Working from home seems to be one of the most frequently touted benefits in the current job market. Nearly 90% of the workforce desire a job where working from home at least part of the time is allowed. More and more people are choosing to work from home either part or all of the time, marking a shift in the way that we think about work-life balance.
The pandemic that began in 2020 has made working from home a normal part of life for many people. Whether it’s a business started from your home or a remote job, individuals and organizations can benefit from remote work. While there are certainly benefits to working from home, it isn’t for everyone, nor should it be. In this article, we will look at some of the drawbacks of working from home.
The State of Remote Work
Global Workplace Analytics, using data from the U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics, compiled the 2021 State of Telecommuting in the United States report. The report finds that between 2005 and 2019 (pre-pandemic) telecommuting grew 216%. In total, nearly 5.7 million employees (4.1% of the U.S. employee workforce) telecommuted half-time or more before the pandemic These numbers do not include people who are self-employed, which could significantly raise the number of people who work remotely.
There’s significant demand for telework and remote work as well. Global Workplace Analytics found that 82% of U.S. employees want to work remotely at least once a week when the pandemic is over. On average, they would prefer to do so half of the time. Only 8% do not want to work from home at any frequency. Remote work has become a popular option for workers across ages, industries, and regions. It is estimated that 69% of U.S. employees worked remotely at the peak of the pandemic.
Who Works Remotely?
Companies are responding to the demand, in part because the attractiveness of offering telecommuting as a potential benefit outweighs its costs. Gallup found that, as of September 2021, Two-thirds of employees in white-collar jobs (67%) reported working from home either exclusively (41%) or some of the time (26%). Respondents said that they appreciated the opportunity to work remotely, that it offers them flexibility, and that it helps them to be more productive.
Of course, not all sectors have embraced remote work, nor is it feasible for all workers to demand from their employers. Retail workers, construction workers, and healthcare workers all are less likely to spend time working remotely than those in the finance, insurance, and real estate industries, according to Gallup.
Those working from home full time were divided between wanting to remain fully remote (49%) and preferring a hybrid arrangement (45%). Just 6% said their ideal was to be fully on-site.
The Negative Costs of Remote Work
Remote work can be isolating and lonely. It lacks the social interactions and connectivity that coworkers bring, though we know that navigating relationships with coworkers can be tricky as well. Remote workers who choose to work from home may also sacrifice their living space in order to make their own home office. This can also make it more difficult to separate yourself from your work and to establish a healthy work life balance.
As the line between home and work becomes increasingly blurred with remote workers, you run the risk of burning out as you become more likely to overwork yourself. This may not be the case for individuals who lack the type of self-discipline that it typically takes in order to be successful at remote work.
Remote workers must be highly self-motivated and accountable for their work. This is true whether you are an entrepreneur or a team member when you are not spending your working hours in a more traditional office. Being able to work independently is often a double edged sword; some workers find it liberating and in turn more productive to work without a micromanaging boss looking over their shoulder each day, while other workers lose steam and become more easily distracted and consequently less productive without others holding them accountable.
Working with a remote based team can also pose a significant problem for management and for team structures. When a small business or organization works from a single location, it is easy to communicate institutional news or changes, such as new contracts or changes to work flows. This becomes increasingly difficult as teams spread out to different offices, or individual employees begin working remotely.
Communication can be an issue on both sides of the remote work equation. Remote workers may find it more difficult to communicate their needs or wants with their higher ups or colleagues and managers or startup founders may find it more difficult to manage teams of remote workers than those in a brick and mortar office.
Burnout is also becoming a problem when it comes to remote workers. According to Deloitte, in a survey of over 1000 respondents, 77% say they have experienced burnout at their current job. 91% say that unmanageable stress or frustration impacts the quality of their work, and 83% say burnout can negatively impact personal relationships. Even those passionate about their jobs are still stressed at work with 64% saying they are frequently stressed at work.
2. Work Life Balance
Another challenge that has presented itself with the trend of working from home is find the right work-life balance. According to Flex Jobs, 73% of WFH employees say they enjoy better work life balance compared to when they worked onsite. The top reason cited was more time to spend with family. However, 70% of professionals who transitioned to remote work due to Covid-19 say they now work on weekends. Another study found that 65% of people admit that now that they’re working remotely, they’re working longer hours than ever before.
3. Productivity Concerns
There have been countless studies done in recent years on the affects working from home has on productivity. In fact, over two-thirds of employers report increased productivity among their telecommuters.
However this is not always the case. Companies like Splunk, Affirm, and Microsoft saw a large spike in productivity in the first couple of months of quarantine, but over time, the loneliness of working at a home office affects productivity and job satisfaction.
Should We Work Remotely?
Some of this boils down to personality traits and working style preferences. The type of work that one does should also be taken into account. Positions that require significant amounts of collaboration with team members are less likely to be successful in telework, just as those where a team member is attempting to telework in a time zone significantly different than the home office’s location.
The honest answer to the question should you be working remotely is that it depends. Remote work can be great for some workers and disastrous for others. It can be hugely beneficial for short periods of time, or it can be a long-term solution that becomes part of your daily life.
There are no hard and fast rules about who should or should not work remotely, but it is largely dependent on your position and who you are as a person. Many companies and startups are finding a happier medium in offering remote work as an option for a percentage of one’s time, say two to three days a week, rather than an all or nothing solution.
This article was first published in November 2017 but has been updated and expanded for 2022