Even though studies suggest close to 40% of American jobs could actually be performed from home, only 5.2% of the population worked remotely on a full-time basis, according to U.S. census data. That was until COVID-19 put our nation’s ability to WFH to the test.
Millions of U.S. employees, armed with company laptops and home Wi-Fi, now became remote workers overnight. Daily meeting participants in Zoom video conferences surged from 10 million to 300 million.
Now, everyone saw what a blessing remote work can be. No more daily commutes. More time with family. A better work-life balance. And yes, the relaxed dress code.
But working remotely does have its share of difficulties. Even with a growing list of companies offering permanently remote-work options and three in five U.S. workers saying they plan to continue working from home as much as possible, questions remain:
In the long run, is working from home bad for you? Are the pros outweighed by the cons of working from home? And what are the biggest disadvantages of working from home?
Let’s discuss the negative effects from a work-culture perspective.
The dangers of working from home
Before COVID-19, any exposure most of us had to remote work was limited. Perhaps it was checking office emails while waiting for an important home delivery or trying to call into meetings when caring for a sick child. Not until you’ve WFM full-time will you notice:
- The growing sense of isolation
- The tendency for lack of structure
- The feeling of career stagnancy
- The ever-shifting work-life balance
For full-time remote employees, burnout is one of the most common dangers of working from home. A 2019 survey suggests that 82% of remote workers in the U.S. experience work fatigue with over half reporting that they work longer hours than those in the office.
Once we identify some of the more pervasive problems with working from home, we can create specific strategies to combat the negative effects of remote work.
Team members experience less human interaction
Face it. The 9-to-5 office setting isn’t all work and no play. It’s also a social environment where employees get to know one another, share informal conversations, bounce ideas off one another, bond as a team or group, and begin to appreciate the company culture.
You might not realize just how much you’ll miss those complimentary office donuts until long after your physical presence at the monthly standup meeting is no longer required.
Fortunately, the same technology that allows you to work remotely can also be used to maintain work relationships and hold team-building activities virtually. No matter how busy your schedule gets, on a weekly basis, always try to make a concerted effort to:
- Set aside time for fun and informal chats with your co-workers.
- Find online games or activities to participate in with your team.
- Meet with work friends for coffee or a lunch outing to catch up (as social-distancing guidelines allow for in your community).
- Conduct check-in meetings with your boss to talk about issues.
If you work in management, continuing to conduct one-on-ones on a regular basis with your employees will go a long way to maintain worker morale.
Workdays involve more meetings than necessary
Staying in contact with co-workers throughout the workday via phone, email, or chat is both convenient and frustrating. Depending on the communication channel, some are more responsive than others. The tone of a message can also be easily misconstrued.
In the absence of regular collaboration, employees and managers alike often fall into the habit of scheduling meetings to ensure everyone stays productive. Too many meetings can:
- Disrupt the natural flow of work and individual productivity.
- Create project delays in anticipation of upcoming meetings.
- Take time away from completing tasks or hitting deadlines.
- Breed resentment if the intent is perceived as a “check-in.”
Under the best circumstances, statistics show that people consider 33.4% of meetings to be unproductive with 63% of meetings being conducted without a planned agenda.
When working remotely, it’s important to trust your team and scale back on meetings, wherever it makes the most sense for your company. It’s already difficult enough to stay focused without the added distraction of another meeting where an email would suffice.
Meetings conducted remotely can also be more engaging and productive when working in real time on a digital whiteboard, a visual flowchart, or other interactive form of media.
Make your remote meetings more productive and useful for every team member.
Staying aligned with the team takes more effort
Among the usual problems with working from home, keeping your teams aligned with your company’s vision is an issue that only gets worse if you don’t stay ahead of it.
Fortunately, there is hope. According to a recent Gallup report, remote employees who understood how their own efforts contributed to their employer’s objectives increased productivity by 56%.
So, what can you do to help your team avoid becoming siloed?
- Encourage a sense of community through informal interactions with your team (e.g., a virtual happy hour on Zoom or a Slack channel for talking about movies).
- Create process workflows or task boards that everyone can access online, which helps ensure each team member understands their roles and responsibilities.
- Foster an environment of trust, respect, and openness with team members, one that features constructive feedback, radical candor, and goal-setting discussions.
In any remote-team dynamic, setting clear expectations and tying everything back to the big picture is crucial. When necessary, provide additional context for team members as a means to demonstrate how their individual work efforts are part of something bigger.
Digitize and communicate your processes to keep your team better aligned on responsibilities and next steps.
Striking a consistent work-life balance is hard
The not-so-subtle irony of remote work is this: When working from home, it can prove difficult for co-workers, managers, family, and friends alike to respect your boundaries.
Employees often encounter bigger interruptions, miss more lunch hours, and put in longer days than they ever did back at the office. On average, remote workers clocked a whopping 16.8 more days a year than their office colleagues, which could be why almost a third of remote workers requested a mental health day.
If you hope to achieve a greater work-life balance for yourself and your team, remember these guidelines:
- Don’t log in the moment you wake up. Grab a coffee and adjust to your morning.
- Set a regular schedule and keep it; maintaining a routine can increase efficiency.
- Remind yourself and others to take work breaks just like they would at the office.
- Expect the unexpected. Allow added flexibility to handle responsibilities at home.
Once you define a clear cutoff time to end the workday, adhere to it. And if you happen to feel under the weather or simply need some downtime, don’t be afraid to take a sick day or use your vacation hours. They’re called benefits for a reason; try to enjoy them.
Working remotely will always pose its share of challenges. But once you make yourself aware of the different problems with working from home, it becomes easier to combat the negative effects. You may even rekindle your love for remote work in the process.
Improve your work-life balance. Listen to Dave Crenshaw's 10 tips for avoiding remote work fatigue.