As more and more professionals seek a better work-life balance and more companies adopt flexible policies to accommodate shifting workplace priorities and realities the working from home option is becoming increasingly viable. Employees see this as an ideal means to remain in the workforce and continue to be employed thereby maintaining all the tangible benefits of being part of an established company, while enjoying all the advantages of being based at home. The option has its potential pitfalls however and below we discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of working from home.
By working at home you save on many hidden costs associated with going to work. These include costs of commuting, car wear and tear, fuel, road taxes, parking as well as indirect costs such as expensive professional wardrobes and the dry-cleaning of those. Often you can also save on older children’s care arrangements although for younger children it is highly unadvisable to forgo the childcare arrangement and try to balance close care and supervision with the demands of the job.
This doesn’t just relate to timings either although the flexibility to determine your own work hours to some extent is the most important aspect of this. You can also determine your environment, lighting, temperature, setting, mood; basically work in the framework that suits you best and makes you happiest and most productive.
Coworkers banter and distractions, unnecessary interruptions, unimportant meetings can all be avoided if you are safely at home and sealed off in your own environment which you have barricaded from any possible interruptions.
Proximity to home and family
For many, the physical proximity to family and the convenience of being at home are tremendously comforting. For parents it can be especially pacifying to know that they are very near to their children and available should they be needed for any reason. This also applies in the case of elderly care.
The stress of commuting in bumper-to-bumper traffic at rush hour in many countries is extremely counterproductive and can lead to disgruntled workers who are already exhausted and worn before they have even begun their day. This is especially true where the workplace is far from the office. Other stresses often cited include unfriendly coworkers, a suboptimal work environment and constant distractions.
Removed from the stresses and distractions of the workplace and working independently in their own preferred environment at their own pace, professionals are often a lot happier and a lot more productive.
Often with long commutes and anywhere from 1 to 3 hours a day spent getting to and from the workplace both physical and mental health are adversely impacted; the former as the gym hours are usually the first to go and the latter due to the stresses associated with both the commute and the workplace itself. By working at home the commuting time saved enables you to resume physical exercise, to go for a long walk for example before and after work or to join a local gym.
Better work/life balance
Work/life balance, the aspiration of the modern professional, is often achieved and tuned to satisfaction through a working at home arrangement, particularly when a professional has the flexibility to report into the office and work from the office partially as an option and can fine-tune the arrangement to achieve the most optimal balance.
Often, professionals working from home complain of isolation and loneliness given their removal from their bosses and coworkers and th is can be very depressing to some. Since the workplace provides a location to meet people and make friends for many, professionals working from home have to be more creative and resourceful in getting to know people and in staying in touch with their colleagues.
Although office distractions are avoided by working at home, different distractions may arise. Interruptions from children, work, neighbours, friends, family may be very disruptive and special efforts must be made to make it known that you are actually working and unavailable for interruption within work hours despite your physical presence at home.
Difficulty in separating home from work
The temptation to engage in household matters since you are at home is often very strong. Suddenly you may start feeling obliged to clean the home, do the shopping, the childcare, the cooking, the home finances and the socializing all while meeting the full requirements of the job too. It is essential to draw the line between home and work so as to avoid both areas suffering.
Work doesn’t end
Since there is no-one looking over your shoulder enforcing strict hours you may feel tempted to work endlessly. This pressure to work endlessly may be compounded by the fact that you feel there are greater expectations made of you as a home-worker or by self-imposed pressures to prove yourself and your abilities in this arrangement. Moreover the lack of physical separation between home and work may add to this pressure to work endlessly.
Alienated from daily company developments
A lot can change from day to day in a company and you may find yourself removed from important developments such as staff changes, new business, changes in company direction, new competitive intelligence etc.
Danger of being overlooked for promotion
The danger of being overlooked for promotions and career development opportunities is quite real when you are away from the office and other more visible employees are actively and aggressively vying for them. An open line of communication with management and regular visits to the office are critical in order to prove your dedication and commitment to your career and to prevent the out-of-sight-out-of-mind syndrome.
Need for high self-discipline
Working from home is not for anyone. It takes a lot of dedication, self-control and discipline to motivate yourself to persevere in working at home alone over the long run without succumbing to the distractions and losing drive and momentum. Often a partial arrangement where you report into the office once or twice a week is the optimal arrangement as it allows for close interaction with colleagues and supervisors and ensures you remain in touch with company developments while still permitting you the comfort and convenience of working from home.
You wake up at 8 a.m. without an alarm and with the sun streaming through the blinds. As you take a leisurely shower, you listen to the radio and hear rush-hour traffic’s a nightmare: good thing you don’t have to jump in the car to head to the office. In fact, you don’t have to go to the office at all. Sure, you’ve got two deadlines to make by the end of the day, but that’s nine hours away. At the moment, the more important question seems to be: cereal and coffee at home with the newspaper, or a bagel sandwich and a cappuccino from your favorite local café down the street? After all, a proper breakfast and some morning relaxation will no doubt focus you before digging into work.
Does this sound like your typical morning? If so, then you’re living the dream. You know, the dream of working from home. Yet for many employees who are required to clock in at regular hours or do work that necessitates being onsite – teachers, government employees, skilled tradespeople and those in the healthcare and hospitality industries, among many others – this dream remains a distant reality.
According to Global Workplace Analytics, 80% of employees consider the ability to telecommute (see Top 4 Financial Jobs You Can Do From Home) a workplace perk. For these employees, it will come as good news that the number of Americans working from home has been steadily on the rise. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that from 1997 to 2010, there was an increase of 4.2 million people working from home. The majority of home-based workers are employed by private companies, with government employees representing only a small percentage of those working from home.
Do you hope to join the 2.6% of the American workforce that now works from home? If so, do some soul-searching before telling your boss that you think you’d be more productive with a change of view, preferably a view of something other than the office parking lot. Before taking the plunge, talk to coworkers, friends and those in your networking circle, especially people who work in similar industries. Among your acquaintances who have worked from home, what challenges have they faced? Have their work-life balance (see Maintaining Work-Life Balance For Financial Professionals) and overall quality of life been enhanced?
To jump-start your process, here are a few essential pros and cons of working at home to consider.
Your hours and your life are more flexible. Want to take a month off for prime whitewater kayaking season in Patagonia every year? By working from home, you just might be able to pull off this kind of adventure, either through working more the rest of the year to offset the lost hours (easier if you’re a freelancer or have a seasonal business) or by working remotely from your holiday spot. Of course, most people appreciate flexibility for more prosaic reasons: childcare, eldercare or simply the ability to be home when the plumber shows up.
If you run your own business, you save money on overhead. Not having a brick-and-mortar location for businesses that can be easily run online, for example, can save massive overhead costs. The downside? You lose foot traffic, important to retail operations.
Depending on your work style, you may be more productive. Are you an introvert who finds social interactions more draining than energy-giving? Then you might thrive in a work environment without other colleagues. If you feel more focused in a quiet environment with few distractions, working from home may give you the opportunity to be your most productive.
Your commute is zero. Among possible deathbed regrets, it’s probably safe to say that you won’t wish you had spent more time in rush-hour traffic. In fact, more than two-thirds of workers would switch jobs just to ease the burden of their commutes.
Working alone can be isolating. If you’re an introvert – or have had your fill of banal office chatter revolving around the weather, where to go for lunch or the last episode of True Detective – then maybe isolation is exactly what you crave. Yet even those who eschew workplace camaraderie (not to mention interpersonal drama, office politics and ill-advised romances) in favor of going solo may find themselves staring at their computer screen with an inexplicable feeling of ennui. And don’t discount how personal collaboration, as well social bonds forged in the workplace, can lead to future opportunities, including a greater likelihood of promotion. While the symptoms of isolation may be trickier to recognize, workplace burnout can happen when you’re home alone with your golden retriever at your feet.
Depending on your work style, you may be less productive. Are you an extrovert who thrives on collaborating with others on projects? Do you get energy and inspiration from the kind of impromptu socializing that occurs during breaks, lunches and conversations on the way to the parking lot? If so, the solitary nature of working from home might drain, rather than augment, your energy.
Working from home can be distracting. Do you have roommates who also work from home or who work at night and hang out at home during the day? Are you a parent who is doing what might be the world’s most challenging form of multitasking – caring for an infant or toddler while attempting to do focused computer work for several hours? Even those who find themselves more focused in their home office will find such distractions challenging to their productivity. To read about this, see 5 Delusions About Working From Home.
The Bottom Line
In a study led by Stanford University in collaboration with Ctrip,China’s largest travel agency, home-based workers proved to be more productive, happier and less likely to quit. The flip side? Those working from home were half as likely to be promoted than their office-based colleagues. They were also lonely: 50% of them requested to return to the office. For more information, see How To Make Money By Working From Home.