Many people have strong opinions around remote work. Some argue that being face to face with your coworkers and manager is important for your work relationships and performance. Others believe working from home can help people balance their work and family more effectively. But what does the science say?
There are many contradicting articles in popular media about remote work. Some share that working from home can actually improve productivity, while others tell the story of companies that go back to requiring employees in the office because of their negative experience. Regardless of opinion, remote work is extremely common. One study cites that 43% of employees worked remotely, at least some of the time, in 2017. Today, I break down some findings in the research literature to help bust some myths around remote work.
It may seem surprising to some of you but working remotely has been found to be positively related to job satisfaction in several studies (see here and here for examples). Employees that work from home are more likely to be happy in their jobs. Both the employees that work remotely full time and those that work from home only once or twice a week were more satisfied with their jobs.
One study found that the reason employees that work remotely are more satisfied in their jobs is due to their perceived autonomy or job control. Job control is the amount of control someone has in their job. When you have high job control, you can control things like your schedule, how you complete your tasks, and what order you complete your work in. Employees are more satisfied with the job when they have high control over it. If you work from home, regardless of how often, you are more likely to feel you have job control, making you more satisfied.
Makes sense, right? Most people like to have control over their day. Working from home lets you escape a micro-manager, use your commute time to go to the gym, and dress in yoga pants (or is that just me?)
Surprise! Working from home helps reduce some forms of stress. Employees that work remotely are less likely to experience role stress. Role stress is created by things specific to your role in an organization. This can include things like worrying over your reputation because you were late a few days in a row, feeling uncertain about what the expectations are of you in your job, and being asked to do lots of tasks outside of your role. As you can imagine, working remotely can reduce a lot of these problems. For example, your manager has to be extremely clear about your tasks and expectations because they aren’t there to check in on you frequently. That feeling of uncertainty around your expectations should disappear if your manager is being super clear.
Working from home also reduces stress caused by meetings and frequent interruptions. Remote employees aren’t being interrupted and distracted at the same rate as an employee that is in an office. Co-workers aren’t stopping by to chat or ask you for favors, you won’t be tempted to go to the kitchen and have the Friday morning donuts, and your manager isn’t coming by to check in. Also, while you will have meetings, you won’t have the stress of trying to make it physically from one meeting location to another or having last minute meetings sprung on you because people see you at your desk.
Finally, employees who work remotely experience less work-family conflict. In other words, when you work from home, you are less likely to feel like your work is interfering with or disrupting your personal life. Interestingly, the more you work from home, the bigger these benefits. People who work from home less than 2 days a week don’t feel more balanced between their work and personal life. Those that work from home more often did find that balance.
Remote employees perform better than those that didn’t work from home at all. Studies, based on supervisor ratings and on other performance data, found that those who worked from home (both part and full time) had higher performance than those that did not.
I think this is huge! Companies are often worried that remote employees don’t get anything done. They worry that these workers aren’t spending enough time doing work and are wasting time on other things. Clearly, that is not the case. This is a strong argument for letting employees have the flexibility to work from home, even if just part of the time. Also, this isn’t a finding based on one study. This has been found across a number of studies so it makes it even more powerful and meaningful.
The last myth I want to bust is around relationships. We are still adjusting as a society to the idea of building relationships without being physically in the same place. I would argue that we do this all the time but many people seem to struggle with this concept in the workplace. Luckily, the research supports that working from home does not always hurt your relationships!
Relationships with Managers
First, the employee and manager relationship is actually better for employees that work remotely at least part-time. Personally, I think this makes sense! If you are away from your manager, even if only once a week, your manager learns to be clear in their expectations and to let go of any micro-managing tendencies. They have to trust you to get your work done. Employees who feel trusted and respected by their manager are more likely to be satisfied with that manager.
Interestingly, managers believe both remote and in-person employees are just as committed to the job. Many managers also tend to think that people work from home in order to be more productive. If they believe that’s the case for you, they actually think you are more committed than the employees that choose to work from the office full time. So don’t be afraid that your manager is judging you for taking advantage of remote work – they likely don’t have an issue with it!
Relationships with Co-Workers
Relationships with co-workers are a bit more complicated. If you work from home only some of the time, your relationships are just as good as if you worked in the office full time. However, if you work remotely full time, your coworker relationships are harder. If you are rarely physically in front of your coworkers, building strong bonds can be more challenging.
On a positive note though, employees who work remotely full time are much less likely to get sucked into the politics of an office. I have personal experience with this. I work remotely full time and think that my company has very little politics. But when I have the opportunity to travel to Dallas and visit the office, I see that it is just like any other office with it’s own politics. You are shielded from most of it, when you work from home, and are generally happier because of it.
Remote Work Myths Busted!
In sum, remote work actually has a lot of benefits! Managers and employers should consider allowing their employees to work from home, even if only part-time. More satisfied, less stressed, and higher performing employees is a win-win for both the employee and the company.
As an employee, don’t be scared to take advantage of this benefit if you have it! Your relationship with your supervisor will stay strong, if not improve. You will feel less conflict between your work and your life, be more satisfied in your job, and perform better. All while lounging in your yoga pants! (…still just me?)
I wrote a whole post about tips and tricks on working remotely that you can check out here if you’d need some guidance! There are things you can do to make sure you ztill have positive relationships with coworkers, for example. Studies show that having experience in remote work helps increase the benefits. So, get to practicing!
Are you able to work from home? If so, do these study findings resonate with you? Comment below, sharing your experience with remote work! We’d love to hear from you!