The downsides of working from home
Working by yourself can get lonely.
Is working from home as great as it sounds? And when does the thrill wear off, and you long for an office environment again? Such questions are rarely considered in debates about home-based work and teleworking’s future. Everybody seems too busy espousing its benefits to consider the risks.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a fan of working from home and think telework is important. Having worked from home for five years, I can’t imagine toiling in town again, losing hours to public transport, and giving up home-based flexibility for a more regimented environment.
But home-based work, especially over consecutive years, is not as easy as many comments on last week’s blog about teleworking suggested.
As the federal government encourages more teleworking, it should also spell out the challenges of working from home for extended periods. There could be significant long-term problems, to individuals and community, if more people start doing so without due consideration.
What’s your view?
- What are the biggest challenges in working from home?
- Can it be damaging to your career and health?
- Was it hard to adapt from a city office to a home office?
- Does working from home get harder the longer you do it?
- What is your best advice to make it manageable?
In the interests of creating more debate on the topic, I’ve listed my top 10 risks relating to working from home (add your ideas to this list). With a bit of planning, each can be avoided or managed.
1. Support networks
Many home-based workers are glad to see the back of their toxic corporate working environments. Certainly, less “office politics” is a hidden benefit of home-based work, for it removes a layer of stress. But don’t underestimate the value of being able to talk to close colleagues about professional or personal problems when needed, and the benefits of office banter, interaction and friendship. Working from home means a different type of support network must be built and maintained.
2. Relevance depreciation
I once joked that working from home occasionally feels like being in a witness protection program, where you lose your identity and have to get used to daily life in the suburbs, rather than the city’s hustle and bustle. Those with bigger egos must plan for the transition and avoid the risk of a lower profile. Manage the threat of feeling isolated; left unchecked, this can cause health problems. Make an effort to get out, see people, exercise, do a course and work in different locations from time to time.
3. Out of sight
Teleworking’s main downside is being forgotten in the workplace. Your boss does not see you as much, so assigns work to your on-site colleagues and spends more time mentoring them, while you are out of sight and out of mind. Learn to maintain your profile if teleworking; maybe it’s a day at the office each week, or making an extra effort to attend special meetings or training events. Perhaps it is a few more emails to colleagues and the boss.
4. Show me the money
Those suffering from point three above might find it harder to get their deserved pay rise and promotion. Maybe their dimwitted boss believes being allowed to work from home is enough of a benefit. Smart teleworkers push for pay rises and promotions like any other workers, and ensure their output is adequately measured. The lax ones give up on pay-rise requests because they mistakenly feel they are of less value to the organisation, or always having to justify their existence to their employer.
5. Skills development
Watching how colleagues respond to different situations, or picking up skills from the boss or co-workers, can be an important source of learning and development. Home-based workers miss out on this impromptu, one-the-job training, and can find some communication skills erode over time. Ensure you keep learning through courses and the like, preferably in a personal setting.
6. Work/life imbalance
Most people love the flexibility of home-based work. The risk is blurring work and home life so much that there is no boundary. Unlike corporate life, where it easier to switch off on leaving the office, your home can become a non-stop office if you allow it, and “cabin fever” can set in if you never get out. By all means embrace the flexibility of home-based work - just know when to switch off.
7. Too productive
Surely being too productive is a benefit rather than a risk of working from home? To a point. The danger is becoming so productive you end up doing ever more work, which is fine if you are rewarded or recognised for the extra output, and not so great if your manager comes to expect it. Another danger is finishing work too quickly and not having enough to keep you going. It sounds crazy, I know, but some home-based workers find it offputting to have their work finished by 2pm each day.
8. Time wasters
I’m often asked if it is hard to work from home with young children. That is the least of the challenges; it’s everybody else who thinks that because you work from home you are always available for a coffee or lunch, or to lend a hand on some time-wasting chore. Or that you can easily nip into town for a meeting (and lose half the day). Set boundaries when working from home, so that friends and family respect that your most valuable asset – time – can’t be frittered away.
Another myth is that home-based workers end up watching TV, surfing the net, or doing household chores in between work all day. A bigger problem is occasional boredom rather than home-based distractions (although it’s easy to be bored in office environments, too). The difference is all the office-based distractions that help fill in the time (useless meetings, office banter, interrupting colleagues) no longer exist when working from home.
Those who say they work from home for “lifestyle reasons” do the home-based work movement a disservice. Yes, working from home can provide a better lifestyle and more flexibility to juggle professional and personal life. It can also make your business much more successful by cutting costs, boosting your productivity, and giving more time to do higher-quality work. A better lifestyle should be a bonus, not the only reason for working from home, unless you have lost all professional ambition.