6 Downsides to Working From Home — and How to Manage Them

Studies show working from home can produce gains in productivity, but there are also downsides. Learn how you can overcome them.

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Downsides to WFH and How to Manage Them

The COVID-19 pandemic forced a rapid adoption of remote work for companies. At its peak, nearly 45% of full-time employees worked remotely at least some of the time. While offices have reopened, it’s still projected that about a quarter of all professional jobs will be done remotely this year.

While studies consistently show improvements in productivity for remote work, there are also downsides to working from home that employers must be aware of.

The downsides of working from home

Here are 6 of the potential challenges with remote work that can impact both work-life balance and long-term productivity for work-from-home (WFH) employees.

More meetings

Remote workers now spend over 25% more time in meetings than they did while working in the office. One-on-one meetings have jumped by more than 300%.

While meetings may be necessary to stay connected, meetings eat up a lot of time and they’re not always productive. They can also disrupt the workflow.

Remote meetings can also be much more stressful. A Microsoft study shows that the brainwave patterns associated with stress and fatigue are significantly higher when employees are in video meetings.

Longer hours

A University of Chicago study showed that WFH employees spend more hours working than they did in the office.

Employees have more difficulty keeping their work-life balance in check when doing remote work. While enjoying more flexibility, it’s often challenging to stop down at the end of the day. A University of Chicago study showed that WFH employees spend more hours working than they did in the office.

Many remote workers are suffering from work-from-home exhaustion. The lack of boundaries between work and home life makes it difficult to switch off. This can lead to disengagement and lower work output while increasing the potential for burnout.

Lack of social interaction

Remote work can also lead to social isolation. A 2-year study of WFH employees showed significant gains in productivity, but it also showed increases in isolation and loneliness.

It’s one of the top challenges reported by remote workers and the reason why many ask to return to the office or work hybrid schedules.

Video chats and instant messaging are poor substitutes for human interaction. At the same time, most meetings focus solely on work for efficiency and don’t limit the normal office conversations. It can take a toll on mental health.

Nearly 2/3 of remote workers said they felt isolated or lonely at least some of the time.

Lots of distractions

One big advantage of WFH is the potential for work-life balance. Employees can take breaks on occasion to deal with family needs or other personal things that pop up. But being at home can also create plenty of distractions. It’s been especially challenging for workers with small children at home.

Challenges in collaboration

Many of the best ideas come from random conversations in the office. Creativity often occurs spontaneously. Yet, remote workers most often interact with colleagues in scheduled sessions. This can create challenges in collaboration.

For example, remote workers interact with far fewer people within an organization when working from home. There are no random meetings in the corridors that can lead to productive discussions. A study published in Nature of 60,000 remote workers shows that business groups are less interconnected, causing remote workers to spend less time collaborating.

Weak cybersecurity

You can almost draw a straight line from the shift to remote work and the increase in cyber-attacks. More people accessing company resources online resulted in a significantly greater attack surface for cybercriminals. Cyber-attacks focusing on WFH employees have risen by 238%.

Home routers, Wi-Fi networks, and lax security for remote work create significantly more exposure for companies. If threat actors can gain access to home networks, they can impersonate employees and gain access to company information.

How to manage working from home

Employers can overcome these challenges and help their WFH employees stay healthy and productive. It starts by setting the right parameters so remote workers know expectations.

Set clear expectations

One of the keys to any successful business is setting clear expectations for employees. Remote workers must know what’s expected of them. For example, WFH employees should know the assumptions about response time. Do they need to respond to that instant message when they’re in the middle of a project, or can it wait until they finish?

It also helps to set rules of engagement for how everyone communicates. Many companies, for example, limit video conferences to daily check-ins and meetings. They use email for communication that doesn’t require a timely response and instant messaging for more urgent matters. When everybody engages the same way, it helps everyone understand what’s expected.

Recognize the downsides

When you set parameters, you should address the downsides directly in several ways. For example, managers may put restrictions on the hours employees can work daily to avoid burnout. They can also limit participants in meetings to only those that are necessary for the job at hand.

Employers should make sure remote workers know it’s okay to shut things off at the end of the day and take regular breaks to refocus.

Providing other opportunities for social interaction with employees is also important. Virtual happy hours, team bonding, and non-work-related discussions can help battle isolation and disconnection.

Employers should make sure remote workers know it’s okay to shut things off at the end of the day and take regular breaks to refocus.

Providing the right tools

Employers must also make sure employees have the right tools at home to work efficiently and provide adequate cybersecurity. This includes:

  • Reliable, high-speed internet connectivity
  • A virtual private network (VPN)
  • Digital communication tools
  • Time tracking software
  • Comfortable workspaces

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Mitigate the challenge of working from home

While remote work has many advantages, it’s also important for employers to understand the potential downsides. By being proactive, you can mitigate some of these challenges and help team members stay productive.

How companies address these issues will determine whether working from home is successful long term.

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