By: Emma Esparza
Emma Esparza is a career coach at Indeed with experience as a recruiter, university career advisor and senior technical career coach. She is passionate about guiding all jobseekers in their intersectional uniqueness towards a successful job search and fulfilling career.
As COVID-19 has increased the need for social distancing, thousands of employees have transitioned to working from home at least temporarily. Some companies are also beginning to change their approach to employees working from home on a more permanent basis after getting positive feedback on the practice. As a result, there could be more work from home opportunities in the future.
While working from home during a global pandemic is certainly different to doing so under normal circumstances, it may still help you understand whether working from home long term is a good fit for you. If your employer does offer more flexible work options in the future, taking time now to reflect on key considerations can help you make a decision you feel confident about.
While it is important to make an informed decision about the best work setting for you, you likely won’t have to decide immediately. Many companies still have flexible policies and, depending on the company, you might not have to choose one option exclusively. However, having a clear idea of what you want can empower you to find the best working environment for you in your current role or your job search.
In this article, we explore considerations and thought exercises to help inform your future decision about working from home more permanently. We also sat down with someone whose employer recently announced a permanent work from home option to understand how she is thinking about making the best decision for herself, her career and her family.
First, it will be helpful to set appropriate expectations based on more normal circumstances instead of your surroundings during a global pandemic. Once social distancing restrictions have eased, you might not have family, children or roommates home during working hours. You could also have increased flexibility to leave your house to take breaks for lunch, errands, exercise or social gatherings. You may also be in a better, more productive headspace when not constantly thinking about protecting your health and the health of those around you.
You should also consider your physical workspace. When exploring whether you would want to work remotely in the long term, think about where you’ll set up each day. For example, do you have a comfortable place to work at home or would you need to find a remote alternative like a local coffee shop or library? You should also assess if you’ll be able to get all of the technical equipment you need including things that might seem simple but could be challenging to access such as high-speed internet. You may also have perks at your office that you don’t have at home that make you feel happier or more productive.
3. Life events
Next, take some time to reflect on your personal and professional five-year plan. There could be life events that factor into your decision to work from home. For example, you might be planning to have children and want to be home more often, trying to move closer to family or looking for more affordable areas to live that are farther from your office.
You could also have professional plans that may affect your work from home preferences. For instance, if you want to join an industry or a company with opportunities concentrated in a certain geographic area but you do not want to live there, then deciding to work remotely could help you meet your goal.
There are different costs associated with working in an office and working from home or remotely. If budgeting is important to you, then it could be helpful to estimate expenses for both scenarios. Evaluating costs like housing, utilities, transportation and food can help you find out if one option will save you money long term.
While the above considerations are a good starting point, it's important to note that the factors in your life, specifically, should also be taken into account. It’s true that we all have various priorities, goals, and professional and personal situations that will help inform our decisions uniquely.
For example, we sat down with Greta Jones whose employer recently announced an option to work from home permanently. When considering what would work best for her, Jones said, 'If I could live somewhere cheaper and visit my office once a month, I would love that. I want to live close to my family, in my home town – to support and be a part of the community I know and love. It’s amazing to think I could do all of that and be able to pursue my career goals at the same time'. She continues, 'Right now, I like that working from home gives me more opportunities to be around for some of my kids’ milestones. One of my sons lost his tooth today! And I got to be there for it'.
She also emphasised how helpful it was to work from home after the birth of a child: 'Working from home after maternity leave made a huge difference. Everything was easier – feeding the baby, managing my day, taking the baby to the doctor'.
Thought exercises to inform your decision
Much like at an office, there’s no one way to work from home that’s best for everyone. Trying various approaches to working from home can provide information and experience to choose the right work environment for you.
Testing your work-from-home style might take trial, error and patience. In addition, it’s important to keep a record of your progress, whether you write it down or take a mental note of your experiences. This can make it easier to track your likes and dislikes, where you find success or things you might adjust so you can evaluate your options, such as the following:
Your physical health
Working from home long term can have both positive and negative effects on your physical health. For example, you might be able to repurpose commute time with a workout or more easily get up and stretch throughout the day. As the CDC states, increased physical activity helps you feel, function and sleep better and also reduces anxiety. On the other hand, while you may have had an ergonomic workspace at your office, your home set-up could be less ideal and therefore lead to regular physical discomfort.
Before making a conclusive decision about the impact working from home has on your physical health, try to make time for consistent physical activity. You might find free instructor-led online classes, go for daily walks or subscribe to an online workout regimen. Remember that there’s no single recipe for success and in the future, you may have more options for exercise outside of the house. Try different combinations of incorporating physical activity into your schedule to see if you like one option more. For example, try walking or doing an online work-out in the morning, at lunch and after you finish work, and note if you were more likely to commit to one combination.
Also, to the extent that you’re able, create a place where you can comfortably sit and work every day. There are different schools of thought on the best way to sit at a desk to promote physical health and avoid neck, back, wrist and hand pain. It can be helpful to try various seating arrangements so you can decide which is most comfortable for you.
After dedicating some effort to your physical health while working from home, take note of how you feel in comparison to working in an office and if there are any differences in your habits, health or comfort.
Your mental health
Similarly, working from home may present pros and cons for your mental health. It’s possible that working remotely would allow you to spend more time on self-reflection, self-care, or with friends and family, but it can also be stress-inducing or isolating.
If helpful, consider meditating with free online options like Smiling Mind or UCLA Mindful, keep a diary to track how you’re feeling and why, or using other mindfulness techniques. Again, aim to make it a regular habit to thoroughly test the effort. There could be other factors influencing your mood, especially during a global pandemic, that shouldn’t necessarily be attributed to working from home.
Your time management
If you’re working from home, you might be saving hours by eliminating your commute and may find it easier to focus without regular office interruptions like impromptu meetings, questions or conversations. However, you’ve likely noticed that there is no shortage of distractions at home as well.
It was recently reported that many in the US have been, often unintentionally, extending their workdays by 40% (or roughly three hours a day) while working from home during COVID-19. Another report estimates that the average knowledge worker is only productive for three hours every day. These anecdotal studies highlight just how difficult it can be to clearly define work hours and focus on core duties.
Talk to your manager to see if you can explore different work schedules and determine what’s best for your time management and productivity. You might find that you have the most focus and energy early in the morning or later at night. Typically, it is best to work on your most complex or creative tasks during your peak hours of concentration and save other less intensive responsibilities for normal or less productive times.
You can also create strategies to 'arrive' and 'leave' the office to help you draw clear work-life boundaries. For example, try going for a quick walk before you start and after you finish working to stimulate your commute to the office. Regardless of the activity, it can be helpful to find some routine to demarcate the transition in and out of work.
Jones described how working from home has helped her manage her time during work and home life: 'I have so much more flexibility now even just from the 45 minutes to an hour I save every day by not commuting. My husband does too – we work the same amount but it takes us less time. Our mornings are more relaxed and our afternoons are so much more fun because we have time to do things together'.
Your social interactions
Another major difference in working from home could be the amount of social interaction you get. Again, you might be facing fewer distractions than you would in an office, but working remotely can also feel lonely and less collaborative even if you typically prefer alone time. Before making any long-term decisions, see if you can successfully nurture your social relationships while working from home.
Jones also noted her concerns around maintaining professional relationships: 'Not having day-to-day interactions with my team does give me some pause, especially if they’re all working together and I’m the only one not there. I also think it would be really hard to start a new job remotely. But there are ways to overcome those obstacles'.
During work hours, consider using video calls for quick, casual conversations with colleagues as you might in the office, instead of just for formal meetings. You could also invite a peer or manager to join you for periodic morning visits over coffee. You might organise virtual happy hours for your team or a small group of co-workers. Or, as Jones suggests, '...re-think team "off-site" bonding activities and instead have "on-sites" to bond over collaborative projects.'
Outside of work, and especially as we experience COVID-19 restrictions, it can be helpful to take a more proactive approach to connecting with friends, family or other social groups regularly. Ultimately, try to virtually mimic how you would normally socialise or network outside of working hours.
The future of office work
It’s possible that many offices will function differently after COVID-19 restrictions ease, which could also impact how you ultimately decide what’s best for you. More companies are considering the 'hotel' concept – fewer on-site perks or flexible work-from-home policies. If you’re unsure how your employer will move forward, ask your manager or human resources representative if they have any insight.
As companies give their employees more flexible options, you might not have to choose one exclusively and instead could adopt a mixture of working from home and at an office. In any case, if you can thoughtfully weigh the benefits and disadvantages of working remotely, you’ll be better positioned to confidently make the right decision for yourself.