Working from home has been a pipe dream for most people until recently. But in these post-pandemic times, it’s the new normal.
In this article, we’ll detail the pros and cons of working from home. Then, we’ll take an in-depth look at the pros and cons of remote management to give you a perspective from both sides.
How Many People Work From Home?
Only around 5% of the entire American workforce held a remote position in 2018, despite explosive growth over the last decade.
But that all changed with COVID-19.
In March 2020, offices slammed their doors shut to curb the deadly disease, ordering millions to undertake their duties from home. The shift was seismic.
According to Upwork, one of the world’s leading freelance platforms, a whopping 41.8% of all American employees were working from home at the end of 2020. Although many of those will return to traditional offices once restrictions ease, many others will not.
The pandemic has given workers and management the chance to test-drive the remote work model.
As it turns out, working from home offers an array of enticing benefits to both parties—but of course, there are some disadvantages to consider as well.
Pros of Working From Home
A staggering 99% of remote workers want to continue telecommuting in the future—that’s a whole lot of satisfied staff tapping away on their keyboards from home.
So what makes remote work so great for the employee?
Let’s examine the key reasons why so many workers want to side-step the traditional office environment.
The most obvious benefit of working from home is you save stacks of time.
The average commute in America is 27 minutes one way, almost an hour a day you could be spending on something else.
Not only does that mean less leisure time, but the daily commute also cuts into activities that promote healthy living. A study from the Brown University put a chronometric price tag on all those wasted minutes, concluding the average commuter loses seven minutes of exercise time, ten minutes of food preparation, and 60 minutes of sleep per week.
The cost-saving benefits of working from home are equally enticing: lower gas, car maintenance, and parking costs (or public transport expenses for the carless, inner-city worker).
You save even more money by forgoing formal workplace attire and those cheeky mid-week lunches, not to mention your morning barista-made coffee. Plus, remote workers are entitled to a slew of beneficial tax breaks, covering anything from home office equipment to rental payments and utility bills.
If you decide to go remote full-time, you can save a fortune by renting or buying property in a low-cost city or neighborhood.
No need to fork out for an expensive inner-city apartment near your office. Or, you could take the concept to the extreme by relocating to a low cost of living country, a la the digital nomad.
So how much can you expect to save?
The precise dollar figure will vary depending on your circumstances. However, the University of Ohio crunched the numbers and concluded an American remote worker could save up to $6,800 per year. In a separate study, FlexJobs determined the average worker would be around $4,000 better off per annum.
In either case, that’s a tidy sum.
Before COVID, employers were generally reluctant to approve remote work for the fear of reduced productivity. After all, with no boss to watch over the workers’ shoulders, it’s logical to assume they might start slacking off.
As it turns out, the opposite is true. A two-year study by Great Place to Work, which surveyed around 800,000 Fortune 500 employees.
The survey found that most respondents reported increased productivity when working from home.
The reasons for that vary, with staff citing improved job satisfaction (due to better work-life balance), fewer distractions, a quieter work environment (school holidays notwithstanding), no nasty office politics, and improved concentration.
Better Work-Life Balance
Working from home entails a better work-life balance than the traditional office environment, and the difference is profound. A FlexJobs study of 4,000 people found 73% reported an improved work-life balance since transitioning into a remote position.
Aside from the time saved by avoiding the daily commute, remote workers often get a flexible schedule, allowing them to take much-needed breaks and work during their most productive hours.
Remote workers have more time to spend with their loved ones and following their passions, which enhances overall well-being.
Improved Mental Health
While feelings of loneliness and isolation can be the bane of the remote worker’s existence, studies have found that flexible work-from-home arrangements can benefit mental health.
A survey by FlexJobs and Mental Health America, for example, found workers with rigid schedules were almost twice as likely to report poor mental health as those with flexible hours. The study also determined 80% of participants felt flexibility helps improve mental health.
Common stressors include personal finances, health, the economy, work-life balance, and current events—the latter being particularly prevalent during these tumultuous times.
Remote work helps mitigate these factors by alleviating financial burdens and time constraints.
A flexible schedule also gives workers time to fulfill personal commitments and undertake everyday chores, thus reducing stress.
Enhanced Job Satisfaction
With more money and free time, better mental health, and a favorable work-life balance, remote workers also report better job satisfaction—something that benefits both employers and employees.
A study by the American Psychological Association found telecommuting increases job satisfaction and company loyalty when implemented correctly.
Furthermore, a CNBC survey found employees working from home had a Workforce Happiness Index of 75/100, compared to 71/100 among those who continued to work in an office during the pandemic. Remote workers also provided positive feedback to an array of other metrics: job satisfaction, pay perception, and career advancement, among others.
For the employee, job satisfaction enhances overall well-being. And for the employer, a happy worker is more productive and loyal—it’s a win-win on both accounts.
While the part-time remote worker must maintain proximity to the company HQ, full-timers may have more freedom.
Fed up with the sky-high rental rates in downtown San-Francisco?
There’s a simple solution: relocate to that quaint country town you’ve always had your eye on.
You’ll pay lower everyday living costs outside major metropolitan zones, plus you get to enjoy the benefits of a laidback rural lifestyle. Of course, if you’re a bonafide city-slicker, you could relocate to a cheaper city instead.
Some folks take location independence further by packing up their laptops and moving to a different country altogether.
Dubbed the “digital nomad,” these intrepid individuals travel the world while working entirely online. A cheaper cost of living and non-stop adventure make the concept irresistible to the wanderlust set.
With climate change poised to be the biggest problem facing humankind, people are becoming increasingly concerned about their carbon footprint. The good news is that working from home is more environmentally friendly than turning up at the office each day.
The main factor is the daily commute, which accounts for 98% of an employee’s work-related carbon emissions.
The numbers are compelling.
The average commute for an American worker is 32 miles, round-trip. According to the EPA, the average passenger vehicle emits 404 grams of CO2 into the atmosphere for every mile—that’s 12.9 kg (28.4 lbs) per day or 64.5 kg (142.1 lbs) per week. Multiply that figure by 50, a typical working year in America, and every single person is, on average, emitting 3,225 kg (7109 lbs) of CO2 into the atmosphere each year.
If that still doesn’t sound all that alarming, consider that around 143 million of us currently commute. Transportation generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions, more than electricity, industry, and commerce.
Remote work could be the key to a greener future. One in four Americans are expected to work from home in 2021, which would be the equivalent of taking 6 million cars off the road for an entire year.
Cons of Working From Home
We’ve given you a whole host of reasons why we love working from home, but what about the downsides?
As much as we adore clocking hours in our pajamas and skipping the daily commute, there are some disadvantages to consider. We’ll outline the major drawbacks below.
As millions of workers discovered at the onset of the pandemic, collaboration can be challenging in a remote team.
Meetings are more effective when conducted in-person, especially when large numbers of participants are involved. Poor audio quality, background noise, unmuted microphones, and notification alerts are all common distractions, often throwing the agenda off track.
A study from Twingate, which sampled over 1,000 American employees during the early stages of the pandemic, found 40% felt mentally exhausted from too many video calls (we’ve all been there). That’s hardly surprising because 45% said they attended more meetings while working from home, as opposed to just 23% who reported fewer.
Communication also tends to suffer overall.
While you might expect digital collaboration to skyrocket in a remote team, the reverse is true. The Harvard Business Review discovered office workers email each other four times more frequently than remote workers, which benefits project completion rates by as much as 32%.
Poor email communication combined with more frequent and problem-plagued video conferencing has a tangible effect on team cohesion.
According to State of Remote Work, an industry-recognized annual report from Buffer and AngelList, 20% of remote workers report struggling with isolation. That figure puts it on par with collaboration difficulties as the most common gripe.
Remote workers feel more isolated than their office-attending peers because they spend most of their time alone.
It’s one of the biggest differences between working from home and the office.
Everyday social interactions—say, greeting your co-workers in the morning or discussing current events at lunch—aren’t as prevalent in a home office. Although they may sound insignificant, these daily interactions greatly enhance our overall mental well-being.
Online communication can alleviate isolation to some extent, but it’s not as effective as in-person interaction.
Attending a physical office—whether every day or just a few times per week—helps foster a sense of community and social well-being.
Coworking spaces are designed to help fill this void, providing an office-like environment for individual workers.
Loneliness is far from trivial. Studies have found prolonged isolation can be twice as harmful as obesity to both mental and physical health. For the budding remote worker, you mustn’t underestimate the impact.
Motivation can suffer in a remote team, especially among those who work from home full time.
The Equity Theory of Motivation states that workers measure performance against their peers. When surrounded by talented and enthusiastic colleagues, the worker will strive to perform at their peak to obtain recognition from the team.
Physical proximity helps drive the desire to be seen as a highly productive employee.
And while clocking in late and working in your underwear may seem like the dream, this unconventional approach can diminish motivation. The mere act of turning up to an office and wearing professional attire can help workers feel more enthusiastic about their projects and careers.
While going remote enhances work-life balance through additional flexibility and free time, it also inhibits your ability to unplug –a double-edged sword, if you will.
When you work and live in the same environment, studies show it can become difficult to separate your professional and personal life. The struggle becomes even more real when working in a shared area—such as the kitchen or living room—rather than a dedicated home office space.
Even if you do have a fancy home office, it can still be difficult to switch off from work mode come knock-off time.
Remote workers frequently find themselves answering emails in bed at midnight or taking work calls before their morning coffee.
Although menial, these little extracurricular tasks take their toll over time and eventually lead to greater rates of burnout and stress.
While most remote workers report fewer distractions at home, not everyone has that luxury. It may or may not be easier for you to focus when working remotely—it depends on your personal circumstances.
If you’ve got small children or an attention-seeking housemate or spouse, you might find it challenging to maintain focus throughout the day.
Likewise, if you’ve got an adorable little puppy who loves going for walks, you could find yourself taking more frequent breaks than you should.
What’s more, procrastination—the greatest distraction of them all—rears its ugly head more often when working remotely. With no colleagues to monitor your screen, you may find it tempting to spend excessive time on social media.
Pros of Remote Work for Companies
It’s not just remote workers jumping on the bandwagon.
Since COVID-19 mandated working from home, companies—both big and small—have discovered the benefits of retaining a remote workforce, whether a few key positions or the entire team.
One of the main reasons so many businesses plan to continue working remotely is lower operational costs.
A company can save big money by forgoing office rental, equipment, furniture, and travel reimbursements.
These reduced overheads don’t only apply to fully remote companies. Global Workplace Analytics estimates a business can save $11,000 per worker per year by ordering them to telecommute 50% of the time. There are tools you can use to help calculate your own expenses, too.
As you can see, there’s no need to drastically alter the company structure or eliminate the traditional office environment to reap the benefits.
As we’ve discussed above, remote employees are, generally speaking, more productive than their in-office counterparts.
This increased productivity allows workers to make more meaningful contributions towards business objectives, thus bolstering the bottom line.
Although collaboration can suffer to some degree with a fully remote team, increased individual productivity is, more often than not, a worthwhile trade-off. After all, teleworkers are 35-40% more productive than office workers on average and have an output that’s at least 4.4% higher.
As we know, most employees feel happier when given the freedom to work from home. Job satisfaction soars, and workers feel a greater sense of organizational loyalty.
While these positive sentiments are beneficial for the worker, there’s also a substantial advantage for the company: employee retention. The OwlLabs State of Remote Work report found remote staff are 13% more likely to stay in their position than in-office personnel.
As another example, Stanford University studied a Cstrip, a Chinese travel wholesaler with around 16,000 staff. Its remote workers reported a higher degree of job satisfaction, and their attrition rate halved compared to in-office personnel.
Companies that are reluctant to transition into a remote work environment need to be especially careful because they risk losing talent.
An online survey from Mom Corps found 42% of workers would be willing to take a pay cut in exchange for a more flexible working environment. Moreover, 54% would change companies for a position offering greater flexibility.
More Applicant Options
One often-overlooked advantage is that remote (or partially remote) companies have access to a broader talent pool. While traditional in-office positions are confined to applicants in the same city, remote jobs are available to anyone anywhere in the country—or sometimes those living abroad.
Employing remote staff allows recruiters to circumnavigate geographical boundaries to select the most appropriate applicants for the job.
This virtually limitless talent pool gives companies greater scope to mitigate skill gaps and prioritize aptitude.
The recruitment process isn’t all that complicated, either. A human resources department can screen applicants, conduct interviews, and select personnel in an entirely virtual environment.
Cons of Remote Work for Companies
While the business advantages of going remote are profound, there are quite a few drawbacks a company should look out for as well.
Weaker Company Culture
For many large enterprises, fostering a distinct company culture is a fundamental business objective.
A well-defined and robust company culture communicates to employees why they should work there. And for the customer, it lets them know why they should spend money on the brand.
A company’s culture stems from its values, which are challenging to define without regular face-to-face interaction. As remote teams tend to minimize interaction, leaders have fewer organic opportunities to promote company values or explain why they made key decisions.
While it isn’t impossible to develop a company culture in a virtual environment, it is an uphill struggle at times. The problem exacerbates when prioritizing socialization and collaboration—two key components many find lacking in remote work.
Collaboration Can Be Challenging
While collaboration challenges affect individual remote workers, the impact can be felt far more heavily at the company level. As teamwork becomes more complex, projects that require a high level of collaboration may experience performance issues or delays.
Long-lasting business relationships are also more difficult to develop online. Traditionally, trust and rapport are developed through pleasant in-person interactions and fully-catered events—businesses have been schmoozing critical stakeholders since time immemorial. But it’s not so easy to harbor these positive sentiments online.
Despite being the go-to tool for online collaboration, video conferencing just isn’t all that effective. Non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and body language are easy to miss, making it more challenging to build rapport.
Video calls also suffer from various technical issues, including slow internet connections, garbled speech, delays, and compatibility issues.
What’s more, multi-attendee conference calls make concentration a chore due to a psychological phenomenon known as continuous partial attention. Rather than focusing on one speaker, the brain will automatically try (unsuccessfully) to pay attention to every tile on the screen.
Is Working Remotely a Good Idea?
There are a few notable downsides to the work-from-home model: collaboration difficulties, isolation, ill-defined company culture, and poor work-life division, to name a few. Even the most enthusiastic remote companies/workers would agree.
Nonetheless, once you factor in the key advantages, the benefits appear to outweigh the drawbacks, both for the employer and the employee.
Some of the world’s biggest brands seem to think so anyway. Companies going remote include the likes of Amazon, Capital One and Facebook.
While adopting a work-from-home approach isn’t going to be ideal for every worker or company, it certainly appears to be working well for many people out there. And considering the current environment, there’s no time like the present to give the model a shot.
If you’re trying to figure out how to go remote, check out our post on the top remote job boards—you’re dream position could be just a few clicks away. And if you’re wondering what does fully remote mean, then we’ve got you covered there, too.