The coronavirus pandemic has made working from home the 'new normal'. And, even when the days of social distancing are over, many organisations have announced, or are looking at, permanent extensions to their work-from-home policies. This includes BT, Twitter, Barclays, Slater & Gordon and Cooper Parry. The latter is calling it WFAF, standing for 'Working from anywhere. Forever'.
For some, working from home, whether for now or for good, sounds like a dream come true: no eagle eyes on your computer screen, working from your garden at the first glimpse of sunshine, reclaiming your hour-long commute as me time and no more 'Sorry we missed you' notes from DPD. But are the cool perks cancelled out by detrimental side effects of working from home? When graduate job hunting, consider whether homeworking is for you. If the points in this article hit home, you may factor this into your future decisions by looking for a non-remote role.
To keep things balanced, take a look at the TARGETjobs counter arguments as to why working from home can be good for your career. And read the TARGETjobs tips for working from home to help you combat the negative arguments outlined below.
'You had to be there in person' applies to the workplace just as much as it applies to a first date, a football match or the Seven Wonders of the World. You can substitute virtual for face-to-face, but it's not a like-for-like replacement. Working from home, you often lose the spontaneous and casual collaboration you get in the office and there's always going to be experiences, training and resources unable to make the jump to online. You can't raid the stationary cupboard for supplies, nor can you turn to your desk mate for a guaranteed quick-fire opinion, bump into Sam from marketing on your coffee break or head to the pub with your team after work. You might not be feeling workplace FOMO (fear of missing out) while everyone is in the same boat, but what about once people start returning to the office?
Workplaces are set up with the technology employees need to do their jobs – and often have an IT support team in place to help when there are issues. If you're working from home, some employers will pay for wifi and provide the necessary technology, such as a laptop or mobile phone, but this isn't the case across the board. You may well be relying on your own internet connection (and, for some, your own personal laptop and phone) to not fail you. There's bound to be plenty of tech horror stories and family arguments by the end of 2020. A drink spilt on your laptop. Somebody slowing everyone else's internet down with a huge download. A lost wifi connection in the middle of a call with an important client. Hopefully nothing that's the end of the world, but still annoying in the moment and something you wouldn't be worrying about in the office.
Working from home when you're already established in your job is one thing. Doing it from day one is another – especially if it's your first 'proper' job out of university. For a graduate, your first days, weeks and months on the job are ordinarily filled with introductions to your team and the wider business, on-the-job training alongside formal training sessions, lunches with a designated buddy and/or mentor and socials with your colleagues. Onboarding from home means you're looking at alternatives such as online training courses, screen-sharing sessions, conference calls and virtual drinks. That's if your employer has put enough thought into your online induction – some have, others won't have. Either way, it's unlikely to be such a smooth start and it will probably take longer than usual to get settled, trained up and well-acquainted with your colleagues.
You need to be extra careful that opportunities to showcase your achievements and put forward your case don't slip through the cracks.
Blurred lines and burn out
It's difficult to draw a line between our work and private lives when juggling them in the same space. Your personal life will disrupt your work life: the doorbell ringing, the whiff of freshly-baked cake in the kitchen, the workmen fitting your new bathroom or the lure of Instagram when using your mobile as a temporary work phone. But you might not have considered your work infringing on your personal life. People working from home often report that they end up putting in more hours, logging in to check emails early over breakfast or losing track of time now you there are no colleagues getting up and putting their coats on as a reminder that it's 5.00 pm. Remote working and workaholic tendencies have an especially complicated relationship. It's very easy to never switch off – and eventually burn out.
Productivity in the long run
There are arguments that employers that didn't allow or encourage their staff to work from home before the coronavirus pandemic may well be seeing increased productivity at the minute if their employees are hoping to prove that flexible working is a good thing for the business. But will this productivity eventually dip? In 2009, IBM reported that 40% of its employees in 173 countries were remote workers, but in March 2017 it announced that it was bringing thousands of workers back into physical offices. And it's not the only company to have done a U-turn on work-from-home policies. The reality is, if you have a weakness for procrastination, working from home in the long term could just indulge your bad habits. Especially once the novelty wears off.
A slower climb up the career ladder
Some people say putting in face time is one way to help get promoted. And while we have strong arguments as to why this advice is outdated (your ideas, your enthusiasm and your commitment can all be demonstrated without giving up all of your time), working from home could still put a spanner in the works for anyone seeking to pull out all the stops and secure a promotion or pay rise. How does your manager know if they can't see it with their own eyes? They're not psychic. Working from home, you need to be extra careful that opportunities to showcase your achievements and put forward your case don't slip through the cracks. You'll need to be proactive and arrange regular catch-ups with your manager as well as more formal performance reviews. Otherwise, you might find that your climb up the career ladder becomes a slow crawl.