Greg de la Cruz works at NCR Corp's R&D center in the Philippines, one of the leading technology firms in the country.
When the pandemic hit the world like an invisible asteroid on March 2020, one portion of the workforce was more ready than others. Working from home is not a new concept, and you could argue that it has existed way before tech giants who offered flexible working arrangements – Apple, Google, Microsoft, to name a few – created those jobs that didn’t require the worker to be physically present in the office.
I used to think that working from home was everyone’s dream job. The removal of commuting to and from the office, being able to work in your pajamas all day, taking as many coffee or bathroom breaks as you want and all of the other things you can do at home while still being paid by your employer – imagining all these perks of being a virtual employee led me to believe that working from home was superior to working at the office.
But when the pandemic hit last year and workers who weren’t laid off continued doing their jobs at home, I started to change my beliefs on what an ideal work-life should look like. While yes, flexibility continues to be one of the main factors of what people look for in a job, flexibility can still lead to misery. There was even a point last year during the early days of working from home where it was just difficult to get up in the morning to start working. And I was perplexed by this condition – I loved my job, and I knew I enjoyed doing it very much. Maybe it was the pandemic blues, but maybe it was entirely because of the work-from-home setup.
On this article, I’ll provide a few key points on why I think working from home is overrated and why it didn’t turn out to be good as I’d imagined it.
Lack of Structure
Especially for workers who have a lot of flexibility in doing their jobs and who don’t have a fixed daily agenda, the lack of structure in a work-from-home setup can be troubling. When I began working from home last year, the loss of my daily routine – preparing for work, commuting, and arriving at work – was a bigger bummer than I had expected. COVID at its peak wiped out the routine of millions of people as governments were forced into instituting lockdowns.
When you don’t have that daily routine which you have counted on for most of your working career, it becomes difficult to find that ‘ON’ switch where you’re able to focus on your tasks as an employee. When you’re at home doing your job, you need to consciously turn this ‘ON’ switch which will then set the tone for the rest of the day.
The structure that daily work life provided was severely underrated and although the traffic, noise, waiting and all these inconveniences that came with working at an office disappeared when people started working from home, so did the unconscious ability to ‘start’ your work day and just get on with work.
Work Environment Inequity
There’s a line that separates those who are miserable working from home and those who are just stars. And this factor just doesn’t get mentioned quite enough when companies ask their employees to work at home. A person’s work environment at home plays a huge factor in being able to do work well, in the same manner as the work environment inside the office affects workers.
Executives, directors, even managers – higher earning individuals are expected to have way better housing than mere rank-and-file employees. And if ordinary employees don’t speak up, this group of higher-paid individuals could easily assume that working from home was just as easy as working from the office. In some cases, especially in developing countries where internet connection is generally horrible (I’m talking to you, Philippines), the disparity between the work environments of upper management and ordinary employees can be drastic.
Executives working from home are expected to do so from either a high-end apartment or a good house. Ordinary workers in some cases work in a tiny room, sometimes even in a room they share with someone else, often lacking any good furniture.
Loss of Collaboration from Serendipity
This to me is the number one reason why there will always be a portion of the workforce working at the office (not including essential services). You can easily say that collaboration was never really lost during the pandemic because people can still do Zoom calls, or chat via Microsoft Teams, or using whichever collaboration tool that’s out there. But the collaboration that was lost during the pandemic wasn’t intentional collaboration, it was serendipitous collaboration.
There are companies out there who design their office layout in such a manner as to promote this serendipitous collaboration. Bumping into an associate by chance, running into someone at the cafeteria who just might have the solution to your problem – these are things that produce innovation. Companies realize that bringing people from different backgrounds together on the same building, floor, or room, can give rise to accidental encounters that can benefit the company in some way.
Working from home, bumping into someone just doesn’t happen. You have to deliberately seek someone out in order to collaborate with him or her.
Lack of Accountability
I’m not saying that those who work from home lack, or don’t have accountability at all. What I’m saying is that there’s a lack of accountability that comes with not seeing on a daily basis people whom you should be accountable for. At home, you won’t be seeing the face of your manager who’s asking for those charts, nor will you be seeing those HR reps who are asking for the forms you need to accomplish to update your employment status.
Being unable to see the faces of your counterparts on a regular basis can lead to a lack of accountability, and this is why as much as possible, work video conferences should mandate turning your camera on.
No Separation Between Work and Life
Finally, the disappearance of any separation between work and life might just be the worst thing that working from home can give you. People working from home have often complained of stretched work hours and even working on days off. This is because you as an employee have taken the office with you at home and your employer knows there’s no escape.
Some employers are kind enough to respect your time, but often, it is not bosses whom mess with the balance between work and life. Unintentionally, employees whom you work with who have a tendency to go beyond their hours, expect you to do the same whether explicitly or impliedly.
Having a balance between work and life is vital for anybody, and when working from home, unless you have a clear separate home office space, finding that line between work and life can be impossible.
Working from home is not for everyone, and for some who continue to do well in their jobs while staying at home, congrats to you! Working from home has given parents the chance to be with their kids, especially with school being out. It has in effect afforded more family time for some. But be careful – not all family time is quality family time. Which is why you shouldn’t take your work home.