The Reality of Working from Home
Do you think you want to telecommute? The reality of remote work is somewhat different than the fantasy. This article will separate fact from fiction for those considering remote jobs.
Remote Work Background:
Working from home has become much more common as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. By some estimates, 25% – 30% of all professionals will telecommute most workdays in 2021. That’s a huge increase, and it is likely to be a permanent change. Working from home can seem like a great thing to those who still have to go into the office, and in some ways, it is. The reality of working remotely though is somewhat different than the expectation.
We’ve come a long ways from the days of phone-based conference calls, or firing group emails around the office. There are now much more efficient, and effective solutions to getting things done in a distributed workforce. As remote work becomes more permanent and more engrained in everyday life, we’re likely to see even more maturation in the technologies that enable remote work. That’s a good thing. When working from home started, it was all but impossible to have the same sorts of interactions and technology you can in the office. Now though, much of the difference has been resolved.
There’s still a lot of differences that those who work from home face though, and success in working remotely is often more difficult to achieve that you might think. Career progression, social interaction, motivation, and salary can all suffer for remote workers. There are some strategies to be more successful in working from home though, and we’re going to cover all of it.
The Expectation of Remote Work:
Most people approach remote work with a fantasy of having more time for themselves, less time with their boss, and eliminating their commute. People also assume that they’ll love their home office and have a great setup where they can be productive in their pajamas.
Is that what it’s really like though? Not exactly. If you’re expecting to be just as, or more productive in working from home, you might be surprised.
What is it really like working from home?
Would you ever have imagined that showering would become optional? When you work from home, the simplest parts of your day will start to be questioned and you’ll wonder if it’s really necessary. Showering, as an extreme example, can start to feel optional. If no one can smell you, then what’s the point, right? This is just one of the many challenges that remote workers face, and while your water bill might decrease, your friends and spouse might start to question your life choices.
Some days you’ll be happy to wake up before the sun and get a cup of coffee; others, you’ll sleep in until just before work starts, rush to your computer and try to make your hair look okay before your first Zoom call. It really does depend on a lot of factors, from your personal habits, work-life balance, and more. The crucial part is just to take note of what works for you, and be rigorous in establishing a routine.
Sure, it’s great to eliminate your commute – those are valuable hours that you really can spend in better ways than navigating endless traffic. However, the lack of social interactions can really start to wear on some people. You may not think that you even like your coworkers, so not talking to them or seeing them everyday might sound nice. It’s harder than it seems though to miss the ritual of getting up, and getting to the office in a presentable manner each and every day. The lack of social interaction can lead to you being left out of important conversations at the office, and often you’ll need to do multiple daily check ins, just to make sure you’re fully up to speed.
Sleep patterns can become interrupted too. Since you don’t have to get up as early to be to work on time, it can become tempting to stay up later. It may not seem crucial to get to sleep as early, but initial research suggests that it can improve not just alertness, but sleep quality as well. If you’re interested, we’d suggest starting with your own normal work sleep schedule (or going by other people’s), and then experiment further. If you have your own preferred patterns that work, stick with them. If you find yourself not functioning optimally though, sleep could be a factor.
While a strategy of flexibility and free time can certainly work for some companies, this is a strategy that must be adapted for each company and each worker. Your boss might say you can have a flexible schedule, for example, but if you’re not around when he or she calls, that’ll be a problem. Yes, you might have more flexibility in your day, but you’ll still be expected to be on-call during work hours. Multitasking and responding to an endless amount of emails, all while having a video chat is more difficult than most people thing, particularly if you’re working from home. The reality is that technology has made working from home much easier, which means that you’re also more connected. Even if a day’s work can been completed by noon, count on needing to be available the rest of the day. As long as you understand that, you can still enjoy significant chunks of extra time for those working at home.
Work satisfaction can actually improve, or it can decline. People who spend the majority of their time working from home are more satisfied with their work-life balance, (70% according to Price Waterhouse Coopers). Unfortunately, the opposite is true for the other 30% of people, and this can come at the cost of monetary compensation. The Gen X generation (40 years old and above) is the first generation since World War II to have its working hours greatly reduced, but they still lack the flex hours to really feel the impact. If you work from home, you can reasonably expect to have you work satisfaction improve, but if you don’t, working remotely may not be right for you.
Efficient remote collaboration across organizations for 8+ hours per day can be tough. Managing the expectations of your coworkers is hard but for managers, collaboration and remote workers can be two very difficult things to deal with. Count on multiple daily check ins with each team member to keep them engaged. Usually an all hands meeting first thing in the morning will be useful to get people on the same page and working together. For more dynamic organizations, switching teams or functions can be extremely difficult and can isolate individuals from other coworkers. Finding the right environment for each team member will require constant experimentation between teams. It can even require merging two disparate teams into one to facilitate working and personal projects. This process has already grown very cumbersome over the past few years and will only get more so with the current trend toward remote work.
So, what are the benefits of working from home compared to traditional office? Efficiency and happiness will certainly be the most obvious benefit. From a fatigue perspective, employees can be working for a longer length of time without impacting on family life due to the lack of a commute. Folks will also have more free time, which tends to lead to more creativity and problem solving. Less commuting but maintaining your work efficiency and staying up to date with work is a huge benefit. The costs are social interaction, team dynamics, and potentially career progression.
Be sure you’re going in with this in mind if you become a remote worker. How has technology made working from home easier?
While everyone hates Zoom calls (and the essentially identical Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, etc., ad nauseam), they’re probably the best we’re going to get for a while in terms of seeing other people in a remote work environment. Other products like Slack have improved on emails inefficiencies, and CRM software allows for sales and customer service people to be anywhere.
The bottom line – what are the downsides to working from home?
There are a bunch of potential downsides to working from home, which are enumerated below:
- Career Progression – your career may actually suffer as a remote worker. That’s because less face time with the upper levels of your organization will make you less visible to them in a very real way. That’s not something that Zoom meetings can replace either. Many late career people view remote work with suspicion – they think that everyone who works remotely is probably wasting time. You’ll have to work extra hard to show them that you deserve that promotion.
- Social Interaction – Don’t discount the impact that not seeing your co-workers everyday will have on you. It can be difficult to build and maintain relationships, and to feel fulfilled in your work when you can’t share successes, or commiserate over failures. Some remote workers went weeks without seeing anyone else during the COVID-19 pandemic. Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted among us needs regular social interaction. If you’re a remote worker, be sure you’re finding opportunities to connect with other people, particularly if you live alone.
- Compensation – Many companies are starting to rethink compensation for employees that work remotely. This is often blamed on the reduced costs associated with working from home, but it’s ultimately a cost to employees and a cost reduction technique for corporations. You should push back hard if your employer starts talking about reducing your compensation as a remote worker. Consider finding a new job that values your contributions too – there’s no defensible reason that an employer should be reducing your salary just for working from home.
- Lack of Boundaries – This is a huge downside to working from home that may not be apparent until you’re living it. Your work life and home life will likely start to merge. This is not healthy, and you should strive to maintain clear distinctions between work time and home time. Some remote workers are even doing “mock commutes” to attempt to provide this boundary. An example of this might be taking a short walk between when you start and stop work to give your brain a chance to disengage from work and be present at home, and vice versa.
- Motivation – For some remote workers, motivation can start to suffer. That includes everything from personal hygiene, as mentioned above, to engagement in projects at work. If you’re someone who struggles with intrinsic motivation, you need to get ahead of the problem by ensuring that you’re held accountable by your managers and co-workers for the projects at work. Make sure that you find what works to motivate you by recognizing that working remotely is a change, and it could take some time to establish practices that work for you.
Working remotely is a new trend with professionals that’s going to be here to stay. Unless a job has to be done in person, it’s likely that most companies will offer the option to do it remotely. Before you take a remote job though, you need to think about whether or not this type of work will be appropriate for you. You need to assess your personal motivations, you social needs, and your career goals to see if working from home will be a fit. It can be a great decision for some people, but for many, the reality falls short of what you might hope.
The strategies in this article should help you understand how to make the most of remote work though. We wish you much success!