Is Remote Working Bad for Us?

Posted in : HR Updates on 14 May 2019
Olga Pollock
firmus energy
Issues covered:

I have enjoyed working from home on occasion during my working life. I tend to be more productive, away from the daily distractions of the office and seem to sail through my to do list much more efficiently. There's the added bonus of being close to my children's school for drop offs and collections and of course the avoidance of the rush hour commute to and from work.

But given the choice, I don't think I'd chose to work remotely for many reasons. Working from home is lonely. There's no one to chat to, or even vent to. There's no one to run spur of the moment ideas past and it can be difficult to switch off as the distinction between work and home becomes blurred.

I recall a self-employed hairdresser that I used to frequent. She had worked in a salon for many years before venturing out on her own. She converted her kitchen into a salon so it doubled up as a working space and home space. When I asked her if it worked for her, her response was that she never really felt like she could switch off. Her kitchen was a constant reminder of work. When she went to make a cup of coffee in the evenings, she was never fully detached.

A recent study in the US found that while the number of remote workers has risen by 115 percent in the past decade, only 5 percent of these see themselves as staying with the same company for their entire career. The research also revealed that remote workers are more likely to quit because of low engagement and loneliness.

Another US report found that while remote workers talk of benefits such as work-life balance, flexibility and enhanced performance, a high proportion of them struggle to stay motivated and unwind after work while others complain of lack of focus. Mental health problems including anxiety and depression tend to be higher than among office-based staff due to the impact of isolation, insomnia and sleep disturbance.

So, in response to this should we simply ban remote working and encourage everyone back into work? Some may argue that in today's technological age the office can be lonely too. Communication tools such as email and instant message often replace face to face conversation. I remember some time ago a work colleague complaining to me when her co-worker who sat opposite her sent her an email. The only thing dividing them was a desk partition. This really irked her so in response she stood up and replied to him verbally. I think he got the message!

In this case rather than be quick to discourage remote working it may be more worthwhile to think about how we can adapt to make it work. Given that most home workers find it difficult to switch off, investing in a dedicated workspace makes sense. This should be a mentally stimulating environment and kitted out with suitable ergonomic features. Indoor plants and inspiring artwork can go a long way to creating a positive atmosphere.

Technology can be used to build social connections. Regular video conferencing is a great way to keep remote workers connected. Go a step further and let the remote worker chair the meeting. That way they feel valued and part of the team.

Make use of IM. Yes it can have its downsides but being able to engage with a colleague or line manager quickly is probably the next best thing to speaking in person.

Go out of your way to arrange social events for staff and bring together the entire team. It's a good way to show appreciation in a relaxed and fun environment and more importantly cultivate friendships.

There are people reading this who will no doubt love remote working; others may outright disagree and a few like me who think that it is a great benefit on occasion. However, where employers actively recruit remote workers for certain roles it is important that time is taken to ensure that these workers do not feel isolated from the rest of the organisation. We have a duty if nothing else to look after the mental health of all staff which is always an investment well made.


Useful reading:

Remote workers are lonely 

Are Home Offices Fueling A Mental Health Crisis? 

State of Remote work

How to create connections at work in the age of isolation


This article is correct at 14/05/2019

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Olga Pollock
firmus energy

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