When I’m stressed during work, I sit on the floor and do some belly breathing or throw on some music for a kitchen dance party where the VIPs are just me and my dog, Joy. I work from home for a technology marketing agency, so I can use these stress-relieving strategies as needed without distracting anyone.
Until recently, the idea of working from home was firmly in “must be nice” territory for most employees—the stuff of wistful conversations during post-work happy hours. The Pew Research Center found that before the COVID-19 pandemic, only 20% of people whose work could be done remotely were working from home most or all of the time.
Since then, the workplace has undergone a seismic shift. Global lockdowns forced all but essential workers to adopt remote work almost overnight. People scrambled to set up home offices and adjust to back-to-back virtual meetings and online collaboration.
As of February 2022, nearly 60% of U.S. workers with jobs that can be done remotely are working from home all or most of the time, according to Pew. And in a Muse user survey conducted that same month, 80.8% of the 4,681 respondents said they’d like to work from home full or part time going forward (with users under 25 being the most likely to say they’d prefer full-time in-office work).
Still, the reality of a 30-second commute from bedroom to home office (or dining room table) is more complex than the fantasy. There are significant advantages to working from home for many, but there are disadvantages and challenges too. Let’s look at the pros and cons of WFH so you can determine where you’ll flourish the most.
9 benefits of working from home
If these advantages spark excitement or “I could get used to that” thoughts, WFH may be a good fit for you. But keep your circumstances in mind—remote work isn’t ideal for everyone.
1. You get greater flexibility in your schedule and your day-to-day life is easier to manage.
With remote work, “I can sleep in a little later. I can get up and make sure the kids are moving along and I can go to the gym every morning,” says Heather Bostwick, VP of Marketing and Analytics at Education Dynamics, a higher education enrollment growth agency. Before the pandemic, remote work wasn’t an option for her; now her company is fully WFH and only maintains office space for monthly meetings.
So Bostwick can take care of the ceaseless laundry pileup that comes with kids during her workday. “I used to have six to eight loads of laundry to do on the weekend and then I’d be exhausted going to work the next week,” she says.
Flexibility shoots to the top of the pros list for me too. I can use my breaks to get dishes out of the way or cut veggies for dinner, which gives me more time to spend with my husband and the kids in the evening.
Some remote jobs may also come with flexible hours, which allow you even more control over when you get your work done in addition to where. This depends on your job and employer, but for me, WFH means I can take an hour or two away from my computer to go to the dentist or pop to the store during business hours. When my kids were younger, WFH meant I could make school events without much scheduling fuss, or easily pick up a sick kid from school with just a quick message to my boss.
My mom has also reached the age where she needs help managing day-to-day activities. I’m grateful for the time with her and for my siblings who share in the challenges and joys of caring for an elderly parent, but the stress of being in the sandwich generation is intense. Remote work helps me cope. I can take a break to meditate, exercise, or go for a walk. I can take a half day (rather than use a full day of PTO) to take her to a doctor’s appointment. Going into an office every day would have made this phase of life overwhelming—if not impossible to sustain.
2. You can ditch the time-consuming commute.
Your daily commute can compound or increase your stress levels as you deal with factors beyond your control, such as rude passengers, vehicle breakdowns, and traffic jams. A longer commute can also reduce job satisfaction and worsen your mental health. For many, a commute can be more stressful than the job itself. And if something goes wrong, that can make you late to work.
Plus, even when things go perfectly, even a relatively short commute of 20 minutes will take 40 minutes out of your day—that’s more than three hours a week. If your commute is longer, it’s easy to see how the lost time can add up. Working from home gives you back that time to use how you want. You could squeeze in more work—but I want better for you. We all need a break, so take that extra time to call a friend, play with your pet, hang with your family, or go out to your favorite spot for dinner.
3. You can complete more work tasks and assignments.
A pre-pandemic experiment conducted with the employees of a Chinese travel agency showed that a group randomly selected to WFH showed a productivity increase of 13%—which was attributed to a quieter work environment and more minutes worked per shift. And a 2021 survey of remote workers found that 6 in 10 reported they’re more productive working from home than they expected to be because they don’t have the commute and may be getting a better night’s sleep. At home, workers also gain back time lost to in-office distractions and interruptions, such as:
- The noise and activity of an open office plan
- That chatty coworker who has trouble ending conversations
- Those impromptu meetings or coffee breaks that run long
That’s not to say that there are no distractions that come with remote work, of course, but for many people, the in-office ones are more disruptive to their productivity.
You’re also able to match your breaks to your natural peaks and dips in focus. “Working from home allows you better control over managing your energy,” says Rachel Wallins, founder of Accelerate Talent Management and a productivity and leadership expert.
If you usually hit an afternoon lull at 2 PM, for example, you can take a quick power nap or go for a walk to refresh yourself for the remainder of the workday. At an office, you might feel you need to ‘power through’ like your coworkers, but taking these micro breaks can increase work engagement and productivity.
4. You can be way more comfortable and cozy.
“I don’t miss pants. I don’t miss jeans. I certainly don’t miss underwire bras. Those are never coming back into my world. Never. Nope. Uh-uh.” says Bostwick, who is now a sports bra aficionado. Day-to-day comfort is personal, but working from home gives you choices beyond business or business-casual looks—especially on days that are light on virtual meetings.
Many people with disabilities, such as chronic back pain or mental illness, can also benefit from WFH gear and settings personalized to meet their needs. An employee with chronic joint pain, for example, may feel more comfortable in their ergonomic home desk chair. A worker with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), can position their desk near a window to get more sunlight. Someone who moves or fidgets often through the day can do so without worrying about distracting others.
For me, greater comfort means shifting back and forth between my desk and a portable standing desk, as well as working on the comfy couch in the living room with my dog in my lap. Among work perks, that’s priceless if you ask me.
5. You spend less money outside of the house.
According to a 2021 survey by Bankrate, 57% of workers said remote work had a positive impact on their finances. For example, I always spent a lot on lattes and lunches when I left the house for work, so I’m saving for sure now that I make my own.
Of course, individual spending will vary, but here’s where you might save:
- Commuting: Whether you take public transportation or drive your own car—gas, tolls, and monthly passes for the bus, train, or ferry can add up.
- Clothes: A few comfy leggings or joggers, a rotation of relaxed but presentable tops, and you’re good to go. You can get dressed up if you want, but you don’t necessarily have to have a closet full of business garb and professional shoes.
- Food: Getting ready for work and making lunch at the same time is great, but not everyone can fit meal prep into their weeks. At home, you’ve got your own fridge with your own favorite snacks and meals at hand. Best of all, you don’t have to write your name on your chow to keep [redacted] from HR from grabbing your yogurt.
- Childcare: This depends on your circumstances and your child (or children), but if you’re a parent or caregiver, you might be able to save money on daycare or afterschool programs.
On the flip side, you’re home more often which may mean using more power than you would if you were at the office, for instance, or buying yourself some home-office furniture—like a comfortable chair or desk. If you work from home, ask your employer if they offer any reimbursements to offset one-time purchases like that furniture or recurring expenses like the costs of increased electricity bills or the need to pay for a higher-speed internet package.
6. You can choose where to live because you’re not tied to a city or region.
Approximately 5 million workers moved between 2020 and 2022 because remote work made it possible. No longer connected with a physical office, many fully remote employees could keep their jobs and move closer to family, to a dream location, or to an area with a lower cost of living. (Maybe all three!) Just keep in mind that in some cases—like employers that want you to attend in-person meetings once a week—changing locations may not be ideal. You should also make sure to check that your organization can legally employ someone based in the state or country you’re looking to move to.
7. You’ll enjoy more creative control over your workspace.
At an office, you can add some pizzazz to your cubicle with plants and family pictures and knick knacks—to a point. But in a home office, you can make the space truly your own and ensure it sparks joy for your workday. Go minimalist. Go midcentury. Go steampunk if that’s your style! You can also curate your optimal work environment. Set the thermostat just the way you like it. Choose your favorite music and set the volume to “nightclub” if that helps motivate you. Work in your favorite oversized chair with your legs over the arm. When your surroundings match your work preferences, you’ll be able to get more done.
8. It puts you in charge of reducing your carbon footprint.
With no commute, you contribute fewer greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere. At home, you can have more control over the environmental impact of your office. Turn off most of the lights in your home, use surge protectors, and set your office equipment to power-save mode. There are also federal and state incentives to improve the energy efficiency of your home.
Remote work is not, however, the slam dunk for sustainability you might think. Researchers have found sustainability is not an automatic byproduct of WFH—but it can be an intentional one.
9. Remote work provides wider opportunities for diversity and inclusion.
WFH policies can open up more work opportunities to people with barriers to working in an office environment. Remote work can increase job possibilities and improve job satisfaction for:
- Minorities who report greater comfort working from home. In a survey by Future Forum, Black employees specifically reported twice as much sense of belonging at their company and a 64% boost in their ability to manage stress when switching to remote work, in part because they don’t have to ‘code-switch’ as often and experience fewer microagressions.
- Women who are often the primary caregivers of young children and elderly parents.
- People with physical and mental disabilities or chronic health conditions that make it difficult or impossible to commute to work or spend the traditional 9-to-5, Monday to Friday in an office.
- People who don’t have the ability to cover the costs of childcare or transportation.
- People who don’t live near a company’s physical location. For example, someone who can’t afford to live in a major city or needs to live in a certain area due to personal responsibilities.
5 drawbacks of working from home
Now let’s look at the not-so-awesome aspects of WFH. Many of these may be manageable with some mindset and habit shifts, but be honest with yourself about where you work best—so you make the call that’s right for you.
1. It can be difficult to separate ‘work’ hours from ‘life’ hours.
The boundaries between your job and your life can become blurred when you work from home. According to research from NordLayer, remote employees in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada put in an average of two extra hours of work per day in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. As you may know firsthand, when work expands and seeps into your free time like this, it can throw off your work-life balance and accelerate burnout.
Working from home means work and life are woven together, Wallins says. But you can use your time wisely and establish boundaries throughout your day to lessen the effects. She recommends:
- Scheduling 45-minute meetings (instead of hour-longs) and using the extra 15 minutes for breaks.
- Taking an actual lunch break—away from your desk.
- Keeping a consistent day-to-day work schedule that starts and ends at the same time.
- Creating a ritual to end your workday. For example, Wallins cleans her office, shuts off her laptop, and then turns it face down until the next morning. Other possibilities include writing your to-do list for work the next morning, taking a walk, or reviewing the workday accomplishments you’re proud of (like a gratitude journal for work).
2. You could experience isolation and feel disconnected from coworkers.
Loneliness and collaboration challenges were the biggest struggles for remote employees, according to a 2020 report by social media company Buffer. But while isolation from your coworkers may persist if you work from home after the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not nearly as restricted as you were in the early days of lockdown.
So you’ll have opportunities to counter the impact of isolation by:
- Making regular plans with friends and family.
- Scheduling in-person meetups with local coworkers (if you have them).
- Making time for in person or remote one-on-one or small group meetings with coworkers, which tend to be more relaxed than ‘all hands on deck’ meetings.
- Pursuing a passion beyond work. Join a book club. Learn to knit or play guitar. Create a weekend canoe club. Whatever floats your boat.
- Bringing more of yourself to work. If you’re comfortable, you can share your passions or other bits of yourself with your colleagues. Show off that sweater you knit. Play guitar during a coworker coffee hour. Start a parent or pet owner group within your company. You’ll feel more connected when you learn what makes your coworkers unique and share your authentic self.
3. You may experience the bias some remote workers report.
In a hybrid work environment, there can be bias against those who go fully remote. For instance, your bosses may not notice and appreciate your accomplishments as much or you may not be pulled into meetings that impact your work. You also miss out on spontaneous chats that can deepen workplace relationships, build trust, and lead to promotions.
How can you counter this? If you’re job hunting, ask companies about how the team communicates, how performance is evaluated and recognized, and what strategies or policies are in place to ensure all workers, including remote employees, have opportunities to advance. They should welcome the questions and have clear answers for you about their efforts. If you think remote workers get passed over for opportunities at your current company, you can raise your concerns, share the research, and advocate for more conscious inclusion of WFH employees with your manager, HR, or a trusted higher up.
4. You may lose the creative spark and speed that comes from in-person collaboration.
“We’re on FaceTime and Zoom every day, but you can’t have the same quick side conversations on a video call,” Bostwick says. In her experience, these impromptu interactions often generated the most creative ideas and problem-solving, and she noticed a loss of productive collaboration when her company first went remote.
To compensate, her company now schedules a full in-office day once a month for face-to-face meetings, brainstorming, and team building. “We had an in-person meeting and a colleague had a brilliant suggestion and within an hour we did a reorganization,” Bostwick says. “That would not have happened within an hour if we were all at home.”
Still, Bostwick says her colleagues are adjusting remote collaboration and creating a remote team culture. As they learn what works (e.g., one-on-one calls), they build on that. When they see what slows them down (e.g., back-to-back-to-back meetings), they adjust.
What do you need more of to be creative at work? Perhaps it’s occasional in-person meetings with your team, if that’s feasible. Perhaps it’s one-on-one online meetings every few days. What do you need less of to do your best work? Possibly back-to-back meetings or meetings without a clear objective. Make a list and consider talking with your manager to try to build a better remote collaboration strategy.
5. You’re surrounded by the temptations of home.
You’re on the last episode of your favorite streaming show. The living room needs tidying. Your spouse also works from home and you’d prefer to talk with them than respond to the 37 new emails in your inbox. You’re not surrounded by these pulls on your attention at an office. (Though there are other distractions to be sure, such as the loud phone talker or the chatty coworker.) There’s also less oversight—if that helps you stay on track in the office.
Wallins suggests consciously enjoying those temptations in small doses (say 10 to 20 minutes) and without guilt. That way you’ll keep them in check. She also recommends creating tiny rituals or events to carry you through the days and weeks so your structure doesn’t exclusively come from meetings and deadlines, which can be demotivating. Enjoyable, at-home rituals could be as simple as walking the dog, doing 10 minutes of yoga, or scheduling a lunch every Thursday with a local friend who also works from home.
“Replicate that trip you used to take with a colleague to the coffee shop at home,” Wallins says, “See people. Sit outside in the sun.”
WFH is here to stay and provides new levels of work-life balance and flexibility for more people. But the pros for some people are cons for others, and vice versa. If you imagine your ideal work environment and pursue (or advocate for) conditions that come closest—you’ll set yourself up for success no matter where you work.