Before the pandemic, one would regularly question whether working remotely could replace working in the office, and the lockdown helped to discover the pros and cons of each in the long term. The pandemic happened and suddenly legions of influencers advocates for work-from-home, trying to convince you that to get any work done, you should stay at home. As companies praise workers to return to the office, many employees have joined the great resignation. I’m happy that numerous workers have resigned from unsatisfying jobs and are looking for better work cultures, but I don’t believe working in the office is the problem.
Recently, artist Irina Blok authored a few charts about working from home and the pandemic. And the one below really caught my attention as a parent and as someone subject to heavy mental load.
My concern with such a chart is that not everyone has a home office that looks as good as a traditional workplace. In addition, interruptions happen at home too and chatting with coworkers is not a problem per se. Hopefully, someone else in the internet partially fixed the chart for me. Working from home can have as much negatives as working in the office, and those can include things like :
- Inconvenient office setup
- Lack of private office
- Mental load
- Interruptions and distractions
- Home office costs
- Lack of socializing
- Insufficient face time
- Increased sedentary lifestyle
- Lack of room for self
Inconvenient office setup
At the office, you have your dual screen, a large desk, a comfortable chair, meeting and relaxation rooms, places for isolating yourself from your coworkers. On top of that, the internet connection is awesome and there are free snacks, drinks, fruits, and a top-notch coffee machine. If I want to mimic the benefits of working in a professional office, I’ll need to invest in a bigger place and better material, or move to a co-working space.
In the last few months, our rental contract ended. It happened before the building of our future apartment could be achieved, as unfortunately the pandemic affected the whole construction sector. Our temporary solution was to rent a place via Airbnb. We are happy with the spot, however we ignored that the neighbors were renovating their place for the past 12 months. We have gotten used to it, but as hypersensitive persons, my partner and myself struggled a lot with this. We learned patience the hard way by being subject to intense noise any time of the day, any day of the week. Welcoming our new-born in this stressful environment was the last thing we wished, and often baby naps turn out to be impossible. When you need to work, it’s the worst type of nuisance as you cannot focus. I simply prefer to stay muted in most Zoom meetings.
Lack of private office
In this Airbnb, I don’t have any private space. I’m often working in the laundry/storage room, or at other times in the living room. It means that when the little one is sleeping in the living room, which is the next room, I have to stay silent and I’ll stay muted in meetings or just skip them.
Working at home means I’m even more aware of the household chores, and I’m thinking constantly about them from the beginning until the end of the work day, so it’s harder to focus on anything else. In addition, as a new parent, I’m even more focused on others needs, i.e the constant well-being of my toddler. But while I’m trying to be 100% available as a parent and partner, I’m also very committed to my career. As a highly sensitive person (HSP), I do experience sensory overload and emotional flooding, and the home office is just too distracting for me. When I have to interrupt some work related task, I feel stressed as I tend to think that my colleagues spend 100% of their time working, which is unlikely of course, and I fear to be unproductive. And when I’m working, I feel it’s unfair for the other parent to do parenting alone without any break or rest.
Interruptions and distractions
The mental load has consequences. When I leave my home office room, I become prone to be distracted by jobs to be done. While constantly switching between work and home tasks, it’s harder to focus 100% on work. If I take a break and start taking care of the toddler or handling household chores, I might easily forget about the next meeting. As I’m at home, it’s also easier to reach out to me for my partner, the family and other visitors. On the long run, those factors prevent any type of deep work, which is endangering productivity and motivation.
Home office costs
Who is paying the bill when you consume twice more energy for all your work devices, monitors, the light and the heating ? Who is paying for the internet connection, the coffee, extra drinks and meals, printing, writing material ? Since I’ve started to work 100% remotely, those costs have increased while remaining at my expense.
Lack of socializing
Among my Facebook network, 70% of my contact (excluding family) are people I’ve met in the office or during my studies. I’m not an extrovert, but I do enjoy social interactions. I’ll likely start a discussion around the coffee machine or in the office corridor, or with a colleague in my field of view, and this creates opportunities that I’ll miss while working remotely. In addition, if your company culture is not encouraging remote social interactions, you might feel as isolated as I was during the lockdown. In my last employment, the pre-lockdown era was 1 year and 2 months long, and it felt way richer and interesting than the following 1 year and 4 months period of remote working. I couldn’t have the chance to meet my colleagues in person, and when you’re the investigative and social type of person, you build way more energy, inspiration, satisfaction and motivation when interacting with people in person.
This period of 1 year and 4 months was a long time without any team building. It was also poor of opportunities to connect with the new joiners, the new boss and the team buddies. With a few exceptions, most of the meetings and discussions rotate only around work which is adding to the general stress of working remotely and contributed, among other factors, to ruin my motivation.
Insufficient face time
Even if face time still occurs, it’s happening less often or at least with less than ideal conditions. Some tips can make it better, but video calls are a trade-off and not the solution. Zoom/Meet/Team calls will never replace the in-person interactions, especially if we take bad habits such as enabling blur effects or virtual backgrounds which give the feeling of talking to a floating face.
The lack of work-life balance and suggested breaks are the point here. There is no emergency to close your laptop and start commute back home when you are already in your place. The temptation is great to keep working a bit more. Everyone can simply reach out to you more easily to get some work done. Of course you can find arrangements to keep yourself away from the work pressure, but it’s just harder than when the physical separation was in action. It has never been easier than nowadays to connect to work from anywhere, and now you have to constantly remind yourself to resist the temptation. Reminding yourself that you are at home and not at work ? Easier said than done when both places are the same.
Increased sedentary lifestyle
It’s up to me to fight this, anyway the daily commute in addition to the regular travels in and out of the office, to grab a lunch for instance, helped people like me to move way more often.
Lack of room for self
Sharing the same living and working space than your loved one is a gift but can be exhausting. In the long run, regular separation can be beneficial to having something like a reunion. Spending all your time in the same space as your life companion can be challenging as it means you have never time alone and you depend constantly on the other noises and moves. It is clearly not for everyone, especially when you are independent. The pandemic forced us to deal with this situation and we are flexible enough to survive. We even manage to give each other some time alone. However, staying at home all the time is not compatible with our need for autonomy in the long term.
Is it that bad to prefer working from home ?
Not at all. Wearing the hats of a parent and an employee, I am fully aware of the pros of working remotely, especially when it comes to productivity, flexibility, and parenting, and this will be the topic of a future post.
That being said, I’m advocating for working in the office, as I consider it has long term benefits for my career, professional network, work-life balance, socialization, productivity, teamwork and motivation. And I believe that working from home cannot beat those perks in the long run.
If you want to discuss, please comment 🙂
4 thoughts on “When working from home is toxic”
Thank you for saying this in such an articulate manner! Absolutely echo each of the aspects you write about. I cannot wait to get back to office even if it means I’m working in Siberia!
Thank you, Amit ! ☺️ since last week I’m going back to the office and never before I felt so happy with the physical separation between work and home, also I could meet some new colleagues in person and we had conversations we never had remotely, I believe things work simply better that way for me.
Great write up.