If you commute to work in a large city, chances are that while you sit in twice-daily traffic jams you’ve experienced a moment of jealously over the freelancer sitting comfortably at home or in a cafe, sipping cappuccinos as he or she clicks away on the laptop keyboard. Working from home boasts impressive benefits: professional flexibility, greater work-life balance, a low-stress environment, not to mention less exposure to germs and viruses, which is especially comforting today.
With the decay of traditional work structures, wherein workers were meant to have lifelong careers at one company or organization, the advent of the internet has ushered in a new gig economy. A growing amount of workers increasingly prefer work-at-home opportunities to office jobs. Today, around 16% of the American workforce telecommutes (works remotely by connecting via digital means) at least part of the time. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of telecommuters jumped 115% between 2005 and 2015. As such, the world’s top-rated companies for employees are embracing this trend, with flexible schedules and telecommuting options.
But is working from home really all it’s cracked up to be? Let’s explore some of the advantages and drawbacks of working from home.
Working at home blurs the line between personal and professional life
For a workaholic, working from home is roughly equivalent to conducting an AA meeting in a distillery – the tools to feed your addiction are precariously close by. And those who are not addicted to work still admit difficulties in setting boundaries between work time and personal time. Conversely, there are also telecommuters who are unable to snap out of “personal mode” when working from home. Those who dream of working in their pajamas often meet the fretful reality that they were about as productive in their waking hours as they were in their sleep. Working at home may actually make it harder to achieve a healthy work-life balance and, therefore, is simply not suitable to all personality types.
Independent work from homers suffer an endemic lack of security
Traditional employment was at one time the cornerstone of a secure future for most Americans: Companies and organizations provided health insurance programs and retirement plans which were, for the most part, financed by the employer. When workers step away from traditional employment, their “buying power” with respect to health care and retirement plans decreases significantly. In addition, freelancers, who comprise the largest segment of telecommuters, are not protected by labor laws. Unlike traditional workers, they are not entitled to overtime pay, minimum wage, worker’s compensation, or even anti-discrimination protections.
Working from home contributes to professional stagnation
A study from MIT’s Sloan Business School confirms that the adage “out of sight, out of mind” is the governing wisdom that gets people ahead, or keeps them in place, at work. The study shows that presence and productivity seem to be inextricably linked in the human psyche, even if there is no actual correlation between presence and output. (Most businesses rely on subjective reviews over performance data).
Simply put, telecommuters are less likely to receive positive performance reviews or receive raises and promotions. Freelance telecommuters have the added challenge of establishing the brand recognition, visibility, and consumer trust that would allow for job promotion or the leverage to demand higher compensation. Furthermore, freelancers incur both time and monetary costs of professional development, making such endeavors less appealing, especially without the same guarantee of advancement that professional development offers in traditional employment.
Working from home increases worker productivity
Ninety-one percent of telecommuting employees surveyed reported that they believe they are more productive at home than in the office. Data from a Stanford study that monitored call center employees who worked work from home revealed that this impression has merit: Employees who worked from home answered 13.5% more phone calls than their office-bound counterparts. Homes are largely devoid of typical workplace distractions, engendering deeper concentration for workers and increases in overall productivity for those who employ them. In fact, a recent State of Work Productivity Report found that 65% of full-time employees surveyed thought a remote work schedule would increase productivity.
Work from home is economical for individuals and companies alike
For individuals, working from home means significant savings in transportation costs, like gas and automobile upkeep, and access to affordable (and arguably, healthier) food from their own kitchens. Not to mention, in times of global pandemics, working from home can turn into a protective measure. Time economy for telecommuters is also a distinct advantage – hours not spent commuting can be applied to work, household upkeep, or even exercise or sleep. Work-from-home opportunities increase overall household incomes by providing opportunities for individuals who are not able to arrive to traditional jobs, like parents with young children, retirees, and the disabled. Companies who employ telecommuters save money on real estate, utilities, training. Plus, work-from-home arrangements have even been proven to encourage employee retention. What’s more, a recent survey showed that 34% of US workers were willing to take a pay-cut of up to 5% just for the opportunity to work remotely.
Working from home increases the value of work
The gig economy has been particularly useful in connecting talent from around the world to jobs. Freelance platforms like Fiverr and freelancer.com allow freelancers across the globe to network with service seekers and set their own prices, in many cases allowing them to exceed the price they could ask in their local market. A freelancer from India doing business with a company from England need not be confined to the value his service or product might garner in his local market. As such, in the long-term, telecommuting might prove a valuable tool for standardizing the value of labor across markets.
The Bottom Line: It’s easy to take a romantic view of working from home – prioritizing flexibility for a greater work life-balance. In reality though, both corporate and independent telecommuters make substantial trade-offs for this flexibility. So where is your next career move taking place?