Working from home is a popular option for American companies. A 2016 Gallup poll found that 43% of U.S. professionals telecommute at least every once in a while. Likewise, a 2019 LinkedIn poll of 2,000 employees discovered that 83% of them wish they could work remotely at least once a week.
But telecommuting isn't limited to the Americans. A 2015 study by IWG reported that 53% of employees worldwide telecommute for at least half of each week. Plus, 85% of business leaders surveyed said that telecommuting helps increase productivity.
More Americans are working from home these days more than ever, thanks to the coronavirus. This dynamic shift is unprecedented. As offices close, companies are forcing millions of employees to work from home and laying others off—those workers who are required to show up in person risk exposing themselves to the coronavirus.
Coronavirus is giving everyone a first-hand look at what it's like to work from home. Is it a blessing or a curse?
Getting to stay at home at work from your desk in your pajamas might sound like a dream on paper, but experts warn that there are serious downsides. Several telecommuters often feel anxious, distracted, or lonely when cooped up at home.
If you're considering working from home, consider these benefits and downsides:
What's behind America's obsession with working at home? Why does this simple concept appeal to so many people? Here are just a few reasons why so many seem to love it:
Anyone who's ever worked in customer service or retail can tell you the stress of sticking to a rigid schedule. Imagine having to be at your desk at 8:00 am every single morning. You have to plan out every night with that in mind. That means no staying out too late and making sure you go to bed at a specific time just to be ready for work tomorrow. Some workplaces have even stricter schedules and demand that workers take breaks and lunches at particular times.
On the other hand, remote employees can work whenever they want, granted they don't have meetings or deadlines. For example, a telecommuter can start their day at 9:30 am, or 10:00 am if they so choose. They can take their breaks and lunches whenever they wish. Remote professionals aren't bound to the usual constraints placed on other workers. They can instead work at whichever times match their circadian rhythm.
Such flexibility is even better for working parents who need to pick up and drop off their children at school. Long commutes make it incredibly difficult for employees to be present for their children. Many busy professionals often send their kids to daycare or hire nannies to pick up the slack.
According to a 2017 Gallup poll, the average commuter spends about 52 minutes a day going back and forth from work. The survey also discovered that only 3% of professionals work from home. In comparison, 83% used a car (either drove themselves or carpooled), 6% used public transportation, 5% walked, and only 1% biked or used another method of transportation.
Additionally, 21% of workers said their commute was "somewhat" or "very stressful," and 38% said that their commutes were over an hour long. Workers have found ways to cope with this stress by reading (if on seated transport) or listening to music, audiobooks, or podcasts. Nevertheless, the inconvenience of commuting adds to people's dissatisfaction with their jobs. Plus, you can factor in traffic, crowded subways, missed trains, lack of parking, and various transportation costs. All these add up to a very lousy start to your morning.
Not having to commute (or living within a short distance of work) is one of the greatest blessings any worker can receive. Imagine how nice it must be to wake up and not have to rush out the door to beat traffic or catch your bus. Think of all the ways you can use the time more productively. For example, you can exercise, meditate, or get ahead at work.
Plus, not commuting works wonders for the environment. One strange upside to the coronavirus is that it's temporarily curbed air pollution. Carbon monoxide emissions in New York fell by 50%, and CO2 levels dropped by 5-10%. China's energy use and emissions declined by a quarter over two weeks.
The Citi ThankYou Premier Commuter Index estimates that the average American spends a whopping $2,600 per year commuting. The study took in all sorts of factors, including gas, tolls, and parking tickets.
However, commuting is just one area where remote workers save a bunch of money. A telecommuter will never forget their lunch at home and can eat home-cooked meals each day. According to a 2012 survey from Accounting Principles, the average American worker spends $20 a week on coffee and $40 a week on lunches. Those combined costs add up to at least $3,000 a year. (The survey also found that only one-third of respondents bring lunch from home.)
Additionally, remote workers won't need to update their wardrobe with professional attire (though it never hurts to do so). A 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure report discovered that the average American household spends about $1,740 on clothes annually. Consider how expensive professional attire can cost. Dress shirts, ties, blazers, belts, and professional shoes all cost a pretty penny.
Telecommuting can improve your health in several ways. First of all, remote workers have more time to exercise. Anyone who's ever committed to a New Year's Resolution of getting in shape can tell you how difficult it is to hit the gym. Most gyms are densely crowded on weekday afternoons since everyone seems to have the same idea: work out after work. Of course, many people do try and hit the gym in the morning, but it's tough to convince yourself to wake up at 6:00 am just to lift weights.
Remote workers can go to the gym whenever they'd like, and the gym's "non-peak" hours are by far the best. Most gyms will be mostly empty before 4:00 pm on weekdays since most other people will be at work during those hours. Imagine how nice it feels when all the machines and stations are entirely free to use.
Plus, telecommuters can work out at home on their schedule. A regular office worker probably can't go for a jog or do yoga at 1:00 pm. A remote worker, however, has that luxury. Those who work at home often report feeling less stressed and in better health when compared to their office-bound counterparts.
Personally, I use the extra time I'd normally spend commuting to do a morning jog, away from other people, of course. Then, I follow up with squats, sit-ups, and meditation.
If telecommuting is so great, why doesn't every company implement it? The first answer is that many jobs require an in-office presence. Unfortunately, bartenders, nannies, retail workers, truckers, photographers, construction workers, waiters, and other employees need to be physically present at their jobs.
The other answer is that remote workers lose out on many advantages provided by being present in the workspace. Here are some disadvantages that telecommuters face:
Lack of Community and Culture
First of all, company culture is the building block of any successful organization. Most companies express their culture through their office space. For example, art seller RedBubble's office is full of paintings across the walls and in the conference rooms. Skillz, which hosts eSports tournaments, has a giant mural in their main office full of classic and iconic characters such as Samus and Donkey Kong. Conference rooms have names of characters from franchises such as Street Fighter.
Companies can express culture in other ways, such as having an open office where people are free to ask questions or hosting after-work happy hours. These kinds of initiatives make it easier for professionals to get to know each other.
However, most of this is lost when it comes to telecommuting. Remote workers won't be able to drop by a co-worker's desk to ask a question or make small talk at the water cooler. The isolation means that any remote employee will probably not get to interact with their co-workers the same way they would if they were present in the office. They probably won't feel connected to their team members.
Many people might feel awkward, making small talk over Slack or Gmail. In an office environment, you can always grab lunch with a co-worker or catch them when they're not busy. It's much easier to run quick ideas by somebody standing next to you. Remote workers have to rely on e-mail or messaging apps to ask simple questions to their colleagues.
Less Reliability or Accountability
Your environment plays an essential factor in your productivity. Numerous factors in a physical environment affect productivity ranging from workspace design to paint color. Additionally, having the physical presence of others helps keep you accountable to your work. It's tough to check Facebook or your cell phone if your productive co-workers are sitting next to you.
However, you don't have the same accountability at home. There's often nobody who will check to make sure you're at your desk working on your project. Nobody will know if you have the television on in the background or if you are wasting time on Twitter. You must have strong self-discipline to prevent yourself from getting distracted.
Less Productive and More Distractions
As previously mentioned, you will have less accountability and more distractions. Of course, your level of distractions dramatically depends on your environment. Some workspaces are counterproductive due to constant levels of disturbing elements such as phone calls, co-worker banter, interrupting co-workers, and more.
Home offices provide their fair share of distractions as well. How many people get tempted to watch television, check their smartphone, or browse social media? It's much easier to get away with these things when nobody is looking. Some people might have pets or children, which significantly disrupt their concentration. Cafes might work as an excellent alternative, though you'd have to deal with a lot of background noise and a messy environment. Libraries are a much better alternative.
When you're in the office, it's easy to get to know your colleagues. You can walk in and greet everyone each morning, and everyone will know your name or what you do. You can talk about your projects and accomplishments openly with your co-workers or managers. You can get to know the executives and higher-ups to get on their good side.
Remote employees don't have this advantage and often feel invisible. The old adage goes, "It's now what you know; it's whom you know." Imagine trying to ask for a raise or promotion when you've barely spoken more than a few words with your boss. It's a lot more challenging to get on their good side through friendly banter when you never see them face-to-face.
Is remote working the correct option for you? Some people report feeling more productive and happier when staying home. Others, such as New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose claims telecommuting is "overrated," saying, "As a white-collar millennial, I'm supposed to be cheering on the remote work revolution. But I've realized that I can't be my best, most human self in sweatpants, pretending to pay attention on video conferences between trips to the fridge."
Nowadays, many companies offer a happy-medium where employees can work from home one day a week. This might be a minor perk, but it's something that many professionals celebrate. Other companies, especially startups, are incredibly flexible and have workers come in the office at their leisure.
Working from home might not be the best option for everyone, but it's something that most workers should anticipate. Know the advantages and disadvantages of each option and how to handle each environment best.