There is so much to love about working from home—avoiding the commute, wearing fuzzy slippers and enjoying your dog at your feet. With so much to appreciate about working from home, you may be hoping you can do it forever. After all, technology allows us to stay connected, communicate and collaborate to our heart’s content.
But be careful what you wish for. There is a darker side to working from home and there’s a lot you’ll miss—and you may limit or damage your career growth.
For one thing, you may be struggling with social isolation. A global study by Columbia University looked at the experiences of 226,638 people across North America, Europe and Asia. It found incidences of depression and anxiety across all regions. These are linked to the deterioration of relationships and the distancing we’ve had to endure. Work is a place where we can connect and enjoy relationships with colleagues, so it’s been tough to be away.
And there are plenty of other reasons working from home may not be your best bet for your career or your happiness or fulfillment.
When you ask people why they stay with their company, they often say it’s for the people. Those we work with are an important part of our employee value equation. We benefit from the smarts and savvy of our colleagues, and the seasoning and sense of humor from our boss. While you can still have relationships remotely, they are generally not as deep or broad.
Your number of connections is likely shrinking as well. There are people you just haven’t seen because you didn’t know them well, and sending them a text wouldn’t really fit the relationship. While you may get to meet with people virtually, it’s not the same as connecting with them informally. You are missing the opportunity to grab a coffee together on a quick break or to run into someone on the elevator who you worked with during another time in your career.
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Your social capital—your network of relationships across the organization—is like a bank balance. You may have had a healthy balance before the pandemic, but chances are you’ve had to make withdrawals during your time away and you need to be face-to-face to make deposits again.
Learning and Stimulation
Chances are, you may be getting a bit bored at home. You can dine, exercise, shop and work at home. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Going into the office gives you more stimulation and variety in your day. You drive in, walk through the parking lot, interact with colleagues (in person!), grab lunch, meet in multiple conference rooms and take breaks throughout the day. While this may seem very ordinary, it provides more variety and stimulation than working from your same home in front of your same screen each day.
The chance for learning is also significant when you’re around others. You overhear a conversation about the thorny supply chain problem and how your colleagues are solving it. You eavesdrop on a discussion about a difficult customer and how your teammate is managing her emotions and responding constructively. Or you talk to another employee about the cool class he just finished on a new skill he’ll use upon his promotion. These opportunities for variety, inspiration and new learning are vital to your wellbeing, but also to your success in the organization. Developing knowledge and expanded awareness gives you the ability to respond, solve problems and act in ways your company values.
There’s a lot you can do from home and you’ve likely been able to perform admirably. But it will be important to be honest with yourself about the work that may not be as ideal from home. According to some studies, work that is more complex or requires speed, problem solving or collaboration may not be as effective when you’re not face-to-face with colleagues. When companies provide new opportunities, they are typically looking for those who perform especially well, and you’ll be up against colleagues who are probably also doing great work—so be intentional about where you can do your best and demonstrate your brightest efforts. This will be important for your career and your future.
Another benefit of working in the office is getting out of the house and reinforcing your work-life boundary. Many people have said working from home makes it tough to turn off. The laptop at your kitchen table beckons and you may not feel enough separation between your work and life. This can contribute to feelings of overwhelm or even burnout. Going into the office doesn’t ensure separation, but it certainly reinforces it and puts some distance (literal and figurative) between you and your work.
As much as leaders and companies may try to avoid it, if you’re not in the office, you may be unfortunately out of sight and out of mind. I knew a leader who really wanted to keep her remote team members top-of-mind, so she put a sticky note on her desktop with all of their names. It was her best strategy to not forget about them. But still. Humans tend to focus on what is right in front of them and while it’s possible to develop the discipline to attend to what’s less visible, it takes more effort.
This has meaning for your job and your career growth. It’s sad but true that if you’re not in the office, you may not be considered for the juicy project or the new opportunity. Despite the prevalence of working from home and the growing acceptance of working away from the office, remote team members may not be perceived to be as committed as their colleagues in the office. Or the leader who is forming a new group may not think of you—just because you’re not on the radar screen. While none of this is ideal and companies may strive to avoid these situations, they will likely be real conditions which you should consider.
One of the things that gives us a sense of significance is doing meaningful work, and you may not feel as connected or as vital if you’re not in the office. There’s something powerful about showing up together with others in the same place to do good work. It’s easier to see how our efforts contribute to others’ work and ultimately to the experience of our customers. Picking up on the buzz and energy that unite us is valuable. And feeling like we matter in the big scheme of things can help us get motivated every morning.
You may be able to feel some of this when you’re working remotely, but chances are the feeling won’t be as great. You may miss a broader sense of purpose and connection to what really matters if you’re always home.
Working in the office isn’t perfect, of course. But neither is working from home. The most ideal circumstance is probably having both—and being able to choose as much as possible how much of each you’re doing. You’ll want to make choices about where you work and how you work with consideration for your team and your company. Flexibility at work will be a terrific new perk. Just stay balanced so you don’t trade off too much. You don’t want to look up from your home office computer in another year and realize how much you’ve missed in terms of your relationships, learning, happiness or career development.