Working from home seems to be one of the most frequently touted benefits in the current job market. 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. While there are certainly benefits to working from home, it isn’t for everyone, nor should it be.
The State of Remote Work
FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics, using data from the U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics, compiled the 2017 State of Telecommuting in the United States report. The report finds that between 2005 and 2015, the latest year where full data is available, the number of U.S. workers who did at least 50% of their work from home or some location other than their office grew by 115%. In total, nearly 4 million employees work from home at least half of the time, and a total of 50% of the U.S. workforce holds a job that could be completed at least partially through telework. 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 80 to 90% of the U.S. workforce would like to telework at least part of the time. Remote work has become a popular option for workers across ages, industries, and regions.
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 in 2016, 43% of employed Americans said that they did at least some of their work remotely. 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. Educators, 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.
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.
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.