The pros and cons of working from home

Working remotely is a hot topic right now as the COVID-19 outbreak has people avoiding as much human contact as possible. More and ore companies are replacing in-person job interviews with video calls and instructing as much of their current staff to work from home.

For those unfamiliar with working from home, it may seem like a tongue in cheek metaphor for simply taking a day off. Maybe it is, if you’re a slacker. Many jobs, however, can be done effectively – and even more productively from home.

There are numerous advantages to having the option of working remotely for a day. Here are just a few:

Focus. You can accomplish everything on your to do list that day without the constant interruption of people dropping by your desk for favours or chit chat.

Free up time. You win back all the time that you normally spend commuting. Recent studies have said that the Canadian average is between 45 minutes and an hour each way. So, working from home immediately gives you an extra hour and a half of time freed up in your day.

Quarantine. Obviously, this is most relevant right now. COVID-19 is spread through human contact – particularly close contact. So, crowded commutes, elevators, coffeeshops, meetings are all high-risk situations. Working from home not only keeps you from getting sick, but it also means fewer people travelling and coming into the workplace who could be unknowingly carrying the virus.

Achievements. People are actually more productive when they do their work on their own schedules. WFH implies that you are responsible for getting the work done whenever and however you accomplish it. When you work on-site at your place of employment, it is possible to put in your eight-hour day and get very little done. When you work from home pushes you to deliver measurable results.

Family-time. Many schools are closed right now, as are camps and daycares, so working from home can allow you to juggle the pressures of getting your work done, while simultaneously looking after the kids.

There are drawbacks as well. Working from home does come with some pitfalls that you will need to watch out for. Here are a few of the potential problems.

Out of sight… Because you are not physically present at the workplace, there is a risk that you may be cut out of the decision-making process for projects.

Delays. Collaboration and teamwork are naturally easier to arrange when you’re all in the same place at the same time. Clearly communicate with your colleagues if any of your work is contingent on theirs and set realistic deadlines for deliverables.

You also potentially lose face time with the boss when you are remote, which can limit both your ability to learn from people in higher roles as well as your chance to make an impression on them.

Loneliness. Actually going into work offers the opportunity to see people, socialize with coworkers, get immediate feedback on works-in-progress and to just get out of the house. Working from home can be isolating. In the case of COVID-19, isolation is the point of it, but you still need to make effort to connect with other people to stave of loneliness. Schedule regular video meetings or conference calls to check in on deliverables and to see how everyone is doing.

You’re always at work. If you are working from home full-time, you’re also constantly at your workplace. Maintaining work/life balance can be a challenge in that situation. Decide when you’re working or on-call, and when you are off work. Set a daily schedule – or a to-do list of accomplishments – and check out of working mode once they’re done.

I’ve worked from home as well as in many office settings. The arrangements that I’ve seen work best are flexible. People go into work most of the time, but also regularly (once a month, once a week, randomly-as-needed) they work from home either to accommodate some personal need, to add variety to a long work week, or just to catch up on stuff.

Having the flexibility to work from home is empowering. Employees appreciate those kinds of perks, and it makes them more loyal to their employer. Plus working from home occasionally while maintaining a regular presence in the office eliminates most of the pitfalls that I mention above.

Having that kind of arrangement set up in advance also greatly helps out in crisis situations like this. Working from home policies can allow organizations to weather the COVID-19 outbreak without shutting down while still keeping the staff safe and healthy.

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