Remote working is on the rise. Portable devices, cloud computing, video conferencing and social networking have stirred societal norms: an office environment is no longer compulsory for many jobs.
Internet entrepreneurs have long known the benefits to running a “location independent” business. But larger companies are catching on, and beginning to embrace the flexible work-from-home culture, too.
However, despite the obvious advantages to working from home, there’s also several (negative) social and psychological factors to consider. Thus no matter how work cultures evolve, the benefits of an office environment should not be forgotten.
Advantages Of Working From Home
1. No Commute
It was around a decade ago during my second year of University that I began to fully appreciate that commuting could have a negative impact on productivity.
I was studying for end of year coursework and exams. During this period the “done thing” was to get out of the house, commute to campus, and start working from one of the designated libraries or study areas. This worked well in first year — when I lived on campus. But during second and third year, the rush hour drive to campus could take up to 40 minutes. With a road incident, it could take up to an hour.
Even once i arrived on campus, I’d have to compete for a parking spot, and often run through the inevitable British rain to get to my destination: a packed library. That’s when the scramble for laptop plug sockets ensued…
Why was I doing this? The point of commuting into campus was to be more productive. Yet it was such an ordeal, that it only served to slow me down. So I started working from home, where all that time and energy I expended on the commute could be better spent doing work — rather than trying to facilitate it.
If you have a choice, do whatever feels right and works best for you — not what’s considered “normal”.
2. It’s Cheaper
Working from home is cheaper for both employer and employee.
First off, work-at-home types such as freelancers, tend to buy their own portable devices & software, and find their own work space. With location independence comes self sufficiency. This results in vastly reduced company overheads — which is welcome news for business owners.
Those working from home save on rail/bus passes, or the running of a vehicle. A poll carried out by nutmeg.com last year suggested that the average Londoner spends £118 per month on commuting, compared to an average of £69 across nine other large UK cities. So it’s a significant saving.
Reduced food and drink costs are another advantage to working at home.
Personally, whenever i worked in an office I tended to replace home-made meals with more expensive options purchased from convenient nearby food outlets. Preparing food in advance, and carrying it safely to work, was a habit I (and the majority of my colleagues) failed to adopt.
Then there’s the temptation of an additional morning or afternoon treat — such as a quick tea or coffee en route to work. Coffee alone comes in at an average cost of £2.45 a cup. That’s £49 per month if you have one every weekday.
This is all prior to other costs you may incur during obligatory social meals, meet-ups and drinks with other colleagues.
Thus many day-to-day expenses become routine, as opposed to optional, within a traditional office-based working environment.
3. Less Sick Days
Working from home means you may still be able to make a small positive impact when you’re not feeling on top form. That’s important if you’re running your own business.
Traditionally, when you’re ill, you don’t go into work. And if you do, you might be decommissioned (sometimes unnecessarily) for the day anyway: colleagues don’t want to chance catching your germs!
So working from home helps to reduce the negative impact of sick days, and maintain continuity.
4. Comfortable Environment
We work best in conditions that help us to focus. For many people, that’s at home — with their own amenities, food, and atmosphere.
Office space can, in some cases become a false economy. For instance there’s people who find they’re more focused when in isolation — which defies the point of a collaborative office environment to begin with. I’ve witnessed it myself: stressed-out employees have asked to use a free meeting room in order to escape the office floor and concentrate on time-critical tasks.
There’s other extremes — such as individuals who work better with a little background noise or activity. Some people play music (myself included). Others get up and walk around between work “stints”. These types of habits can boost productivity, but are likely be seen as distractions or forms of procrastination within a typical, formal working environment.
The point is: it’s challenging for everyone to conform to a set working format that doesn’t cater to individual quirks. And working at home offers the freedom to create your perfect work environment; the approach that yields the best results for you.
5. More Flexibility
Working from home opens to door to flexible hours and location independence.
There’s obvious lifestyle benefits to a flexible working format. Without a typical 9-5 weekday timeframe to build your schedules around, there’s less compromise on holidays, travel, socialising, and other activities you enjoy. You have the freedom to decide how you integrate working hours with your personal life.
The existence of flexible, remote employees also benefits online businesses. After all, a structured day (e.g. 9-5 hours) is somewhat moot when a business doesn’t require its staff to collaborate with one other or customers, during local daytime hours. Many businesses realise this, and opt to cherry-pick staff from around the globe from a diverse, global pool of talent, where prices are more competitive.
Indeed for many digital companies there’s no real need to conform to local time zones and working hours. An online e-commerce shop, for example, could sell products worldwide, 24/7 with support staff based all around the world.
Disadvantages Of Working From Home
1. Lack of Discipline
Those working remotely need to appreciate that communication, punctuality and overall standards will slip if you aren’t self-motivated and disciplined.
A traditional office environment is formal and pressured. It makes employees feel ever-so-slightly uncomfortable (to a point). And for a lot of us, it’s precisely the kick-up-the-back-side we need to perform.
In fact, I know several people that are happy to invest in an office purely because they need that motivation to get out of bed in the morning, to avoid distractions — like playing FIFA, stroking the cat, or watching Netflix — and to ‘feed’ off their colleagues in a structured, collaborative environment.
If you perform so much better with an office, then the monetary investment is worth it.
2. Work-life Separation
Leading on from my last point is that, psychologically, working from home makes it difficult to separate work from relaxation.
With an office, the boundaries are clear; once you step into that building you’re in “work mode”. But working at home means you don’t ever feel that physical shift. Being in the same place you sleep, eat, bathe, and watch TV poses a challenge: can you set a boundary?
I’ve struggled with boundaries myself, often dipping in and out of work during my evenings. I don’t set out to work on those evenings, but find it difficult to refrain from making minor adjustments to my web projects when my work PC is right in front of me. Yes, it works well in terms of productivity — but it’s not necessarily a healthy habit to slip into.
Work-life separation can be improved by creating your own physical space within your home (such as a small office). Alternatively, stepping outside to house to work at a coffee shop or public library works well for many freelancers and remote employees.
Work environments are beginning to mirror personal relationships. Like social media, we’re becoming disconnected.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that some of the best business decisions and insights spawn from hallway or lunch discussions, and impromptu team meetings. Progress comes from communication — not isolation.
There’s a increasing risk of us prolonging, putting-off — or entirely missing — the very interactions that drive progress. What could take a few minutes (and one eureka moment) over a coffee can easily turn into days of tedious email chains.
Plus for many people, working from home also represents a rather depressing, claustrophobic and lonely prospect. If you struggle from that, it may be necessary to adapt by:
- Investing in a work space to get out of the house and see other people.
- Conforming to your friends’ timetables, so that your free time aligns.
Rather ironically, to avoid isolation, you end up living by the the same 9-5 working format that you’d hoped to escape. Living on your own schedule, by your own rules doesn’t help you maintain relationships with ‘regular’ workers.
4. Negative Perception
“You’re so lucky you don’t have to work” — a common misconception about working from home.
You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve heard that one.
You can brush off these old-fashioned views, because it doesn’t matter what others think… right?
Actually, in some cases perception does matter. If clients perceive your business as being more legitimate with an office, then that could be the difference between making sales and not. Your company’s lack of physical presence might also be the difference between you finding a great employee, and not being taken seriously enough.
Your image represents you and your business. You have to assess how much of an impact working from home has on it.
5. Low Work Rate
Those working at home may have the inclination to drop their work rate in familiar surroundings, despite having every intention of driving the business forward.
Companies have a dilemma: is it easier for remote employees to drop their work rate and get away with it, than they could in an office?
Think about it. The internet enables individuals to create facades, deceive others, and avoid being exposed. Electronic devices keep the physical world at arms length. That’s precisely why internet trolls, cyber bullies, and fake personalities are so prevalent online.
Workshy types are able to use the layer of separation between themselves and their bosses, to disguise their poor work rate. And it’s very difficult to conclusively judge someone’s productivity when it’s not visible, right before our very eyes. Thus remote working may require further investment into staff monitoring tools.
It’s also challenging to motivate employees without the ability to give a gentle “tap on the shoulder” every once in a while. The office environment therefore serves as a platform for management and motivation.
Do Work Spaces Offer The Best Of Both Worlds?
The best long-term working conditions are down to the individual. There are clear cut pros and cons to working at home. Do the pros outweigh the cons for you?
Remember that remote working doesn’t just mean you have to set up a corner of your home to dedicate to work — there’s the option of renting work space. Some are free too — particularly in city centres. Ultimately you need to decide whether that extra investment (and effort to commute), helps to improve your productivity.
If your workspace is local to home, and competitively priced, then it could create the perfect balance: a work-life boundary, without a long commute, which provides a healthy environment that helps you maintain focus on your projects.