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March 19, 2020

Working Hard or Hardly Working: The Truth About the Future of Telecommuting

If you asked the average telecommuter if they were more productive when working at home or working from a corporate office, they would likely tell you that they were more productive at home. It makes sense; with so many collaboration tools on the market, workers can email, chat, and video conference at any time – day or night. But, are employees really more productive when they work from home? 

The Facts May Not Follow the Feelings

According to an exhaustive look at various studies, the Association for Psychological Science found that the way work-at-home employees felt was not necessarily the case in the real world. In particular, while it’s true that people who work from home feel as though they are more productive, this may not be true at all. 

For instance, one of the issues the researchers found was that workers have a bias toward wanting to work at home. As such, this may lead them to purposely or unconsciously answer questions in a way that does not depict the reality of their performance. This can happen in two ways. First, workers may simply report higher productivity than they actually deliver. Or, they may get done at home exactly what they do at work – but they may work longer hours than they’re willing to admit in order to justify working from home. This can easily lead to burnout and even decreased productivity. 

Work-at-Home Challenges to Resolve

If workers and/or their employers want to continue the work-at-home trend, then serious attempts must be taken to resolve the main issues. For example, brand and social media company Buffer recently surveyed thousands of remote workers to learn about the benefits and challenges of their jobs. Some of the issues that came up time and time again were:

  • A lack of separation in work space and living space
  • A lack of face-to-face interactions
  • Working longer hours
  • Difficulty unplugging in the same way they could when they left their 9 to 5 job
  • Difficulty coordinating with people in other time zones
  • Challenges creating personal connections online
  • Distractions caused by working in the place they live
  • Less reliable home internet – especially for those whose offices have dedicated IT departments
  • Difficulty staying motivated
  • Challenges taking time off when there is no specific schedule
  • Challenges staying motivated
  • Missing out on benefits they would otherwise get at work, such as coffee and catered lunches 

While this is far from an exhaustive list, it is fairly comprehensive.

Benefits of Working in an Office

However, the challenges in working from home are not the only arguments in favor of more of the workforce working in an office; there are also some specific benefits to doing so. For one thing, it costs more to work at home than many workers realize. Plus, there a variety of factors that at-home workers can’t control – such as kids, pets, deliveries and so on – whereas offices are specifically built to reduce distractions for employees. 

Furthermore, studies have shown that supervisors considering whom to promote are more likely to promote the person they see every day as opposed to the employee who works from home – even if their work is equal; In fact, those who work from home may not even be eligible for management opportunities. Meanwhile, remote workers also miss out on many opportunities to network during the workday. 

Finally, it’s also easier to get instant feedback when working in an office. While a coworker could reply via email, there’s only so much that can be said with words; in reality, much of our workplace communication comes in the form of non-verbal cues, such as body language and tone. Along the same lines, if someone is waiting on feedback to continue a project, it’s much more efficient to simply walk into the next room to get help than to email and wait to receive a reply.

The Exception Rather Than the Rule

As employees and employers alike ponder the pros and cons of working from home or staying in the office, this option is likely to remain the exception rather than the rule. While there are benefits, the challenges associated with working from home often outweigh the perks for most people in the workforce. 

The views and opinions expressed herein are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of EconMatters.

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