Stanford University published a study on home workers a couple of years back, which has yielded some surprising results: A great many people think they would love to work from their home – and half of them are wrong. Conducted over nine months, employees from a NASDAQ listed company were asked if they would like to participate in the experiment by working at home. Of the participants who agreed to leave the traditional office and work from home, a significant number changed their minds, and returned to the office when the study ended.
When given the choice to continue telecommuting, or to return to the traditional office, almost half went back to work in the office. A full 47%! Why? There are probably as many reasons as employees, but some common themes emerge when home-workers are asked about its challenges.
If it only appeals to half of those who try it, how do you know if working from home is for you? Take a look at some of the drawbacks before you decide to move your office into the basement; you may be glad you did.
Do you have uncommon self-discipline? You’d better, if you plan to work from home. Many people have either been called back to the office, or have themselves given up on working from home because it is just too hard to maintain the requisite discipline.
There are techniques to help with discipline, but without stubborn resistance and a bull-dog’s determination, a quick trip to the refrigerator can easily turn into a break, then a break with a little TV (hey, you’re a telecommuter after all), and finally a 3 hour nap – and it can happen before you know it.
Distraction and Focus
Distractions and an inability to focus can utterly hamper your productivity at home. If you hear your kids in the next room about to launch a food fight, good luck concentrating on that spread-sheet. Dirty dishes in the sink or the laundry that needs folding can seem like priorities. Even a laser-like-focus can be turned off.
It may sound absurd, but working too many hours is more common than you might think. When the office is just down the hall, it can be tempting to go to work at any hour of the day or night – and, it can be hard to leave. Home-workers commonly report working too much. For the business owner or self-employed person, this may come as no surprise. But, for the average employee to slip back into the office at night, or on the weekends, makes little sense. Just the same, it happens regularly.
Face to Face Human Interaction
Lack of human contact is perhaps the biggest drawback to working at home. It’s vital to psychological well-being, and the isolation of working at home can be challenging. The possibility of experiencing depression or loneliness is very real when you’re not physically connected with other people.
Face to face interaction isn’t just good for mental health; some communication is just less effective without it. Imagine you need to sit with your boss and hash out a contentious issue. Would sitting across from her in a traditional office setting be more effective, or would you be more persuasive on the phone… kicked back in a recliner… in your pajamas?
Obviously, some interactions are best conducted in person. Do you need to meet with co-workers? How about clients? Can you bring them to your home office and present the same level of professionalism? If so, go for it. If not, well… keep thinking.
In the course of a seemingly mundane day at the office, a spark of creativity can come from unlikely chance encounters. This was pointed out, clearly, in Yahoo’s decision to call its telecommuters back to the office. Working at home is a lonely affair that severs any possibility of serendipitous collaboration; the kind that happens in a chance meeting at the water cooler. Especially in a creative business, collaborating with peers is essential.
Remember that almost half – 1 out of every 2 people in the above study – decided they didn’t like working at home, and went back to the traditional office. What they thought would be an ideal arrangement, turned out to be a mistake. This, however, does not mean it’s a mistake for you. It works exceptionally well for a lot of people.
Depending on your personality type, your work habits, type of business and other variables, working at home may not be the best thing for your professional life. And just maybe it’s bad for your family life, too. So, consider it carefully before you dive in. If you do decide to give it a shot, at least you’re now armed with the awareness of some pitfalls. But, don’t burn the bridge back to the office – not just yet. You may just find you’re the 1 in that 1 in 2.