Why working from home can be bad for your health, according to experts
Many people who work from home — or anywhere with a WiFi connection — often talk about the perks of doing so. It's no surprise that the practice seems to be increasing in popularity, with the LinkedIn 2019 Global Talent Trends Report finding a 78% increase in job listings on the popular career site mentioning the term “workplace flexibility." Clearly, non-office life is on everyone's minds these days, and in an email, LinkedIn career expert Blair Decembrele explains to Mic why exactly she thinks that is.
“We know balance is something that professionals are seeking, and our data shows that 51% of professionals say they are proudest to work at companies that promote work-life balance and flexibility,” says Decembrele. Of the thousands of adult full-time workers interviewed for the report, many of them — especially those between 25-40 — expressed interest in non-traditional work life, she adds, with 41% of millennials saying a good job means the flexibility to not have to sit at a desk from 9-5 every day.
However, while working remotely certainly has its upsides in this regard, there are significant drawbacks, too, that you might not realize when first starting the practice. Here, experts weigh in on some of the most common downsides of WFH life.
1. It can be isolating
If you work from your home office or couch each day, it can be a lonely experience. “For some, being physically alone during the day — and interacting with coworkers and clients only through email and over the phone — isn’t a big deal,” Brie Weiler Reynolds, senior career specialist at FlexJobs, tells Mic in an email. “But for others, the lack of in-person contact with coworkers is a problem.”
An easy way to get your people fix — should you need one — is to instead work in places filled with others, like libraries, coffee shops, or co-working spaces. But if that’s not enough to ease your loneliness, says Reynolds, "you may be better suited to work in an office than remotely."
2. It can be hard to stay connected to colleagues
When you are not physically with your colleagues during meetings and lunches, it can be hard to stay close to them on a professional and personal level. “While working remotely, it’s common to feel disconnected or a sense of fear that your value at work is going unnoticed,” Sarah Stoddard, Glassdoor community expert, tells Mic in an email. “For this reason, it’s critical to speak up in virtual meetings and insert your comments into group chats, email chains and collaborative documents.”
Having “Non-work conversations, too," she adds, can also help strengthen co-worker connections. While many companies offer casual, virtual communication tools like Slack or Jabber, remote workers can also benefit from meeting colleagues for lunch, if possible, or starting a virtual book club or employee network group to enhance team bonding.
3. It can cause communication issues
When you can't walk over to your coworker’s or boss’ desk if you have a question, communication can be a challenge. “One of the most important things is that managers and remote workers need to have a clear understanding of how often, and by what means, communication will take place,” says Reynolds.
She adds that in interviews with 117 remote teams and companies for Remote.com, the researchers found that many remote teams made sure to set up regular schedules for things like video calls and weekly meetings, so that there was no room for miscommunication or anyone being left out of the loop.
4. It can limit your exposure to leadership
Similarly, working remotely can mean not being on your boss’ radar as much as a coworker who is there in real life. When you don't have "as much direct exposure to leadership," says Teague Simoncic, career and lifestyle coach with Ama La Vida via email, "you need to be intentional and proactive."
“Don’t wait for your boss to reach out to you to discuss what you’re working on and any questions you have — and don't hesitate to just give them a quick call or ping them on instant messenger, which is the digital equivalent to spinning your chair around," advises Simoncic.
She suggests setting up time with your boss to discuss your priorities, progress and needs. “Then, really take advantage of your one-on-ones,” she adds. “When you have the luxury of seeing people all the time, there is less pressure to make the most of your formalized time together; however, when you are working remotely, you often only get time for communication in formal meetings.”
5. It can be hard to work without office tools
Before going WFH full-time, Simoncic says to ask yourself some questions: if juggling multiple spreadsheets is a daily occurrence, will your laptop be sufficient, or do you need a spare monitor and mouse at home? If printing documents out before reviewing them is part of your normal routine, will you have access to a printer?
“Make sure you have the tools and technology you need to perform your job just as well as you would in the office,” says Simoncic. “Sometimes, your work will include these additional supplies as part of your employment, and other times you’ll be expected to pay out-of-pocket.”
That goes for WiFi, too. If you work from a location where it’s difficult to get online, it may prove problematic for your remote job. “Losing WiFi access can create serious challenges for staying connected with teammates and completing projects on time, so make sure you prepare for potential tech or internet issues,” says Stoddard. This can mean purchasing an additional mobile hotspot or ensuring that your phone is optimized for email, chats and calls. “Always have a backup plan for the worst-case scenario,” advises Stoddard.
6. It can lead to unhealthy habits
“Working from a physical corporate office has benefits for both the body and mind, because you’re typically moving throughout the day,” says Stoddard. “Therefore, when working remotely, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle by setting a daily routine that includes standing up often, going for walks or even taking short exercise breaks throughout the day.”
Working from a coffee shop or cafe can help here, as you'll be more encouraged to regularly get out of the house and set up a healthy routine.
7. It can reduce your motivation
Even if you have set deadlines for projects, you may still find yourself lacking motivation when not around coworkers. “Yes, a huge perk to working from home is that you don’t need to spend time in the morning looking presentable,” says Simoncic. “However, if productivity is an issue and you can’t seem to stay focused, you might have to do some pretending and change out of your pajamas.”
She adds that creating a daily routine — like putting on clean clothes and drinking a beverage to jumpstart your morning — can be key. “Doing small tasks between the time your alarm goes off and getting down to work will help you signal to yourself that the workday has officially begun,” she advises.
8. It can be very, very distracting
When working from home, “it can be easy to become sidetracked by family, roommates, pets, deliveries, social media and phones,” says Stoddard. As such, “It’s key to establish a dedicated workspace that inspires a productive and creative workday and helps you stay focused on the task at hand.”
She adds that setting ground rules, such as logging out of your social media accounts during work hours or reminding family and roommates to be conscious of your availability during the day, can make a big difference.
If you’re debating whether or not to accept a remote job, weigh the pros and cons and figure out what type of environment will let you do your best work. “Remote work can be a fantastic option for both workers and employers, but it does come with its own set of challenges that need to be addressed,” says Reynolds. “These can definitely vary from person to person, so it’s important to assess your own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to remote work so you’ll know how to not just survive, but thrive as a remote worker.”