The work benefits of working from home
September 1, 2016
It’s 5:30am and the “slow rise” tone escapes from my iPhone speaker—“slow rise” could not be a more accurate description of me at this hour. I crawl out of bed and head to the shower, eyes squinting in the harsh artificial light. Despite my exhaustion I manage to get dressed and make it out the door by 6:40 to catch the 7:07 train to San Francisco. Hop on, no seats left. I awkwardly stand in the aisle, jealous of the man sitting in a highly coveted seat, sleeping so soundly he’s snoring. Once I arrive in the city, I walk thirty minutes to the office and arrive at 8:30. Right on time.
I spend my day writing at a computer with headphones in my ears and Spotify’s “Your Favorite Coffeehouse” station playing on repeat. If I have a question for a colleague, whether they’re across the room, three floors up, or working from another office, I shoot them an instant message.
If I have a question for a colleague, whether they’re across the room, three floors up, or working from another office, I shoot them an instant message.
Five o’clock rolls around surprisingly fast. I reverse my commute back out of the city, head to the gym for what shouldn’t even qualify as a workout it’s so short, and arrive home just in time to make dinner, eat quickly, and climb into bed.
Before I know it, the alarm begins to blare again. This time it’s not dark out, and instead of rising slowly, I feel refreshed. It’s 7:30am. I take my dog out for a walk around the neighborhood, stopping at every fire hydrant along the way. It doesn't bother me though; I’ve got plenty of time this morning. After the chilly morning air gives me a boost of energy, I brew a fresh pot of coffee and get ready for my day.
When it’s time for work at 8:30am, I take a seat at the desk in my bedroom, and open my laptop. I hop on an editing project from the product marketing team, sending off questions via instant message. Of course, “Your Favorite Coffeehouse” is playing in my headphones, just like any other work day. At 5:00pm, I shut the lid of my laptop. I’m able to catch my favorite spin class at the gym, actually breaking a sweat this time. I eat a leisurely dinner and watch a movie while wrapping up emails from the couch.
While these two days are starkly different, my time spent working remained the same. Whether in the office or at home, I worked from 9am to 5pm, wrote online, and interacted with my colleagues. Whether you call it working from home (WFH), telecommuting, telework, or remote work, lots of people are doing it—in America alone 13.4 million people work from home. According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, that’s more than double the amount that telecommuted in 2005. Work from home is becoming more and more popular—possibly from the influx of new Millennials in the workplace. Compared to other generations, Millennials are the biggest proponents for telecommuting, with 92% of Millennials desiring the option to work remotely, even if it’s just one to two days a week.
With technology, our work can go anywhere
Why are Millennials so passionate about flexible work? Because most people no longer need to go into the office to accomplish daily tasks. Whether you’re in a corporate building in the heart of the city or a cozy coffee shop a block away from your apartment, you’re plugged into a computer—coding, blogging, responding to customer emails, or analyzing spreadsheets. All you really need to work is a laptop and a decent wifi connection. Frankly, it can be frustrating commuting four hours to the office on days I don’t have any meetings, knowing that I’ll just work on a computer with headphones—something I could do at home with significantly less effort.
When discussing flexible or remote work, interpersonal connections and team communication quickly comes to mind. Of course, you can’t walk across the room to ask a colleague a question if you’re working from your dining table. But even in the office, we often “ping” our colleagues digitally rather than tapping them on the shoulder. Advanced communication technology allows for effortless collaboration from remote locations. Google Hangouts, Blue Jeans, Zoom, Skype, you name it—we can connect with people across the world in a number of ways.
There’s more to it than sleep
My commute isn’t the only reason I work from home. The benefits of working from home span far beyond sleeping in past six in the morning.
Improved productivity. Think about everything happening throughout the day at work—espresso machines grinding, chatter at the desk next to you, impromptu meetings, an interviewee walking out of the elevator (is he going to get the job?!)—there’s a lot going on, especially in offices with open floor plans. All of this can be extremely distracting, and can be avoided by working from home. A study conducted by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom found that the employees who worked at home had quieter environments, which increased their productivity by 13 percent. The study also found that people who work from home take fewer sick days—likely due to lack of office germs, and shorter breaks, further increasing productivity.
Higher job satisfaction. For some, working in an office can feel confining and draining. Fluorescent lights and uncomfortable chairs pale in comparison to your weathered couch and warm candles. Where you work shapes how you work. Many people find that working from home sparks creativity and motivates them to succeed more than working in a traditional office environment. As such, many people have cited an increase in employee job satisfaction as a result of a telework model. From morning dog walks to lunchtime spin classes, remote work allows employees to do more of what they love, creating a close tie between their professional and non-professional lives and higher satisfaction with both halves.
From morning dog walks to lunchtime spin classes, remote work allows employees to do more of what they love, creating a close tie between their professional and non-professional lives and higher satisfaction with both halves.
For organizations this means less employee turnover. Significantly less turnover, in fact—in the organization studied by Bloom, the attrition rate of remote employees was half that of in-office employees. With Millennials’ tendency to hop from job to job, upper management may consider flexible work schedules as a method for retaining the younger generation of professionals.
Saves time. On the days I go into the office, I spend over four hours round-trip on door-to-door commuting. There isn’t much work-life balance; instead, my scale teeters between “work” and “getting to work.” Working from home affords me time to invest in hobbies and relationships, to truly balance myself healthily. Emergency cavity filling or kiddo home sick? Working from home allows employees to navigate these roadblocks without missing full days of work—all it takes is hopping on a laptop from the waiting room to check in with your team.
Saves money. Planes, trains, and automobiles can cost a lot. Whether you live five miles from work or fifty, few are able to get to the office cost-free. Avoiding long commutes not only gives your wallet a break, but the planet, too.
Companies save as well. Distracted employees, like those operating in an open office or closely surrounded by their peers, can cost companies a lot—up to $650 billion a year nationally, some sources cite. Implementing a flexible work schedule, allowing employees to work at home free of office distractions, saves an organization up to $2000 per person.
Distracted employees, like those operating in an open office or closely surrounded by their peers, can cost companies a lot—up to $650 billion a year nationally, some sources cite.
Combatting WFH woes
Of course, with the benefits of remote work also come some challenges. Especially for Millennials new to the workforce, the lack of structure in a flexible work environment can be difficult to navigate. Working from home is not an effortless path, nor the right choice for every personality. However, with intention, the common concerns associated with remote work can be mitigated.
Lack of supervision. Some employees worry that voicing their desire to work from home communicates poor work ethic to their colleagues and higher-ups. If these are the individuals who are granting you permission to work, chances are they trust you. Keep the lines of communication open throughout the day and give your supervisor an idea of what you’ll be working on while you’re online. Shared calendars are an easy way to maintain this transparency while working remotely. By scheduling your day on an online calendar, your team can both see what you are working on and know the best times to contact you. If you want to schedule that mid-day spin class, put in in your calendar so your team knows that you can’t be reached during that time.
Less access to immediate feedback. It’s no secret that Millennials love feedback, and working from home should not inhibit one’s ability to receive comments from coworkers. With online chat and cloud-native drives like Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive, getting feedback on your work is as easy as pinging “thoughts?” or pressing “share.” If you have a flexible work schedule, consider going into the office part time to meet with your team face-to-face and for weekly one-on-ones. Not an option? Schedule weekly video calls with your manager to check in and discuss your progress.
Loneliness. Remote work can be isolating. Thankfully, there are other people out there who are also working outside the office. When I work remotely, I sometimes go to a local coffee shop to spark my caffeine buzz and inspire my writing. I feel surrounded by others, but none who will easily distract me. If you aren’t interested in having the scent of freshly roasted coffee beans grace your clothing for the next week, a coworking space may be more your style. Whether you rent a hot desk for an afternoon a week or pay a monthly fee to populate your own office on site, coworking space can be a great way of surrounding yourself with likeminded individuals in a focused environment.
Teamwork. As the most socially conscious generation in the workplace, Millennials believe teamwork is critical to success. While we want all of the benefits that come along with flexible work, we worry that working outside the office worsens collaboration. This doesn’t need to be the case. With a number of collaboration platforms circulating today, it isn’t hard to connect with your coworkers, no matter the distance. Consider setting aside an hour to brainstorm in a Google Doc, seeing what your colleague is writing in real time just as if you were sitting in a conference room together. Or maybe implement daily standups for your team on a company communication platform like Slack, letting others know what you need help with first thing every morning. When it comes to maintaining team cohesion, keeping the lines of communication open is key.
Stretch until it feels right
Right now I am sitting in our San Francisco office, six floors above the buzzing city streets. I had back-to-back meetings this morning, at which, I should mention, half of the attendees dialed in from around the globe. I could have done the same, but I like having face time with my team during long discussions. That’s just me.
Tomorrow, I don’t have any meetings scheduled, so I’ll need to focus and get some writing done. I’ll likely forgo the lengthy commute for a quick walk to my local coffee shop, or perhaps the public library.
Some days being around your colleagues is the best fit, other days a silent day at home is better. Flexibility is all about changing things up—finding what works best for you.
Our Millennial view series is not just for Millennials. Everyone can gain insight on these important workplace issues. Topics such as Finding a friend in feedback, Moving up, while dressing down, and When giving two week's notice is complicated impact us all, regardless of generation.
Sara Lighthall is a content marketing intern at Zendesk and a student of life. When she’s not demystifying the Millennial generation on Relate, you can find her with her toes in the sand and a latte in her hand. See what she’s up to on Twitter: @saralighthall.