Why Remote Work Could Come Back to Bite Us

The number of U.S. adults working from home exploded when the coronavirus crisis hit last year. According to some numbers, fewer than one quarter of us worked from home prior to March 2020. That number jumped to more than 70%. It remains that high even now. But for all the benefits of remote work, it could eventually come back to bite us.

Pew research showing 71% of U.S. adults working from home also shows that 54% want to continue working remotely even after the coronavirus thing is over. That’s fine in the sense that not having to maintain as much office space benefits employers. But what about productivity? It is a double-edged sword.

More Productive from Home

Numerous studies done since the start of the coronavirus crisis have demonstrated that the majority of remote workers are more productive working from home. One particular study showed that 77% of remote workers reported greater productivity. Some 30% say they get more done in less time while 24% get more done in the same amount of time.

So far, so good. Here’s the bad news: 23% of those surveyed said they are willing to work longer hours at home to get their work done. In addition, 52% are willing to take less time off when working remotely. They will even think twice about taking a sick day here or there.

Combining greater activity with longer working hours absolutely benefits employers. After all, productivity and hours equal revenue. But it may not be so good for employees. Working longer hours and taking less time off doesn’t seem to be all that good in the long run.

Forget the Work-Life Balance

For at least the last decade, we have been hearing about the importance of work-life balance. People have left jobs because they felt those jobs were taking them away from family life. Others have turned down new jobs for the same reason. So why this sudden willingness to work longer hours and take less time off?

If work-life balance is so important, it makes no sense to let things get out of balance by putting in more time at home. Just because you are physically in your house doesn’t mean that you are there for your family. Working from the kitchen table doesn’t equate with balance any more than bringing your kids to work every day does.

Work-life balance is less about physical location and more about thoughts and actions. Being present with one’s family is a physical, mental, and emotional experience. It is not just physical.

Chained to the Office

We may decide at some point down the road that the push to remote work was a bad thing. And if so, we might also decide that technology is to blame. Illustrating this possibility is a few paragraphs from a post published by BenefitMall in early April 2021. The post mentioned keeping open lines of communication and providing remote workers with the right tools.

Remote workers have lots of communication options. They can connect via phone, email, videoconferencing, and text messaging. Even private chat is on the table. But with so many options, what is the possibility of workers becoming permanently chained to the office because they can never disconnect? The smart money says it is rather high.

Remote work has proved a lifesaver for more than one company over the last year. It certainly has its benefits. Yet remote work also has its dangers. If we are not careful, this push to remote work could come back to bite us. We could discover that the cure was actually worse than the disease.

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