When Working From Home Isn't Working

An Old Phrase Takes On A New Meaning

“Working from home” used to have a very positive image. Often, it referred to a job that didn’t require the employee to come to the office each day. Sales representatives, electronic technology experts and even some executives were able to function quite well via phone and Internet hook-up. In other cases, it was a pleasant temporary accommodation to an employee who had a family situation to monitor, or deserved a little break after a stressful period.

These days, the term “working from home” is more likely to describe a very different scenario; it doesn’t represent hours spent working at home instead of at the office, but in addition to the traditional office workday. So rather than helping deliver benefits to work-life balance, it actually places obstacles in its path.

This is an important topic to me as a husband, father and a business owner. I have a lot of people to look out for and it is an important part of our culture to ensure that our Superior family has a beneficial work-life balance. 

Numbers Hit Home

The other day, I came across an item with survey results that indicated 64% of people were working from two to four more hours each week than they were a few years ago. It was widely accepted that this additional work was due, in large part, to time spent working on their “office” jobs at home. As I have noted in several recent posts, the workday has, in general, lengthened.

A new report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics would seem to confirm that. The 2015 American Time Use Study from BLS showed that 24% of employed people did all or some of their work from home – up from 19% in 2003. That number rose to 35% for those in professional and related occupations, and to 38% for those in management, business and financial operations. It sure seems likely that those last two figures aren’t impacted much by workers whose jobs are inherently “work from home” positions.

The survey said that 39% of college graduates do some or all of their work from home. And that, on average, full-time workers with associate’s degrees or some college put in up to four hours of the working day at home. And, allow me an educated guess here, they aren’t all thrilled about it.

Employee Satisfaction Sinking

Actually, it’s more than a guess. The article I was reading also referenced a related study by Glassdoor that indicated employee satisfaction with their work-life balance had slipped to a 3.2 out of 5, versus 3.5 out of five in 2009. I don’t think it’s a big coincidence that once the barrier between office job and home life was chiseled away, that sense of having a personal life and “me time” just had to suffer.

Working At Home CAN Work

I know I’ve been talking a great deal about this topic lately with my series on “unplugging”, but the numbers made me want to revisit it once more. It’s important to keep a positive attitude about all this. Just remember a couple of things:

  1. “Working From Home” can still be a benefit. Technological advances have allowed us great latitude in when we work and where we do it. Sure, that can be abused, by others and by our own poor decisions. But overall it’s a very helpful trend, and one that promises us flexibility that can truly enhance our productivity and even our personal lives if we use it wisely.
  1. Boundaries are needed. Naturally, once you pop open that laptop at home or start punching things into that smartphone, time can fly by. But before you blame the office, isn’t it likely that you got carried away and did more than necessary? Put limits on how long you will work, or what kinds of things you will work on. Use it to put out fires or get ahead on an important project for the next day. But have the discipline to stop. Habits don’t change by themselves.
  1. Choices you make at the office can help you relax at home. Don’t think of home as a daily catch-up zone. Finish work at work, when possible. Use systems and technologies that help you accomplish things more easily and with less effort. A good example is our Corporate Kiosk technology that saves you time and stress on your print projects and promotional item needs. Your evening is decided by your day. Smart decisions at the office can help protect your personal time, and make working from home less of a daily habit.

Where do you draw the line? How available are your at-home hours to your office job and business concerns? If you enforce boundaries, what are they? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject, so I hope you’ll look me up and share them. Technology provides great opportunity; we just have to find ways to use it to improve our overall lives, not just our workday productivity.

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