Psychological aspects of home office

...or working from home

Ivana Vargová

How We Work

18 January 2018

The headline pretty much explains the idea of home office. It all started with support services staff whose physical presence at the office no longer seemed necessary. Of course, it is more common in professions where the result of the work is more important than the effort and time spent on it. Just like at Sleighdogs. We trust each other and rely on each other. That’s why home office is fully encouraged and welcome here.

The good stuff

Just imagine you could spend your working days sitting wherever and whenever you want. Even spending the entire day in your pajamas, with half-empty pizza boxes everywhere around you… It’s all good, as long as you produce the desired results. Sounds cozy, right? And that’s not even the whole deal.

In this Forbes article about the super-advantages of working from home, those were the 10 benefits of home office that were mentioned the most among the surveyed employees:

1) Work-life balance (60%)
2) Saving gas (55%)
3) Avoiding traffic jams (47%)
4) Higher productivity (45%)
5) Fewer distractions (44%)
6) Eliminating long commute (44%)
7) Quieter atmosphere (43%)
8) Less stressful environment (38%)
9) More time with family (29%)
10) Friendlier environment (23%)

As you can see, the benefits of home office range from the ecological ones like saving our planet by not commuting to work every day, to productivity-related ones such as better focus, more time, increased concentration, and a friendlier working environment. And let’s also not forget that home office can help employees balance their work and family life as well.

Another advantage of home office, according to this Stanford University study based on data survey with 16,000 employees, is reducing employee turnover. That’s due to generally increased employee satisfaction and happiness. Furthermore, research conducted by Dr. Sandi Mann, a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire, revealed another interesting and perhaps even surprising advantage of home office, and that is, actually, avoiding office politics. The less office drama, the better. Right?

How do Sleighdogs feel?

Of course, all of those points are up for discussion. And what’s more, the main benefits of home office can differ from person to person as well. That’s why I decided to ask The Pack what, in their opinion, are the main advantages of home office. I asked them what they think of the concept in general, and how they personally make use of the option to work from home. Let’s find out what Sleighdogs had to say!

In general, we like home office!

Most of Sleighdogs appreciate saving the time and effort that would be spent commuting if they had to come to the office every day. Collectively, they also consider higher productivity, better focus, and getting more into the flow of things to be the main advantage of home office. Sleighdogs also like the flexibility of working from home. It allows to “fully plan your time and tasks, do whatever you want – sing, whistle, listen to music in the background without bothering your coworkers”, and so on. When you’re working from home, you are free to “recharge your batteries” or just move around more. From your kitchen onto the couch, then into your bed, or right down to the ground. My coworkers also like that the “no pants” option is allowed at home, while it could potentially be frowned upon at the office!

Some of the other reasons why Sleighdogs enjoy home office are, for example, that they can adjust work according to their mood – if they don’t want to be social, they don’t have to be. Or if they need to stay home (e.g. waiting for a delivery or just treating your hangover headache), there is no need to take a day off.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows…

This all sounds like home office is always a good idea. But are there any disadvantages of working from home at all? Besides some of the practical problems you face when you want to work from home, for example creating a suitable working environment, making sure you have adequate equipment, not getting distracted by flatmates/ roommates/family members or perhaps even unwashed dishes and dry washing that needs to be put away, there are also a few important psychological forces that can appear while working from home.

Isolation, blurring the boundaries between work and time off, transferring your work duties to the “sacred” space of home, or just a violation of your daily routine are just a few of them. According to Sandi Mann’s research findings, uncontrolled home office can also cause more stress and emotional problems than working solely in the office.

And that’s not the whole story…

Another issue is sickness. When you’re sick, it may seem like a great thing that you can actually follow your doctor’s instructions and stay home – logically, the illness should go away sooner. However, in reality, it seems to be exactly the opposite. When people are able to work from home, they tend to work while they’re sick, because they feel guilty for not working when they actually can. This results in not relaxing enough, and the sickness dragging on longer. This is an extension of the phenomenon of the boundaries between home and work-life becoming blurred. So, despite being used to treating your home as a workplace, when you’re sick, stay at home and just be sick. No work allowed!

Finally, it is also necessary to create smart strategies to increase transparency, to ensure you’re in touch with the rest of the team, and your supervisor knows how your work is progressing.

To sum up, some of the undesired impacts of home office that can, in the long run, slightly affect the mental well-being of the home-working individual, are:

  • A tendency to feel more frustrated and isolated at home,
  • Social life at home being limited (even if you own a dog that you can talk to) or none (no kitchen talk, no face to face meetings to solve critical issues, no real life joking with colleagues),
  • Resentment from colleagues,
  • A deprivation of stimuli. You spend most of the time at home just looking at the same furniture and interior in your room. You make changes your environment,
  • Slower workflow and lower productivity, a loss of energy and diminishing drive for life,
  • Perhaps even a slight risk that you will start to neglect self-care and hygiene.

Do we agree?

And again, I asked The Pack whether they feel that home office has any downsides to it at all. From their answers, the most unpleasant aspects they need to face when working from home are:

  • loneliness and being cut off from others,
  • naturally worse and slower communication and cooperation,
  • problems with focusing,
  • becoming easily distracted by so many other things to do instead of work, such as cooking or doing little house chores.

Also, after being at home all day and “just” working, your household members might give you a hard time for not having washed the dishes while “sitting at home all day”. That’s something that can definitely cause some fraction and disagreements. Last but probably not least, there are no strict lines between the start and the end of your workday. This can lead to overworking very easily, so you have to be careful and diligent here about having a bit of downtime every day.

What can we make of this then?

I would say that the main conclusion of my little SLD survey is that home office is a good option to have but not something to be used permanently. You can work home office into your workflow and base it around your biorhythm, and, given what was mentioned above, I do think it is essential to have the option and use it from time to time. When it comes to Sleighdogs, The Pack is divided equally – 50% of us prefer home office, 50% of us prefer going to the office and working together with the others.

Personally, I’m glad that I am working in a company with unlimited home office days. However, in order to keep my daily routine consistent, I don’t use it very frequently.

Nevertheless, to be honest, every now and then, it is good to just stay at home. You avoid traveling to work by over-crowded buses or the subway, with the bonus of getting stuck in a traffic jam for an hour. For one day, you can just forget about your usual daily routine. Stop worrying about making yourself look “human” and choosing a fancy outfit, in which you will (un)comfortably sit in the office the entire day, while getting disturbed by other co-workers (and this applies especially to open space offices). You can just enjoy working on your tasks a bit more freely. That’s, of course, providing there are no always-requiring-something beloved partners or children present.

Now it’s your turn! Are you a home office fan? Do you work from home as often as you can? If you don’t or can’t, do you wish you could? Drop us a line or Tweet us!

We’ve recently been thinking (and writing) about flexible working quite a bit. About how to stay organized, and how we can work differently. How we can be more effective but also happier and more satisfied. Give our article on Self-organization within a flexible working environment a read here, or find out how working four days instead of five worked out for us here.

References:

Mann S, and Holdsworth L (2003) The Psychological Impact of Teleworking; Stress, Emotions and Health. New Technology, Work and Employment 19 (3) IF 1.1

Personnel Today – Home sweet home?

 

Article edited by Daniela Patterson
Cover image created by Ivana Vargová & Denis Simonenko

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