By Vandita Morarka
I work from home on several days through certain months of the year, owing to the nature of my work and multiple commitments. It’s generally not been for longer than a week at a time, though, which is perhaps why I’ve always found it convenient. Of late, though, I’ve had to work from home for over a month, which certainly brought the negatives front and centre.
This seems to mirror mixed findings from studies. For example:
- A 2012 poll by Ipsos/Reuters: 62% of respondents found work from home to be socially isolating
A 2011 study by Staples: Employees who worked from home experienced 25% less stress
This article examines various studies that show the downside of working from home on mental health. It points to studies like this one that looks at the effects of work from home on societal structures and inter-personal relationships.
Work from Home and Mental Health: A Survey
The Health Collective conducted an informal, small survey amongst individuals working from home. We surveyed 40 respondents, all of whom work from home, either sometimes or always, and while this is by no means a statistically significant number, it does yield some interesting insight, hopefully even paving the way for more in-depth studies and potentially an improved work experience.
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About our survey: Of the 40 responses, 28 came from persons identifying themselves as female, 11 from persons identifying themselves as male and 1 from a person identifying themselves as non-binary. The respondents came from a variety of professional backgrounds, with a higher concentration of those working in the development sector and those in writing and marketing streams.
Respondents were spread across age groups: 13 (18-25), 16 (25-35), 10 (35-55) and 1 (55+).
Image Courtesy Raw Pixel
Why do our respondents work from home?
A better work-life balance, said several respondents, primarily when they had younger children to take care of, or health issues that made travel cumbersome.
Others stated that the reason they worked from home was simply because either an office space didn’t exist or the company rules preferred work from home for its employees. Here the gender dynamic was strongly felt: most females stated that they preferred work from home because of younger children, whereas males and others stated varying reasons.
Would they rather work at an office instead of at home?
Fifty percent said yes. Reasons included building networks, peer learning, more motivation, and having a more organised and structured environment. Some felt that working from home entailed daily engagement in all household tasks in addition to office work.
Those who would prefer to work from home cited flexibility, time lost in commutes, and care-giving as major reasons for their choice. Compared to older respondents, younger respondents seemed to prefer working from home, appreciating the freedom, but worried about missing out making connections during the initial, formative years of their career.
Effects of work from home on mental health
Twenty nine of 40 respondents stated that working from home increased feelings of social isolation; younger respondents seemed to feel more that working from home negatively affected their mental health. On the flip side, the positive mental health effects of work from home stated by respondents were reduced stress due to lessened commute, higher independence in working style and better productivity.
Raakhee S, a respondent told The Health Collective, “The flexibility and freedom is the best thing about working from home. It allows one to work when most productive and take breaks when feeling tired. And no unnecessary interruptions from ‘official time-wasters’. You feel great when you finish your daily work quota early or exceed it without being delayed by unnecessary meetings that plague office productivity.”
There’s no issue of travel time, either. “It also removes the need for long and unpleasant commutes that disrupt productivity and add to mental strain, stress and tiredness. As long as you maintain some form of social contact loneliness and isolation is not always part of working from home. And getting far from the madding crowds is a boon for introverts.”
Sahana Rai of Glocal Brand Solutions found the work from home concept a welcome one for parenting. “We see majorly that children will grow up being more secure and happy and would probably not complain about not seeing enough of their parents,” she told The Health Collective.
Most respondents though stated that the work from home increases feelings of loneliness, depression, social anxiety, isolation and reduced motivation and interest in work. Additionally, it could become a case of reduced work-life balance as the lines between home and office blur.
One of our respondents felt: “Completely negative. I lose motivation to work when I’m at home and my home doesn’t allow for the kind of space where I can have a working area. I’m lucky if I get an hour of silence on any given day. I’m sure work from home works for some people but when offices offer that as the only option without any facetime, I can vouch it reduces productivity and promotes feelings if self doubt and a complete lack of interest.”
Technology today makes possible collaborative working over large remote distances, but can it act as a substitute for the human needs for social interaction and engagement?
We asked respondents for the three adjectives that came to their mind when they thought of working from home, this word cloud represents those responses – the larger the word displayed, the higher the frequency of that response.
The largest words that come up are Lonely and Flexible/Flexibility.
While working from home provides a certain flexibility, is better for the environment, and allows for a greater work-home balance, it can be a deterrent if you live in a space not conducive to act as a workspace. Individual personality styles greatly vary, in turn affecting how different people fare in a work from home setting. The nature of the work is also important, while tech-based workers can easily work remotely, other industries might require more “facetime” for higher productivity and efficiency.
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Co-working spaces are offering an in-between solution.
Krutika Katrat, Cofounder, OoWomaniya.com tells The Health Collective, “I work at a co-working space, but I work with my team here. More than flexibility, what makes it a good place to work is that we get an opportunity to gel up with different set of people, from different backgrounds and skill sets. There have been occasions when resource hiring and peer-sharing on work matters has been rewarding owing to a good mix of people we have…”
And let’s not forget about the socialising. “Also, the office parties get more interesting as well. I think this is a little different from a formal to the T, typically authoritarian setup, giving more creative space and bandwidth to an individual to grow within and outside of the organisation. Also, when you work alongside others I feel there is a sense of healthy competition to grow which keeps the motivation to succeed at work, alive.”
Motivation is something that Japleen Pasricha also highlights, along with the importance of a routine.
“Working from office or a co-working space brings a sense of routine and schedule. You get up in the morning and have the motivation to take a bath, get dressed and go to work, as opposed to just slouching the entire day in your pyjamas. It also clearly demarcates office and personal timings which are very fluid when you’re working from home. I like working from my bed once in a while, but definitely prefer an office space and a daily schedule,” Pasricha, Founder-Director of Feminism in India tells The Health Collective.
“It also gives a sense of community where you meet and work with like-minded people as opposed to working alone without any social interaction which can take a toll on your mental health.”
There is a difference between having the flexi-work option for a few days a month, and only having to work from home. From personal experience, while I enjoyed work from home when it was a few days a month, working from home continuously, for a long period of time, has not been conducive to my psychological well being.
If you’re newly entering the work from space as an employee, it is important for you to pre-evaluate how well you can work in such a setting and also check in on what support your workplace provides to its work from home staff. For employers providing a work from home option, here’s a possible checklist of questions:
- Is technology being used to build personal connections between employees and to drive engagements?
Are efforts being made to facilitate additional offline meetings amongst employees to boost personal connections and reduce isolation?
If the home setup is not conducive to the employee working out of that space, do you provide alternatives?
What additional online and offline mental health support facilities do you provide for your employees? (This is a question for all workplaces)
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