You don’t need some random blogger’s list of pros and cons of working from home to know that it’s generally preferable to working from the office. It is. The majority of people generally agree.
But most people also prefer eating ice cream over raw veggies. And they prefer getting massages over working out. So just because people like it more doesn’t mean everyone should all do it all the time.
There’s a balance.
I can tell you what the research says and what works for me, but that doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Everyone has to find their own balance. These pros and cons of working from home might help.
Pros and Cons of Working from Home
The 10 factors to consider when weighing the pros and cons of working from home, and how I classify each.
Let’s go through each so you can decide for yourself.
✧ Studies Say…
Work from home advocates love to bring up to a 2013 study that found that call center workers randomly assigned to work from home instead of at the office were 13% more productive. They took fewer breaks, were sick less, and did more calls per hour.
Good for them. But we’re not all call center workers.
As this Harvard Business Review article points out, working from home may harm productivity:
- For jobs that require coordination with co-workers, and
- For newer workers who benefit from informal learning in a face-to-face office environment.
Work-from-homers frequently claim they’re more productive because colleagues can’t drop by their desks and bug them anymore.
But who are these distracting colleagues? Are they the only ones left at the office, distracting each other?
No. They’re us! We are all guilty of being desk-drop-by distractors.
And we don’t stop when we work from home, either. We just send more Slack messages, emails, and Zoom invites instead. Those may be worse for productivity than quick face-to-faces.
On top of that, we have extra distractions to contend with at home like websites we wouldn’t dare visit at the office, our TVs, household chores we can do to procrastinate, and kids.
It’s a close call, but I think I would get more done and be distracted less if I worked in an office. So productivity is a disadvantage of working from home in my case.
Working from home versus at the office affects all different types of relationships:
✧ Relationships with Spouses
You know how absence makes the heart grow stronger? Well, based on Kim and my experience working from home, the opposite is true, too:
Presence makes the heart grow weaker.
At least after a certain point.
To keep our relationship from weakening too much, Kim and I have learned it’s best to create forced absences. We regularly—and separately—get out of our home office to work in cafes or libraries or anywhere the other isn’t.
✧ Relationships with Children
Parents who’ve shared their own pros and cons of working from home say the flexibility to cater to their work schedules around their kids is such a huge advantage that nothing else really matters.
That is, unless there’s a pandemic and the kids are “working from home,” too. Then it’s chaos.
✧ Relationships with Friends
We don’t go for lunches or after-work drinks near our office-bound friends now that we work from home.
On the bright side, we have the flexibility to spend more meaningful and memorable time with them doing other things like hosting blind taste test dinner parties, for example.
✧ Relationships with Colleagues:
With no more team lunches and water-cooler chats, relationships with colleagues become strictly business, for better (and mostly) for worse.
Working from home benefits my most important relationships more than it hurts them. Pro.
Everyone we know who has shifted to entirely working from home has gone through the following four stages of loneliness:
- Initial delight at the freedom and solitude of working from home.
- Delight disintegrates into monotony as the days pass.
- Monotony morphs into full-on cabin fever.
- Desperate to be around other people, we retreat back to the office, pay for desks at co-working spaces, or buy way more coffees than we need to “rent” seats at cafés with WiFi.
It might take a while to go through these stages if you’re more introverted (like me) than extroverted (like Kim), but it’s inevitable.
The good news is that’s the only mental health disadvantage we’ve experienced from working from home. The advantages more than offset it. These include:
- More sleep
- No bosses looking over our shoulders
- Escape from silly office gossip
- No commute
- Full control the sights, smells, and sounds of our home office
For me, better mental health is a clear pro of working from home, especially when I proactively counter the loneliness. Countering the downsides of working at the office isn’t so feasible.
At the office, I constantly nibbled on snacks I stashed away in my desk drawer and ate mediocre fast food or hastily-prepared leftovers for lunch.
At home, I only eat two freshly-homemade meals a day. (And sometimes I fast.)
In theory, working from home should allow me to set up my workstation(s) exactly as I’d like for optimal posture.
In practice, I don’t. I take my workstations less seriously than my employers did when I worked at the office. I rotate between hunching over desks and dining tables, sitting on the floor at our coffee table, slouching on the couch, and working afoot at improvised stand-up desks.
✧ Eyes and Ears
Not having to wear headphones to drown out office noises is good for the ears. But looking at more screens than ever now that all meetings are online hurts the eyes.
Working from home’s increased flexibility and lack of commute mean fewer alarms and more good nights’ sleep in line with my circadian rhythm.
No more bathroom breaks in nasty office toilets and no more contagious colleagues’ sneezes and coughs are a definite plus.
Working outside on the patio when it’s nice out makes even monthly accounting somewhat agreeable.
Working from home has a healthy advantage over working from the office. Pro.
It’s easier for a boss to lay off a name they can barely put a face to than some poor sucker they see every day.
Plus, if you can do your job online, anyone with internet access can too. That means you’re competing globally, not just locally, to keep it.
Job security is irrelevant to self-employed people like Kim and me, but we’re secure in our conclusion that it’s a disadvantage of working from home.
Before I “pretired,” I felt the need to work extra hard and stay connected extra long to prove to my bosses and colleagues that I wasn’t slacking off when I worked from home.
I don’t have to worry about that now that I’m my own boss. But I still have my family and friends’ misperception to deal with.
They have a hard time believing I have work to do, so they ask me to do stuff they’d never ask an office worker with a “real job” to do, like to walk their dogs the middle of the day. And sometimes they unfairly resent me for turning down last-second, middle-of-the-workday invites for things like golf or hikes.
People still perceive “working from home” as “not seriously working,” so it’s a disadvantage.
✧ Professional Skill Development
When I had office jobs, I learned how to work professionally by observing high-risers, I could approach trusted coworkers for advice, and my bosses could give me immediate, in-person feedback.
Now that I work from home, I count on podcasts, blog posts, and courses to develop my skills. It’s not nearly as effective.
✧ Social Skill Development
Working from home, I live like a stereotypical video game nerd, sitting in my underwear, glued to my screen all day.
I’m starting to feel it’s causing my already weak social skills to devolve down to stereotypical video game nerd levels.
It doesn’t take much skill to determine that skill development is a disadvantage of working from home.
✧ Offices Are Like Vegas Casinos
Like a gambler in a casino, I lose track of time and reality and forget about the outside world when working inside offices. And when I eventually stumble out bleary-eyed, I wonder what the heck just happened.
That’s why most people only go gambling in Vegas for special occasions. When you have to do it five days a week, that’s rough.
✧ Working From Home Is Like Online Gambling
Like online gambling, working from home is dangerous. It’s right there, silently calling for you 24/7.
Working is not as addictive as gambling, though. Plus, there’s a much better chance your friends, family, nice weather, or a sweet smell from the kitchen can drag you away from your home office than your downtown one.
✧ No Delusions
I somehow deluded myself into thinking I had a decent work-life balance when I was going to the office five days a week. Maybe it had something to do with work and life being in separate locations.
But when work and home became the same place, this delusion disappeared. When I work so much that I don’t leave home, I feel it. This motivates me to pick up hobbies, spice things up, and generally get a life.
Work life-balance is heavily imbalanced in favor of working from home. It’s a significant advantage.
Time and Money
Working from home, we spend:
- Less time and money commuting.
- Less money on workwear and less time putting it on. (We don’t even need to wear pants for conference calls!)
- Less money spent eating out.
- Less money on babysitters and dog walkers (…eventually when we would potentially need those things).
- And many more lesses.
Working from home is a time and money-saving bonanza. Huge pro.
I spend the bulk of my time in a personal bubble. No longer do I have to make small talk or have lunches in the cafeteria with team members I’d never interact with otherwise. And I rarely need to exert my social muscles to get along with (or at least tolerate) people who talk, believe, smell, and act differently from me.
Instead, I spend most of my time alone. And I spend the rest socializing with people like me.
The more people work from home like me, the more stratified society risks becoming.
This is bad.
The adverse effects on societal cohesion is a definite disadvantage of working from home.
Final Verdict: Balancing the Pros and Cons of Working from Home
To re-recap the pros and cons of working from home:
- Mental Health
- Physical Health
- Work-Life Balance
- Time and Money
- Skill Development
- Job Security
- Societal Cohesion
The score is five to five.
Not at all. Because these points aren’t equally important. I value the factors on the Pro side much higher than on the Cons. That’s why working from home most of the time, with office hours in cafés around town every once in a while, works best for me.
Your priorities and preferences differ. Try working from home, make your own honest verdicts on its pros and cons, and find your own balance.