Whether or not homeworking is impacting family life is a question that urgently needs addressing. Why? A report from Stanford in June 2020 stated that 42% of the US labor force was working from home full-time. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that 50% of his staff will likely be working from home within the next 10 years. Many other companies are also following suit. Of course, the biggest stimulus for this is the global pandemic that has restricted access to offices, travel, and many types of employment. There is also a realization that much work can be done as effectively from home as in an office.
There is some evidence that people who work from home are putting in more work hours than when they would otherwise travel to an office or a place of work. There is also converse evidence that people need closer monitoring when working from home to ensure that they get work done. These diverse perspectives depend largely on the individual, but also on the type of work being done.
There are many remote working examples where employees enjoy greater relaxation and connection between their work and home lives – kids in the background, pets invading the meeting, or flexible workout times. While this has had a positive impact of “humanizing” people, and bringing a lot of flexibility, it may also have negative implications due to the blurring of work and home life. There is an argument that work and home life can exist very well together, especially when they are supportive of the passions and balance enjoyed by those involved.
A recent survey conducted by OnePoll on behalf of CBDistillery, found that 56 percent of respondents are more stressed about work than ever before. 62 percent of respondents felt pressure from their company to be working beyond what is required of them as they work from home. 67 percent of respondents also said their company has pressured them into being available at all hours of the day since their work from home period started. This kind of data does not evoke a healthy work/home balance.
The instances of employees working all hours, responding to every email as soon as they can (regardless of time), and working at weekends as well as vacations, are many. The duty of care for employers not to build cultures of expectations such as these is paramount. Also essential is that employees establish clear boundaries for work and home life. Indeed, I champion employees checking out of their work life at weekends and during vacations. I recently read a report that taking a true vacation is important to avoid burnout, reduce vulnerability to illness, protect family relationships, and generally build a healthier outlook on life. All very significant benefits! Seeing people work double the amount of their contracted hours and compromising the time they spend with family and friends should not be a cause of happiness.
As we see the embedding of new working trends following the pandemic experience, we will undoubtedly witness homeworking increase as a proportion of the whole. Homeworking saves companies money on real estate, travel, and other benefits. What companies must do, but often do not, is understand their responsibility to their employees who transition to homeworking. Having worked in Europe for many years, one of the good things that came out of European working rights legislation and directives, is the requirement for employers to bear some responsibility for the homeworking environment of their employees. In my opinion, this should not just be the physical environment and financial implications, but also their mental health and work/life balance.
When work and home life are under the same roof, many people will need to establish new ways of living and being. Exercise routines, breaks during the day, eating habits, and work boundaries are just some of them. I would also suggest that homeworking requires intentional planning as to how to build and maintain healthy relationships and friendships. These will become increasingly under threat if not enough attention is given to them. Spending quality time with your spouse, children, extended family, and friends should be as much a part of everyone’s calendar as answering emails and attending meetings. Homeworking has and will kill family life. To build a healthy and sustainable culture where family life is the foundation of a balanced existence, means ensuring that homeworking should be an enabler not the executioner.