As winter storm Stella continues to dump snow on the East Coast, you might be one of those office workers who is sitting pretty in their PJs. And even if you are living in sunnier climes, you might still be working from home because remote work or telecommuting is standard procedure at your job.
There are certainly upsides: You get to enjoy your creature comforts (sweatpants!) with your favorite delivery joint on call — and you don't waste time sitting in traffic or stuck on a crowded bus or train. Score.
Studies even suggest remote work can make bosses happy: Telecommuters have been found to be more productive, and remote work also reduces office and energy costs for employers. For these reasons and more, remote work has often been treated as a win-win, and the number of full-time telecommuters has more than doubled over the last decade. Great news, right?
Not so fast. Unfortunately, the embrace of telecommuting might be based on an oversimplification of its positives, at least according to a report from the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. After compiling national survey data from 15 countries, the organization found that remote work might not be all it's cracked up to be.
The researchers found that working from home can be a double-edged sword; sadly, the benefits of a shortened commute tend to get swallowed up by longer working hours and greater rates of work-home interference — which is when people say they feel their job is getting in the way of their personal life.
In fact, taken together, the benefits of telecommuting are actually "highly ambiguous," the researchers wrote. That's why, they argue, remote work ought to be more carefully regulated to ensure that standards regarding breaks and overtime pay are still being met. Different nations may have different needs.
In some countries, like Denmark, remote work was extremely common, with more than a third of employees reporting they telecommute at least sometimes. In other nations, like Italy, telecommuting is still rare. The United States falls in the middle of the pack, according to the study.
If the ILO research resonates with you — and you hate working from home because you end up feeling more (not less) tethered to your desk — try to create structure in your day, with specific goals on a to-do list. Do your best to stay on task, so when it's time to clock out, you aren't stuck playing catch-up.
Telecommuting experts generally recommend "overcommunicating" with your manager: It is easier to forget to check in with your boss when everyone's doing their own thing. If you've got a dog, or some other distraction, consider investing in doggy daycare to make your home office as office-like as possible.
Finally, know that the ILO's data was collected between 2011 and 2015, and a number of workplace innovations — like the messaging program Slack — have only begun to take hold recently. As remote work becomes increasingly normalized, blurry rules on hours and boundaries might become clearer.
Still, the study shows there are upsides to office life, beyond face-to-face interaction with your colleagues. When you are there, you're there; when you're not, you're not. That's a silver lining to think about during tomorrow morning's commute.
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