Do remote workers have a better – or worse – work life balance than in-office employees?

A bit like last week’s remote worker productivity debate, the question of whether work-life balance is better achieved by office based or remote workers doesn’t have a simple answer – with studies, anecdotal evidence and war stories on both sides of the fence.

On the positive side for remote worker’s work-life balance, studies have suggested that they regain anywhere between 8 to 30 hours per year, due to reductions in – or total removal of – their commuting time, combined with a reduction in attending meetings.  However, the lack of a division between home and work is, for many, a slippery slope that sees them checking emails into the small hours and adopting an “always on” approach.  Let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of remote working work-life balance:

Advantages to working from home, in terms of work-life balance include:

  • More time as a result of not commuting
  • Cost savings and “Green” benefits due to not commuting – and also, likely, from spending less eating-out through the day
  • Potential for more flexible hours, which might make childcare and other commitments easier to manage
  • Potential that the buy-back of commute time enables improved health and fitness/time for own-pursuits
  • Less interruptions and therefore increased output from colleagues “dropping by”
  • Ability to have more freedom on where to live, if not needing to be in proximity to a fixed location. In turn, potential improvements to health if moving out of a city and into a greener, less polluted environment
  • Wider talent pool for employers, if not confined to candidates within a specific location
  • Wider career opportunities for employees, if not restricted to “local” jobs

Disadvantages to working from home, in terms of work-life balance include:

  • The inability to “switch off” because there’s no division between work and home
  • Similarly, the lack of “decompression” time created by a commute, which helps to create that work-home division
  • Challenges in terms of having sufficient space for a dedicated workstation
  • Potential for injury caused by lack of appropriate equipment/workspace set-up
  • Isolation and loneliness – and associated reduction in motivation and productivity as a result
  • Lack of authentic opportunities for innovation and brainstorming – and less opportunity for the incidental conversations that can lead to new ideas
  • Potential to be more sedentary if no longer walking to/from transport hubs/office
  • More competition in the job-market and the risk of a “race to the bottom” with direct competition for jobs, from markets that have different socio-economic environments therefore increasing the potential for employees to undercut each other

There’s no simple answer.  Some companies choose to offer a wide range of employee benefits – whether employees are remote or in-office – that help employees create balance; from discounted gym memberships to time and funds allocated to in-community voluntary projects.  One thing is for sure  – creating an effective work-life balance is a vital component of successful remote work and businesses need to prioritize creating a culture in which work-life balance is valued and set specific expectations that help employees to manage this balance.     There should be dedicated detail around how this is achieved and maintained within a company’s remote work policy, and it should be weaved into the company’s values, a self-perpetuating part of the company culture.

We’ll be talking more about this in our upcoming Expert Interview Series – subscribe to our newsletter to be alerted to new events.

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