There's A Catch To Working From Home

by Jaime Lutz

I've barely gone into an office to work for the last two years (hi, I am a writer), so let me tell you my take on working from home: It's a serious mixed bag. Apparently researchers agree with me on this, too, because a new study found that though working from home makes employees happier and more productive, it works best when it's done in moderation. So much for the dream of the future in which everyone works happily from home all the time, making office space obsolete, right?

Let's review my own anecdotal but very real evidence first. On the one hand, I'm currently writing this from bed in the same adorable J. Crew nightshirt that I slept in last night. Sometimes I choose to work in cafes or restaurants or green juice places instead; I can stretch and walk around as I please, and sometimes, on particularly hard days, I can even type in the fetal position. It is cozy! On the other hand, I haven't showered today, it's after 4 p.m., and I haven't spoken to anyone aside from my boyfriend all day, all of which feels kind of disgusting. I have never met most of the people I work for and I'm distracted by how messy this room is. So yes: Mixed bag.

(That GIF is a picture of my office right now.)

According to the authors of the research, published in the October issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest, telecommuting works best for employers and employees when it's practiced in moderation. "That is, a balance of face-to-face and virtual contact may be optimal," the report says. "In work that involves projects with certain lifecycles, face-to-face interaction may be particularly important during the projects’ early phases." That makes sense, especially since face-to-face interaction includes intangible types of communication like tone and body language that can help illuminate the importance of different parts of the project — for example, the difference between something that needs to be done right away and something that can wait until the end of the week.

The trade-offs don't just happen on the employer side, though. For instance, the researchers say that telecommuting can hamper employees' relationships with their coworkers, leading them to feel socially isolated. (This varies on a job-by-job basis — for instance, customer service people who don't need to interact with their coworkers as much won't feel the pain of working from home as much as someone who works in IT and responds directly to other employers.) Home work stations are often not ergonomic, which may lead to employee injury (writes, again, the person typing this from bed). And some people simply don't have the kind of self-sufficiency needed to be a productive work-at-home employee.

Ultimately, you'll have to figure out whether the pros of working from home outweigh the cons for you specifically — but if they do, you might think about talking to your supervisor about it. Here's how to ask your boss to work from home. You're welcome.

Now, if you excuse me, I'm going to put on some music and sing alone in my empty house, just because I can do that.