Last Updated on March 27, 2021 by Morris Green
According to the Pew Research Center:
- 20% of Americans were working home before the pandemic
- 71% were working from home as of December 2020
- 54% may want to keep working from home after the pandemic
Since we spend so much of our time working, the choice between working from home or working in the office can have a serious impact on our mental health. If your job is thinking about staying remote when the pandemic ends, here are some pros and cons to consider.
Pros of remote work
The biggest advantage to working from home is the flexibility it offers–though this can vary depending on your job. If you don’t have any meetings until 11 AM, your job may offer you the flexibility of sleeping in–or it may not. But the flexibility means that even if you can sleep in, people who like to wake up early don’t have to! You have more control over what you do or do not listen to, how comfortable your desk chair is, how long of a lunch break you take, whether you go on a long midday walk or take a nice midday nap… your work day can be totally customizable to your needs!
Some people with chronic physical and mental health conditions that find it difficult or impossible to commute to work every day, but who still want to work. They may find remote work essential for their self-worth and financial independence. (In fact, many disabled people are frustrated that it took a global pandemic for many businesses to consider remote work.)
Disabled and chronically ill people can often make their home offices into comfortable, accessible spaces by listening to music or ensuring silence, changing the lighting, having more comfortable custom seating, and/or having comfort items around (or even comfort creatures, like pets). This can be a great way to make your workplace more accessible!
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the reasons that companies gave for not relying on remote work was concerns about productivity. However, many studies have shown that this concern is unfounded. There is one oft-cited 2013 study of 16,000 workers at a Chinese call center, CTrip, who were assigned either to work from home or in office. Those working from home had a 13% increase in performance, higher job satisfaction, and less turnover.
This has not been the only study done that showed an increase in productivity for remote workers. However, one interesting facet of the CTrip study is that when the company chose to give all employees the option to work from home, over half of them accepted, and the productivity increase jumped to +22%. Employees appreciate when they are given more flexibility in their work!
Cons of remote work
While many employees find that working from home gives them the flexibility and control they need, others find it hard to manage distractions. This has been especially true for working parents in the pandemic, now forced to balance working from home, making sure their kids are getting to their homeschooling lessons, and an increase in housework demands now that everyone is home all the time. Noisy neighbors, needy pets, and less-than-ideal home offices can also prove distracting–especially for those with ADHD.
Working from home can get very lonely, especially for people who live alone or whose other roommates work outside the home. It is extra-important for those who work alone from home to reach out to friends and family… and, maybe, to take more meetings. I know we’re all annoyed with meetings or calls that could have been discussed by email, but during this time of increased loneliness and its risks for our mental health, communicating only by email can increase these feelings of detachment from our coworkers and human contact in general.
One important reason to check in with regular meetings and calls is to mitigate the risk of being overlooked. Unfortunately, it’s easy for remote workers to be “out of sight, out of mind” – particularly if you have a job where most information can be communicated via email. In the CTrip study mentioned earlier, employees who worked from home were less likely to be promoted based on good performance than their peers who worked in the office.
Even if you can’t have regular meetings or phone calls, you may want to try to schedule regular performance reviews with your manager to let them know you care about your performance and your future at the company.
Many of the pros and cons of remote work are highly individualized depending on what kind of work you do and your strengths and weaknesses as an employee.
For instance, the financial cost of working from home can be either positive or negative, depending on your situation. If you commonly turn down your heat or AC when you’re not home (through a timed or smart thermostat), you may pay more when you start working from home. Remote work will also lead to more electricity bills to keep your lights and computer running. However, you will save money on commuting, and may also save money on food if you commonly ate in your work’s cafeteria but now make your own lunches.
In addition, the coronavirus lockdown has made remote employees work longer hours–an additional 1 to 3 hours per day. This may be due to the distractions that come from working from home, but it may also be that employees are taking advantage of flexible work hours to take longer lunch breaks or midday naps.
The biggest advantage to remote work is the flexibility of being able to determine a schedule that works best for you and your needs. The modern American office tries to be “one-size-fits-all” in its schedules and demands, but people all learn and work differently. Perhaps that is why productivity is better for remote workers; we thrive when we are given more freedom to do what works for us.