Remote work was the primary work mode for enterprise employees in 2020. But it’s looking like it’ll be the preferred work mode in 2021 and beyond.
A 2019 Buffer survey revealed that 99% of people wished they could work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their careers. A similarly positive response was revealed by IBM, who reported that 54% of their survey participants wished to continue working primarily remotely after the 2020 lockdowns.
But why is this so?
Well, it’s no secret that remote work offers a welcome alternative to the standard nine-to-five lifestyle. It allows for flexibility and control and the opportunity for professionals to spend sufficient time with their families. But, as with everything else in life, it’s not perfect, especially over prolonged periods.
In fact, continuous remote working comes with potential long-term unwanted effects. Some of those can even outweigh the pros. But should this stop digital professionals from pursuing the ability to Work From Anywhere? Certainly not.
The case for remote work
There are numerous benefits to skipping the office commute most of the time. Perhaps the most impactful is the resulting boost in productivity.
A research paper published in July 2020 showed that switching from a WFH (work from home) to WFA (work from anywhere) model resulted in a 4.4% increase in output. What’s fascinating is that this was achieved without increasing input or requiring the development of new work processes.
Then, of course, there are the Gallup surveys conducted every year that study the state of workplaces across America. According to this resource, remote working offers a multitude of benefits, including:
- Higher engagement rates among employees who work remotely three to four days per week.
- It allows for greater flexibility, which is a priority for 51% of those surveyed.
- Remote work promotes a better work-life balance, a priority for 53% of employees.
But that’s not all. Remote working doesn’t just boost output. It also answers some of the more intrinsic needs humans seek in a career.
For example, employees who enjoy WFA models report high job satisfaction levels 57% of the time. Moreover, they consider themselves well-paid, feel like they have sufficient career advancement opportunities, and feel valued.
With all this, it comes as no surprise that remote working, whether from home or from flexible workspaces, satisfies contemporary professionals’ needs.
The potential pitfalls of remote work
But that isn’t to say there aren’t any downsides to working away from the office – particularly working from home.
1. Isolation and loneliness
The most significant downside of working from home is psychological. According to the Buffer survey, loneliness is the second biggest struggle remote workers face. In fact, as many as 19% of people, or 1 in 5, feel this way.
Moreover, the lack of face-to-face communication among remote workers commonly prevents growth and career progression. Both of these make for significant motivators in terms of job performance.
With this in mind, team leaders need to understand effective communication within the work organization – regardless of whether the business operates in a physical or digital space.
On the whole, achieving the right balance between communication and independence will take time. This is why the hiring and onboarding processes in any company must acknowledge the elements that make remote teams work well.
Another challenge for remote professionals worldwide is, believe it or not, overwork.
As a result of a forced WFH model, poor organizational skills, and the glorification of hustle culture, 2020 saw as much as 69% of the workforce reporting burnout. The reason this is so worrying? It’s affecting primarily those who work remotely.
Historically, 69% wouldn’t be the all-time high. After all, in the US alone, 77% of professionals have experienced burnout in the past. The three leading causes behind this type of physical and mental exhaustion are lack of support from leadership, unmanageable deadlines, and consistent long work hours.
Fortunately, the solution to preventing burnout might be hiding in the statistical data. A recent study looking at cities with the highest reported levels of employee burnout found that countries in Europe have much lower rates of burnout than those in Asia or the U.S. The reason behind this may just happen to be a combination of generous paid time off and a low percentage of people working over 48 hours per week.
The idea that time off supports mental health is further backed by scientific research. A recent publication by Drs. Emily and Amelia Nagoski suggests that employees need to spend approximately 42% of their time resting. In addition to sufficient sleep and at least two hours of relaxation per day, remote workers should aim to take regular vacations, ideally one extended weekend per month and a week-long rest every six months.
Depression and anxiety
In 2020, as the global workforce switched to working remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, one common side-effect of remote work reared its ugly head: depression.
While not a direct consequence of WFH, depression is closely related to the types of struggles the model brings forth. It is often caused by elevated stress levels, reported in as many as 41% of remote workers. Furthermore, it is often caused by a lack of social interaction and financial uncertainty.
Another interesting contributor to depression may be the lack of structure in a remote workday, especially for individuals who don’t have access to a dedicated workspace.
The good news is, the solution may be quite simple. Access to a flexible office space could introduce the vital elements lacking in a remote worker’s routine. These include more daily exercise, the ability to change settings, the opportunity to socialize, as well as the chance to collaborate and network.
4. Declining physical health
The last long-term effect of continuous remote work isn’t necessarily exclusive to the WFA model. Nonetheless, it is showing to be a rising concern for the majority of digital professionals.
As they eliminate daily commutes and move their offices to the bedroom, workers harm their own health by sitting too much.
In fact, adults are now spending 70% of their time in a sitting position. And that’s quite concerning. According to research, leading a sedentary lifestyle can cause severe physical health consequences, including heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.
Fortunately, however, there are many easy solutions to this challenge faced by WFA employees.
One way to counter the problem is to introduce exercise to one’s daily routine. Along with a bigger workout done either in the morning or late afternoon, it’s not a bad idea to do short bursts of activity throughout the day. For example, a Pomodoro timer that prescribes a break every 25 minutes is the perfect reminder to do sets of crunches, sit-ups, lunges, or do a light stretch.
The second solution would be to venture outside at least once per day. Whether that means cycling to the nearest coworking space and working there for several hours or walking to a nearby cafe, it’s a great way to get moving.
Finally, it’s also not a bad idea to look at ways to make the work desk a more ergonomic space. Professionals should consider investing in a standing workstation, a supportive chair, and accessories that elevate screens and laptops into more natural positions. These are all great ways to promote wellbeing when working remotely and might even boost productivity in the long run.
Although it’s evident that remote working comes with many benefits, it’s crucial to watch out for – and try to prevent – the potential downsides.
Social isolation, increased stress, potential burnout, and physical health consequences all point to a need for professionals to adapt remote work to their individual demands. Whether that means improving team communication, setting up a home office, or venturing to a coworking space three times per week is entirely up to them.
About the author
Natasha Lane is a designer – turned digital marketer and blogger. She has been working for and collaborating with individual clients and companies of all sizes for more than a decade. Natasha specializes in writing about branding and business growth, but lately, she is especially interested in the art and science of boosting productivity. She is happily addicted to writing, caffeine, and grilled tofu.