Careers

Why Work From Home? There are Many Benefits, But Also Pitfalls

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As many of you know, when I made a job change last year most of the impetus for that change was a desire for more flexibility, especially when it came to working remotely. After 5 years of travelling around the world, followed by two plus years of working in an office, I realized that what truly works best for me is something in between. I enjoyed all the travel, but missed out on any sense of a normal home life by not being here very often, and then I enjoyed the predictability of working regular hours but chafed at how “presentee-ism” was rewarded, and expected.

In short, I don’t want be to gone all the time, but I resent the fact that being in one particular spot all day was somehow a measure of productivity. It’s extremely limiting, especially when the technology exists to be able to work from anywhere. (Even more so when you were given access to all of that technology to perform work after-hours, or on weekends, when needed.)

But, that’s neither here nor there now. What is interesting though, is how much benefit there is for everyone involved, and how much research is showing exactly that.

For example:

Not surprisingly, Owl Labs also found that employees are more loyal to companies that offer them increased flexibility. The remote workers surveyed said they’re likely to stay in their current job for the next five years 13 percent more than on-site workers did.

Not only are remote employees happier, but they are prepared to work longer hours, according to the report. Remote workers said they work over 40 hours per week 43 percent more than on-site workers do.

This is important. The study also found the remote workers were more productive, better focused, and less stressed.

I have found this to be 100% accurate, and it all boils down to having the flexibility to own your own workflow. Let’s think about the typical office environment, especially the god-awful “open offices”.

  • You spend 8 hours, maybe more, surrounded by other people.
  • You spend time every morning getting dressed for the office, commuting to the office, back home from the office, and if you have personal business to take care of during the day, you need extra time for that too.
  • If you, or your child, is sick, you stay home. You probably still work anyway, but have to take one of your PTO days to be at home regardless.
  • Or, you avoid the sick day by coming to work anyway, and infecting everyone around you.
  • A good chunk of your day is interrupted by co-workers conversations, meetings, noise, etc.

Now let’s look at my typical day at home:

  • I typically wake before 7 to have a quick bite/coffee with my wife before she leaves for her office.
  • Around 7 I’m online checking to see if anything needs to be taken care of or responded to immediately. And having a second cup of coffee.
  • After catching up on things, I’ll typically get a shower and then dive into my work day in full.
  • I’ll work, focused on responding to client emails, or focused on more detailed projects with little interruption.
  • I typically have music or podcasts playing because I am one of those people who can’t focus in complete silence, I need some noise. I play whatever I want, as loudly as I want.
  • If I’m not feeling well, I can generally still manage this.
  • If I have personal business to take care of, I do it. Either by taking a quick break to run an errand, or just hopping on a phone call from my desk.
  • When it’s lunch time, I get food from my own refrigerator that doesn’t need to be marked with my name and threat of death for stealing it. I also eat at my desk.
  • Sometime around 5, or later, I’ll call it a day, unless there’s some important work that needs to be completed, in which case I simply stay online and complete it,

I want you to consider what my employer is getting out of me compared to when I worked in an office. Aside from a break for a shower, or to just get up for a few minutes, I work from 7AM to 5PM, at least. Now, do I take a few breaks during that time to scan social media, or make a call, walk out back? Of course, but do any of you not take similar breaks in the office? Exactly. But, during one of my breaks, I can also be running the dishwasher, or doing something else productive for the home.  If something needs to be taken care of during off-hours, I already have everything I need to do the work here, no worries about lugging my laptop back and forth to the office, as long as I’m home, I can do it. What I don’t do is spend more than an hour driving back and forth.

Oh, and the other thing, the BIG thing as far as I’m concerned? This routine can take place anywhere. If I want to go to Ohio and see my niece play lacrosse this Spring? Great, head up, and work from the hotel. Then go see her game in the evening. If I want to go to a concert and visit with friends in Oregon? Same deal. Not only do I get to spend more time home, having a normal life, but I also get to visit family and friends without running out of vacation time. (Especially important when your spouse earns much more vacation time than you do, and you want to still have enough to take a trip with her each year.)

It’s all this flexibility that attracted me to the idea of remote work, but wait there’s more:

Case Closed: Work-From-Home Is the World’s Smartest Management Strategy

There are some interesting tid-bits in there for management to think about. Not only is it about productivity, but it’s also about costs. Simply put, you need less office space. You also can probably cut some of your payroll as well, depending on where you are located. I work for a company that is based in a very expensive city. The cost of living there is outrageous compared to where I live in Louisiana. Bottom line, if they replaced me with someone local, it would probably require a lot more money, one to account for the increased cost of living, but also to be competitive and attract local talent. I can afford to take less than that local person in order to have this flexibility.

Not to mention, as I’ve seen in many other articles, it’s much more environmentally friendly to not have people driving to and from work every single day.

But, does that mean it’s the perfect solution for everyone? No, not at all. There are also difficulties and challenges. Managing a remote team requires a little more effort. It means setting well-defined expectations and measuring people by the work they do as opposed to just their butt in a seat. It means communicating effectively, and often. It means trusting the people who work for you, to get their work done, and to also communicate back to you and the rest of your team.

It means being a manager instead of just being someone with a bigger office. Sadly, not everyone is capable of it.

It also has some challenges for the remote worker, outlined well in this article:

The findings have big implications for employers. Lonely workers are twice as likely to miss a day of work due to illness and think about quitting their job more than twice as often as non-lonely workers. More than 1 in10 lonely workers say their work is not as good as it should be.

 

“It’s important that we remember to give employees the opportunities to engage with others, to make sure we’re not creating work environments that make loneliness worse,” said Nemecek

Now this is interesting, because it contradicts, apparently, what we see about remote workers being happy, but I think it’s more about things outside of the workplace, although the workplace plays a role. What do I mean by that?

When I first started college, I worked part time in the evenings making pizza. This led to a period of profound depression for me, and a friend told me that he had seen this often with people who worked nights. There was something about it that made people prone to depression. I found a job working in the afternoons and sure enough, started feeling much better. Now, was it just working nights that caused that? I don’t really think so. I think, it was being out of sync with the people in my life that caused that. I had lost the connections that come naturally from being out with friends on a Saturday night or taking weekend road trips. They were doing those things, while I was working.

What I think happens in some cases with remote workers is that we lose the social interactions we have at the office and don’t know how to get in sync outside of that. Now, there’s something to be said for society when we stop to realize that most of our social interactions happen at work, but that’s a post for another time. Much like managers have to actually manage and communicate to lead a remote team, remote workers need to take some responsibility to find hobbies, and ways to interact socially, that are not tied to the workplace. Admittedly, I’m not always so great at that, but in 2020, with all of the tools we have to reach out, there’s no excuse for not finding ways to avoid loneliness.

  • Get out of the house occasionally, Obviously traveling to see people and continuing to work won’t always be possible, but go work at a coffee shop for a few hours, make plans with people or without people. Give yourself reasons to spend time in public.
  • Reach out – social media, texts, phone calls.
  • Get involved in a project or hobby with others.
  • Tell people you do see what you are trying to do and ask for their help. – my wife knows I struggle with this, she buys tickets and makes plans for us to go do things. We have LSU gymnastics season tickets. She watches for groupons to new restaurants we can try, etc. She encourages me to do the same, get concert tickets, go see local, and not local, friends, etc. It helps.

So yes, there is no question that working remotely opens up a ton of opportunity to be flexible with your life. It also creates some challenges, but doesn’t everything?

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