Is Working From Home Really an Employee Benefit?
Many employees are searching out work from home positions in an effort to find a better work life balance. It might be because you need to be home to get the kids off the school bus, or you have a disability or physical limitation that makes commuting to an office challenging. Setting up a home office and sleeping in a little later sounds like a win-win situation.
But is it really?
After my workplace closed down the brick and mortar office that I commuted to and gave everyone the “choice” to work from home or be fired – I began to wonder if it was really a benefit to work from home. That's why I sat down and weighed all the positives and negatives of WAH. Let's take a look at the benefits of working from home and see if they really add up.
It sounded great – wake up, log onto your computer, and start working. No need to shower if you didn’t want to. Or, you could shower on your lunch break. I actually did that a few times. But what I noticed working from home is that it made me lazier.
Knowing that the next morning I had no commute I found that I went to bed later, and actually had a harder time getting out of bed. Now this will not be the case for everyone. If you're a morning person you'll probably still jump up at the sign of sunlight. But for someone like me who hits the snooze alarm to get even 2 more minutes of sleep, I found that I took advantage of working from home - sometimes literally waking up a minute before I was scheduled to log on. That’s not good, and a couple times I even overslept by 5 minutes.
Going into an office I had to be aware of the weather and plan accordingly. I had a routine I followed and though I did manage to develop a new one it was not easy. I started feeling like I needed that commute to wake up and get focused on my job.
No Dress Code
I am in agreement with one of our other writers that workplace dress codes have went to far. It seems that when people work at home they think it's ok to spend the day in their sweats. Zoom meetings are always a nightmare, watching as people sit there in their baseball hats and street clothes. It's as if there is no dress code to speak of anymore.
This may be a positive to you, but in reality I found that the unprofessional approach just extended into other areas. People with kids running around in the background, dogs barking, coworkers "stepping away" to get Amazon packages. None of this would happen in an office. In short, productivity went down.
Gas and Time Savings
There is no denying you will save gas and therefore money not commuting to an office - the question is how much? For me I spend $20-25 dollars per week commuting. So saving close to $100 per month by working at home is a benefit that shouldn't be ignored. I also commute about 30 minutes one way so saving 5 hours round trip per week sounded great - until I first tried to log on from home.
For security purposes, my morning log on included a three step verification process where I would receive a text message with a log on code to complete the final step. The problem is, I didn't always get the text or at least right away. Sometimes I wouldn't get the text for an hour, then all of a sudden I would receive 5 of them at once from all of my attempts.
Those computer issues meant I was offline many mornings and supervisors looked at us hard to make sure our excuses were legit. For me they were. but that doesn't mean those issues were not tracked and monitored - giving my employer an excuse for handing out poor end of year reviews. Basically they blamed us for not being "available" though it was not our fault.
Working from home is going to save you time, but not quite as much as you think. You will still need to get to your desk ahead of time to sign on and deal with any issues that pop up. At a worksite, this time was when I was already punched in, logged on, and being paid. Working at home meant this was my time, unpaid. Overall, my time savings was halved.
The Cost of Utilities
Any money I saved in gas from not having a commute was used up by increased utility costs. I found that my heating bill doubled, which makes sense since I was sitting in my home all day running the heat or air conditioning depending on the season. I also saw an increase in costs from all the electronics running - a laptop and two monitors costs more to run than you think.
I was able to keep my costs in check by shutting everything down at night, but that meant I spent more time getting set up the next day - negating a lot of my time savings. The actual cost of utilities is going to vary by person and family, but should be a factor when determining if a WAH position is for you.
Employers will also require that you purchase and maintain high speed internet. If you already have it, double check your data limits. Those with out the higher speed plans will need to factor in the additional costs of an upgrade. I also found out that if I reached a certain usage point, my internet company would throttle me. I had to manage my internet use to stay under the limit.
Mental Health and Loneliness
There's no denying that after about a month of working from home I got a little lonely. For the vast majority of a workday I was alone. No small conversations with someone in a nearby cubicle, no small talk at lunch, almost zero interaction with coworkers save for a daily scheduled zoom meeting.
After awhile, I got the feeling that this isolation was intentional. It seemed that my employer saw WAH as a chance to squeeze more work out of us. Saving a few minutes here and there by not having us interact added up, and was theoretically more time we could spend working. Like I mentioned before, the lack of professionalism impacted productivity, but this is a problem that would eventually be ironed out with strict schedules and check-ins so that we were constantly working.
The constant pressure to account for every minute of the day was mentally fatiguing. We were not allowed to have music or anything playing in the background so I was just sitting in my silent office 8+ hours a day with no one to talk to. Some will love that idea, but for me it was hard.
This will be subjective and based on your particular job. I was required to be available from the moment I logged in until I logged off. That meant sit in one place and very little exercise. It also provided plenty of opportunity to snack. I managed to keep myself in check by working from an upstairs room so that I got some steps in, went outside on lunch breaks for some sunshine during summer, and took a quick walk right after work.
The challenges of physical exercise are very similar to working in an office, but at home with no one to notice it's easier to let yourself go. Not to mention, spending day after day in sweat pants means you don't notice that you have gained weight until it's too late.
Most of my coworkers were scattered all over the map, so the chance of an after work meetup or team gathering was impossible. With no human interaction all day, I couldn't wait to see my boyfriend when he came home and was dying to leave the house. Most days he was tired after his physically demanding job and was ready to crash. We found some compromises to make things work, but for a lot of couples WAH could create some issues.
Working from home does have some benefits, but the drawbacks are not to be overlooked. I think if companies are serious about WAH they should make a greater effort to speak with their employees to ask what would make the transition easier and more enjoyable.
Given how much money companies are saving by eliminating rents and building costs, passing utility costs onto employees, and increasing productivity - I don't see them asking for our opinions on the subject. For this reason you should weigh the pro's and con's before accepting a work at home position.