Remote work was mass introduced to companies throughout the world in early 2020, establishing itself as a norm for many by 2021. Even as many countries have moved into a post-pandemic era, hybrid working is expected to stick around.
This is because the "forced remote-work experiment"1 brought on by the coronavirus has seen business owners purchase digital tools and create new infrastructure to facilitate employees working from home. Also, employees and employers both have new understandings of what and what cannot be done from the office. Hybrid work has undeniable advantages, including saving money on transportation and work lunches and the sustainable impact of having fewer cars on the road.
Yet, working from home also has myriad disadvantages, which are especially apparent three years into the pandemic.
Cons of working from home
Lack of work/leisure separation
The first disadvantage of remote working is a lack of separation between home life and work life.
Physical separation and mental separation are very much tied together. Not everyone has the privilege of a dedicated workspace - some could be working at the dining table or coffee table, where the mind has the complicated task of cueing the rest of the body into focus mode in an environment where it’s accustomed to relaxing.
Not only does this roadblock to setting mental boundaries make getting into deep work mode more complicated; it also makes loosening up during leisure time more complicated. When we’re unable to fully relax into either play or labour mode, both essential parts of a well-balanced life, there is a risk of suffering from chronic stress. Indeed, 70% of employees surveyed during the pandemic stated that they now worked on weekends2.
Lack of community
As much as remote work has benefitted employees in terms of giving back hours in commutes and water cooler breaks, many of the advantages of working from home focus on the individual. This neglects the collaborative and communal aspects of being in the same physical space as colleagues.
Outside the office, there is a limitation to how well you can manage and develop work relationships, as well as do team bonding. As powerful as digital workplace tools are for connecting us over distances, with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack and Miro becoming essential tools over the last couple of years (not to mention the developing technology of virtual reality), face-to-face communication is yet to be matched by an app.
Some people could even feel lonely or isolated, with workplace relationships forming a significant part of many adults’ social circles; this could lead to lower engagement and productivity.
Lack of motivation
The next con of telecommuting is a lack of motivation. In the physical workplace, employees can benefit from the team mindset. Body doubling or parallel working is a concept familiar among people who have ADHD that has gained mainstream popularity; this is when you experience enhanced focus and a sense of community when completing tasks in the presence of others who are also working. Some remote workers are starting to seek this out in ‘virtual co-working spaces’.
An ability to muster up motivation when teleworking could also have to do with a lack of structured work hours. While some people may not have any problem following a strict work schedule at home, others struggle with procrastination without accountability. This can lead to a cycle of not achieving deadlines and feeling shame or guilt due to a perceived lack of discipline.
Another disadvantage of remote working is unmonitored employee performance. In a hybrid working situation, managers have lower visibility on how you’re doing, which could lead to poorly informed feedback. Putting aside micromanaging, which almost everyone can agree is a disagreeable managing tactic, regular check-ins provide direction, and with good management, fosters open communication and trust between senior and junior employees.
Workers may be performing well but struggling with stress or anxiety. They could be underperforming due to excessive workload, poor time management, or lack of incentives. In the office, managers can assess employee performance unhindered to see where employees may need additional support or training.
The benefits go both ways, with enhanced job satisfaction on the employee side and the joy of a well-managed team on the senior’s side.
Overworking and burnout
Overworking is another common detriment of remote work. Related to the point about work-life balance, without appropriate boundaries, it can be easy to work past office hours when working from home. The “always-on” mentality makes sense if the only thing keeping you between work and relaxation is a few steps.
A mega work week isn’t a new phenomenon by any means. However, pressures on remote employees to prove their value (60% of employees in a study said they were afraid they’d lose their jobs if they didn’t perform above and beyond expectations3) and work the same number of hours even as natural breaks in a normal office day were cut out, meant that people were working longer hours during Covid-19 than they were before4. A survey conducted by FlexJobs found that 75% of people have experienced work burnout, and 40% said they experienced burnout specifically during the pandemic5.
These lead to burnout, with symptoms like detachment from work and feeling numb, ranging to serious chronic diseases which can result from overwork.
Lack of equipment
Inadequate or uncomfortable home office set-ups could also affect productivity. High-speed Wi-Fi, a quintessential factor of effective remote work with the necessity of video conferences and more, could also be something remote workers don’t always have at home.
With teleworking, there is also non-guaranteed access to specialised equipment or resources which are usually available in an office setting. This can cause barriers to meeting deadlines or a smooth workflow. Some companies subsidise employees’ remote working equipment, but if they don’t, then the latter need to bear the financial burden of setting up and maintaining a home office.
We need to make up for the distance of remote work somehow. The other side of the coin of not travelling to work is increased screen time. The simple fact that remote work is possible is due to jobs being able to be done through a device; this only became truer when offices emptied and screen interactions became the standard.
The following elements of the average teleworking day lead to tech burnout:
● Constant video meetings;
● Communication with co-workers, clients and prospects being exclusively through a screen;
● Computer applications replacing physical tools;
● Increased expectation to be available at all times.
There are well-documented health issues related to prolonged screen time, including eye fatigue and worsened sleep quality, not to mention the mental health strain of being plugged in all day.
Loss of nuanced communication
Thanks to video conferencing apps, business could continue relatively normally at the beginning of the pandemic. However, psychologists have now found that virtual communication is actually impacting the way we interact with each other.
With the difficulty of reading non-verbal cues and lack of direct eye contact, it’s clear that a video call is not a good replacement for in-person meetings. Also, there’s an increased potential for misunderstanding, especially if conducting cross-cultural meetings.
A survey conducted by a Stanford researcher has introduced a phenomenon called “Zoom fatigue”, where constantly seeing yourself in video calls, excessive and unnatural eye contact, the high cognitive load of back-to-back calls and reduced physical movement lead to burnout.
The final big disadvantage of working from home are the distractions in home life. Remote work offers employees more time for life events and time with family. But life don’t happen on a schedule. Whether it’s pets, children or chores, it can be difficult to stay focused and productive with elements of your personal life competing for your attention.
In a survey released by the International Journal of Business and Applied Social Science6, nearly 30% of remote workers said their main distraction at home was family members, while 22% said it was social media. Everyone has different household situations, and some may not provide as good of a working environment as offices do.
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At Compass Offices, we believe in the importance of the office in the future of work. We provide optimal working environments in cost-effective, business-ready offices in locations throughout the Asia-Pacific region, including Melbourne, Sydney, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Ho Chi Minh City. With a range of flexible offices, from serviced offices and co-working spaces all the way to custom workspace and virtual offices, we are trusted providers of long-term and short-term workspace solutions in major APAC cities. Get in touch to learn more.