This article was initially published in 2020 and updated in 2021.
Working from home was once only a possibility for a select few jobs. But because modern technology has really expanded the possibilities for flexible work, more and more people are able to work from home, enjoying more flexibility and fewer distractions.
Pre-COVID, a Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that, on average, 38 percent of business, finance, and management professionals completed some or all of their work remotely. Today, that number is much higher as many companies have discovered that employees can be productive and effective while working from home.
What’s responsible for the climb in remote working arrangements? It’s no secret that COVID has accelerated the trend. People appreciate more flexibility when it comes to their hours, and employers are actually starting to accommodate. Nearly 7 in 10 hiring managers use workplace flexibility programs to recruit and retain talent, while nearly a third of companies invested in expanding or introducing such flex programs last year.
The freedom and flexibility of working from home – what’s not to love? There are definitely some benefits to working remotely, but it also has its fair share of drawbacks. If not careful, employees and companies could face potential negative impacts to connection, collaboration, culture, and morale.
Let’s dive into the pros and cons of flexible work from home opportunities, as well as things to consider when implementing flexible working models.
What jobs can you do from home?
First of all, let’s talk about what jobs you might do at home. If your job is office-based work, it is likely you could do it remotely, even if only on occasion. Employers have become much more open to remote work arrangements – sometimes they even prefer it, as it means they don’t need to rent as much office space for employees. If you feel that your job is one that could be done from home (either full-time or part-time), ask management if work-from-home opportunities are available to you.
Being a business owner can be another way to work from home. While it isn’t easy to launch a small business, the possibilities are endless: take your professional expertise and become a consultant, use your crafting skills to open your own Etsy shop, or transform your brilliant idea into a tech start-up.
Here is a sample of some other common work-from-home opportunities:
Different kinds of artists have long worked from home studios, but this has grown to include graphic and web designers. A client’s needs can usually be communicated via email or phone, allowing the designer to do the work using specialized software on their home computer. The digital graphic or artwork created can then be emailed to the client for approval.
There are a number of writing and editing jobs that can be performed from a home office. Everyone from technical writers and copywriters to novelists and journalists can work from home, as it is easy to email documents back and forth as needed.
This may seem surprising because we tend to think of a personal assistant as someone who is always side-by-side with the leadership team. But in actuality, many people need an assistant to help with tasks that can be done remotely, such as arranging appointments, booking travel, and so on.
What are the advantages of working from home?
There are both pros and cons to working from home. Among the advantages are:
Easier to maintain work-life balance
The rigors of work, which can often include long commutes and being away from family during important moments, can compromise your contentment with your personal life. Working at home at least a portion of the time can make it easier to maintain that work-life balance since you can get more time to be around your family or to manage life admin tasks.
More flexibility in schedule
The schedule of a remote worker can vary, and some at-home jobs still require rigid hours for remote employees. However, many remote workers find that they have more flexibility in their hours, allowing them to work when they’re most productive.
This can be great if you prefer odd hours, or if you want to do chunks of work at different times of day (or night) to make room for other items of importance (e.g. picking the kids up from school, going to the gym in the afternoon, etc.).
How much do you spend on gas or taking public transit to work? How much do you spend grabbing lunch at that café near your workplace? These are a few of the expenses remote employees can save on by working from home.
What are the disadvantages of working from home?
Lack of face-to-face meetings
While a lot of people may initially love the idea of avoiding face-to-face meetings, the truth is that in-person meetings are often more effective for having in-depth discussions, especially among multiple people. You can pick up more nuance, develop more meaningful connections, and have clearer conversations in person.
Harder to engage in off-the-cuff collaboration
In an office setting, and especially in an open office, it’s typically quite easy to just walk over to a co-worker’s desk or cubicle to chat about a project, or have a quick sync on-site. When you work remotely, time for collaborative conversations has to be scheduled in advance and can result in decreased innovation and spontaneity.
Challenges to productivity
Working remotely does require you to have a certain amount of self-discipline, to ensure that you are using your time well and accomplishing your goals. If you aren’t good at making yourself focus on your work in a home environment, working remotely could be tough for you.
Potential career challenges
Some employees worry that working from home carries a stigma that can have a detrimental impact on their careers. A recent Ernst & Young study found nearly 1 in ten U.S. workers feel they have “suffered a negative consequence as a result of having a flexible work schedule.” For millennials, the stigma may be even harsher. One in six reported being publicly or privately reprimanded, losing out on promotions or other internal opportunities, and losing their jobs entirely.
Overworking could lead to burnout
In the same EY survey, a majority of people are extended beyond the traditional 40-hour workweek. Sixty-seven percent logged anywhere from 2 – 5 additional hours per week, as the line between work and home life gets blurred.
Even as awareness of holistic work practices grows and companies try to optimize for employee happiness, work-life balance has arguably never been harder to achieve than it is now. Having a separate place to work can help to promote a healthy work-life balance.
What technologies facilitate remote work?
While it doesn’t change the fact that there are both pros and cons of working from home, technology has made it much easier to do so. A few of the digital-age technologies that have made working remotely a reality include:
The internet is the foundation for almost every other digital application that has been critical for remote workers, and high-speed internet, in particular, is important because it allows for moving large files and using phone/video tech without interruption.
This decades-old technology is still the bedrock of remote communication. Email doesn’t require coordination – you send a message, and the other person responds once they are able. You can share a nearly unlimited amount of information in an email’s text, and also attach spreadsheets, documents, images, and other types of files.
Online chat applications
Real-time chatting is great for working relationships that demand more consistent communication (you can simply keep a chat window open all day if you need to periodically check in with a client or collaborator). It is also good for when you need to have a real-time conversation but don’t want to use the phone because you are multi-tasking.
Video conferencing software
The next best thing to a face-to-face meeting, increasingly sophisticated video conferencing has made it possible for multiple people to participate in a meeting from different locations.
Smartphones are a huge benefit to remote workers because they allow you to do all of the above whilst on the go.
Where do I find work-from-home opportunities?
If you do an internet search for “freelance jobs” or “work at home opportunities,” you will discover a number of job boards and websites that help connect home workers and employers.
If you are self-employed, reach out to your personal network on social media to let them know that you are seeking clients. And, as mentioned above, if you already have a job with a fixed workplace, talk to your supervisor and discuss how you can integrate work-from-home days into your schedule.
What are flexible working hours?
Not only do employees want flexibility in where they work, but they also want flexibility in how they work. Flexible hours allow employees to work outside of the designated 9-to-5 and help balance work-life responsibilities and obligations.
The rising desire for flexible work hours
We surveyed over 300 employees and 50 companies with Justworks to gauge the level of importance they place on workplace flexibility.
Unsurprisingly, we found that a majority (68 percent) think the availability of flexible work hours is very important, while 70 percent think it has a positive impact on team performance.
So much so, nearly half (42 percent) of respondents indicated a willingness to change jobs for 10 percent less pay if it meant getting flexible work hours.
This only accelerated during COVID-19. At the start of the pandemic, many workers got their first taste of flexible working. Unknown to employers, it would lead to a drastic shift in how and where people want to work. After months of working from home, many employees aren’t ready to go back to the office 5 days a week, but they are ready to make compromises elsewhere to keep their newfound flexibility.
In a recent study by Breeze, 65% of respondents said they would be willing to take a pay cut in exchange for a flexible work arrangement. In 2021, the “Great Resignation” saw millions of Americans resign in search of better — better pay, better opportunities, better job security. A study shows that 56% of people said that workplace flexibility is the primary factor in their search for a new job. People are simply not ready to give up flexibility — it’s clear that workplace flexibility and hybrid work will be an integral component of employer success going forward.
Employers, it seems, are getting the message. As you’ll see in the infographic below, employers’ policies are starting to closely match employee attitudes on the impact of flexibility in the workplace.
Flexible work continues to be on the rise, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. The right answer for many companies will be a blend of remote and in-person work. While it may look different for companies and employees across the board, one thing is for certain – the future of work is flexible.