The Downsides of Homeworking
Having worked from home for over 20 years – I am a massive fan! I have been able to do my job wherever and whenever I wanted, as long as I delivered results. But on the flip side, there are many people and organisations that are unsuited to homeworking. For them, the downsides for individuals, organisations and society as a whole outweigh the benefits. Here are some of the downsides from working at home.
Individual Downsides of Homeworking
Homeworking can have a negative impact on individuals:
- Social isolation – people who work in an office become accustomed to work colleagues, the office buzz, team working, and sharing problems. This is very different to working at home which can be quite isolated once people are removed from the social environment of an office.
- Remote isolation – research has indicated that as well as social isolation homeworkers are also distanced from the opportunities that being in an office provides. This includes:
- Resource isolation – in an office people generally have the resources that they need to hand – stationery, IT support, admin support, mail room etc. At home, people are often overwhelmed with the time it takes to find or provide resources for themselves.
- Opportunity isolation – ‘out of sight’ and ‘out of mind’ is often applicable to people who chose to work at home. Without the visibility of an office environment, it is hard to achieve the top-of-mind status that is so beneficial for promotion, performance review or development opportunities.
- Development isolation – a lot can go on at the office in an average working day: meetings, updates, successes, problems, changes, developments etc. When working at home, people miss out on a great deal of activity and information which limits their ability to develop.
- Difficulty in separating home from work – when people work and live in the same place it can be very difficult to separate home life from work life. When they leave the office, it is easy to declare work over for the day, but when they work from home those boundaries get blurred. And some may find that work never stops.
- More distractions – homeworking can very often present its own form of distractions. Family members, pets or other distractions can quite easily take your attention away from work. And comfort can be part of the problem, the fact that you are in your own home may tempt you into relaxation instead of getting on with things.
- Need for high self-discipline – working from home requires strong will and determination. Without managers and co-workers looking on it is far too easy for people to turn on the radio, do a bit of housework, search the Internet or engage in anything else other than work. For some, the quantity and quality of work can be greatly reduced.
- Increased expenses – despite savings on commuting costs, homeworkers may have additional expenses that are not covered by their employer. There may be an increase in utility bills from extra use of heating, electrical equipment, telephones and internet services. And people may also need to purchase furniture or equipment.
Organisational Downsides of Homeworking
Homeworking can have a negative impact on the organisation:
- Difficulty embedding culture and values – making sure the culture and values of the organisation are understood and embraced by employees who work from home is hard. So much of the reinforcement comes from meetings and discussions, formal and informal, that take place every day. How do organisations get a new recruit to take on their culture if they almost never physically meet their leaders or other employees?
- More difficult to manage homeworkers – managing homeworkers and ensuring that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing can be more difficult. Managers and homeworkers may have to work harder to build trust. Also, it can take more effort for managers and colleagues to communicate with homeworkers, and vice versa.
- Lower staff morale – long days spent working from home can lead to feelings of isolation and disconnect, leading to a sharp drop in the level of employee satisfaction and happiness. Building and maintaining individual and team spirits can be harder when people are working in different locations.
- Reduced productivity – concerns about productivity levels are one of the key stumbling blocks for employers considering allowing people to work from home. And left to their own devices some homeworkers will slack off. But they need managing just like office workers that have a tendency to slack off.
- Higher staff turnover – not all people prefer to work from home. Some may prefer the social interaction of the office environment. Or some may not have homes, homelives or even broadband that are appropriate for homeworking.
- Increased costs – there will be an outlay in setting up homeworking. Employers are responsible for the equipment and technology they give people so that they can work from home effectively. But savings from reduced workplace overheads could be greater in the long run.
Societal Downsides of Homeworking
Homeworking can have downsides for society as a whole:
- Impact on Towns and Cities – a significant shift towards homeworking will have a profound effect on the life of towns and cities in terms of real estate, travel and retail footfall. Almost a quarter of all office space in England and Wales is in central London alone.
Although there are some significant downsides of working from home, these can generally be overcome by making some adjustments. For most people, the benefits almost always outweigh the downsides that develop over time. The benefits are covered in depth in a separate article on the downsides. If you would like more information about implementing sustainable homeworking in your organisation, contact myHaswell on 0118 449 2829.
Dr Angela Ellam
Angela is a co-founder and Director of Haswell Analytics Limited. She has played key roles in the shaping and managing the myHaswell services.