights, ”One of the biggest dangers I see (when working from home) is related to cybersecurity – it is not acceptable to work on your laptop from a beach when you are employed at a public company. Anything can happen.”
While there are various tech solutions that allow a better workflow, even when being at home (such as online signing solutions), privacy and data security can be at risk when using personal laptops and public wifi connections.
For those who work from home, various solutions include:
- decide on a schedule that works for you (the rest of the time is personal time);
- if possible, decide on a specific area designated for work;
- use office clothes in order to get that working vibe;
- keep in touch with your colleagues and friends;
- choose and accept working on projects that you can handle, just because you seem to have more time doesn’t mean it should be filled with tasks;
- turn off notifications in your free time;
- meditate or just spend time doing relaxing activities.
On the other hand, solutions come from the real estate industry as well. Many professionals have started talking about a change in the purpose of office spaces, turning them into social hubs. Employees would then come to the office for brainstorming, training, participating in face-to-face meetings or just for networking with their colleagues.
As work from home is here to stay, the best thing employers and employees can do is to collaborate and find that balance that ensures both productivity and happiness for everyone. The advantages are clearly visible: everyone saves time and money while the new tech solutions enable an improved work process for us all. On the other hand, mental well being and work / spare time balance can be seriously affected if we don’t find the right solutions fast. Adjusting office spaces to accommodate socializing might be just the beginning of a complete new approach to the way we work.