Homeworking pros and cons: experts’ views - including impact modern workplaces have on career opportunities
Three experts and a NationalWord reporter give their opinions on the best and worst things about working from home
and live on Freeview channel 276
Working from home is the new normal for many workers across the country. So much so that it’s hard to imagine what it was like before when most of us worked from offices five days a week. But, could it be harmful to career prospects? Or may it actually open up a new world of professional possibilities?
The approach to working from home, which began because of enforced Covid-19 restrictions, could help people to get jobs which may have not previously been open to them. Corinne Mills, Career Coach and Managing Director of Personal Career Management, said: “Remote working does mean that you’re no longer limited to looking for work locally, so potentially that does open up a wider field for you as the daily commute is no longer an issue.”
There are, however, also some challenges and disadvantages associated with working from home, according to Mills. “We miss out on interactions that happen in real life in person. There’s a certain energy that you have when you get people in a room together, you hear ideas and get golden nuggets of information. You also miss out on information that comes in natural, spontaneous conversations; there’s a lot of richness that comes from that.
“Another thing is your visibility. Your world can become very narrow when at home, particularly if you’re working with the same people all the time you don’t get to see new people. This can be a problem for young people starting their careers as they can learn by observing and you don’t get the same education at home. This can mean you miss out in career opportunities because people don’t know you’re there. If you’re working in a company then you have a shared enterprise with others and you want to make connections, but if you’re not seeing them there can be less collaboration and this could be more isolating. People can end up working in silos.”
Geraldine Joaquim, clinical hypnotherapist and wellness coach, also said people who are not as assertive as others risk being overlooked when working at home. “Working with online meetings can also be a tricky environment to work in if you’re not confident. Many people feel anxious about seeing themselves on screen, and they may be reluctant to participate. You often see people unmuting when there’s a discussion taking place, then muting again without saying anything, struggling to get their voices heard.”
But, working from home is complex - there are various factors to consider when deciding if it’s the right thing to do - and expert opinion and first hand experience would suggest it’s not all good or all bad.
“Working from home is very energy efficient”
Mills does believe that there are many positives to the preference that many employees now have for working from their houses. “Undoubtedly, I think people can be really productive. It gives people a chance to have quiet time with no distractions. This is particularly the case when you think that most offices have an open plan environment where it’s hard to hide yourself away. People have the space for deep thinking and to get on with their tasks.
“For most people it’s nice to not have to get up at the crack of dawn to get ready for their commute. I’m sure people sleep better and have better well being too. As much as we are social animals it is nice to have respite. It’s also useful for those who have mobility issues which could make commuting hard for them. Everyone now knows how to use Zoom or Teams now too, even grandparents are comfortable using it.
“Working from home is very energy efficient. People have a personal life too so it’s really helpful if people have to be in for deliveries or need to take a break to go to get the kids from school. This may only take half an hour, but previously you would have had to leave the office completely - not anymore. You can fit working from home around your life.”
“It can be the only feasible way of balancing work and life”
Another plus, Mills said, is that people are more authentic. “Before, you’d dress for the office, but now people are more comfortable. You’re not as status conscious either when you’re speaking to people. There’s a nice informality when everyone’s at home and some people are less pretentious. That’s much better.”
Productivity coach and social scientist, Juliet Landau-Pope, said working from home is especially useful for people who have other commitments such as family. ”For parents with young children or adults with elderly parents, working from home may be the only feasible way of juggling work and care. People with certain disabilities may find their home more accessible than an office and pet owners may appreciate the opportunity to spend more time with their animals rather than leave them at home or pay for doggy daycare, for example.”
“The blurred lines mean work can take over”
Joaquim believes, however, that working from home can have a negative impact on people’s personal lives. “Many people who work from home are experiencing high stress levels and feeling burnt out as they strive to be over-productive, worried that their efforts are not visible enough, worried they might be forgotten or passed over in favour of others or concerned that their career prospects may be affected.
“One of the things I’ve noticed with giving online workshops is the engagement level is completely different to being face-to-face too. There is more distraction as it’s easy to check phones when you’re on a video meeting - something most people wouldn’t do in a live situation. That kind of multi-tasking has an impact on productivity and also fatigue as people are juggling more things which means their brains are switching constantly between different points of focus. It’s counterproductive and tiring.
“Whilst blurred work/home lines might be helpful for some, for others work can take over, it’s too easy to continue working beyond normal office hours when your laptop is sitting on the kitchen table. Of course that can have an impact on relationships and family life, not to mention your own health as priorities slide and the balance shifts towards working more hours.
She also said that some companies still struggle with the concept, leading to new tools being used that may cause issues if employees feel like they’re not trusted. “Some companies haven’t wholly embraced the work from home model. There was an upsurge in monitoring software to check activity levels on computers, but that might be a bit of a red flag from an employee point of view.”
Mills said that this modern working environment may also be problematic. “It depends what your working set up is, it’s not ideal to be working from your bedroom,” she said. “Also, when you commute you could leave your work behind but if you work from home and you’ve had a tough day you haven’t got colleagues to download to and there’s no separation. Your work comes into your home and that’s not healthy.”
“Working from home can be exciting but also lonely”
Working from your own house brings positives and negatives, NationalWorld reporter Rochelle Barrand has found.
When I first started homeworking at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, I never would have imagined that three years later my permanent working location would be my spare bedroom. But, like millions of people across the UK, I continued to work from my house long after coronavirus restrictions were lifted.
People have chosen to do this for many reasons; some found it made it easier for them to balance work and family commitments and others couldn’t face a return to the dreaded morning commute. I moved house which meant I was no longer within working distance of the office and, as my role doesn’t require me to be office-based, adding at least two hours on to my working day by travelling to and from the office seemed counterproductive.
At first, working from home was quite exciting; I could sleep longer, work in my comfy clothes and watch TV while I ate my lunch. All of these things are still true, and I’m most grateful that I get to enjoy extra time in bed while other workers queue in morning traffic. This also means that I have more time in the evenings to be able to see friends, do my chores or just relax. But working from home isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
I’ve struggled with loneliness since I became a full-time home worker in June 2021, and this is something I never thought I would feel. Like many others in my situation, who also live alone, there are some days when I don’t see anybody. In an office scenario, you can speak to someone nearby spontaneously, but if you’re trying to get on a video call with someone then you have to organise it - and it’s all too easy for other things to take priority.
I’ve also realised nothing can compare to spending time with someone in person - and seeing someone on a computer screen just isn’t the same. You can’t read someone’s body language in the same way, usually because you can only see half of them at best. It’s much more difficult to have a group conversation too because people end up speaking over each other as the same social cues just aren’t there.
There’s also something to be said about bonding with colleagues over a tea break in the office. It was an experience I didn’t realise was special until it was taken away from me; this is how you truly get to know those you work alongside and how they go from professional counterparts to friends. These breaks are also a good way to give yourself a screen break during the day. Now, sitting alone on my sofa for ten minutes while I enjoy a cuppa seems a bit pointless.
It’s harder to switch off from work now too. I’m lucky that I have space for a desk in my spare bedroom as I know many people are still forced to work from their kitchen tables, but I still find it difficult to separate my home environment and working environment when one is within the other. I am lucky though, my career has thrived since I’ve started working from home and I’ve had several opportunities for development offered to me - I started working for this very website, for example, when I was working from my home having previously worked for one of our local sister titles, The Star, Sheffield.
What I do continue to find a bit strange though is that I’ve never met the majority of people I work with on a daily basis face-to-face - and I don’t think I ever will - but I suppose such is the nature of a national news website which prides itself on having staff working from across the country. And that is, of course, a wonderful thing and I’m incredibly proud to be a member of this virtual newsroom. There are times when I wish I could return to a physical newsroom - but then I set my alarm an hour later than I used to and feel much better.