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Why working from home can lose its appeal

Reading time:  3 Minutes

Home working is on the rise, but productivity can be threatened by an unprofessional environment, with noisy families and a lack of equipment largely to blame


If you’re one of the millions of people who has watched the clip of Professor Robert Kelly giving a live interview about South Korean politics to the BBC when his young children – with perfect comic timing – burst into his study and interrupt him mid-flow, you’ll likely recall it with a smile.

But for the home worker, the video – which went viral, catapulting the American academic into the spotlight – will strike a chord.

Ask anyone working from home and they’ll agree it is not without its challenges, whether this means being interrupted by your toddler and baby during that all-important video link, experiencing frustrating technology hiccups, or feeling isolated.

And yet, the number of homeworkers is on the rise: 4.2million people across the UK work from home (up by more than 800,000 in a decade), accounting for 13.7% of the workforce, according to the Office of National Statistics.

The work landscape is undoubtedly changing. A new generation of talented, tech-savvy workers, known as ‘Generation Flex’, wants to knuckle down at a time and, importantly, a location that suits them.

According to a recent survey conducted by IWG – the International Workspace Group and leading global flexible workspace provider – more than half of employees globally now work outside the main office for half the week in business lounges, remote offices or at home.

The advantages are multifold, but maintaining a healthy work-life balance is key. Take commuting, for example. Although a third of workers surveyed make the best of their commute by performing some work tasks (48%), two out of five define commuting as ‘the worst’ part of their day.

According to Adam Cox, founder of Work from Home Week, “Reductions in commuting time can help improve worker mental health, reduce tiredness, and increase overall productivity by giving people greater flexibility.”

Fewer distractions (75%), fewer interruptions from colleagues (74%) and minimal office politics (65%) were also cited as reasons to choose working from home, according to a report conducted last year by FlexJobs.

Add to this the comfort of being in familiar surroundings, enjoying a greater degree of control over our environment and avoiding exposure to illness and stress, and productivity from working remotely can increase exponentially.

Paradoxically, while working from home may make our lives easier, it can also throw up a number of new challenges. As anyone who has had their precious thoughts or crucial conference call interrupted by kids or the doorbell can testify, disruptions are not confined to an office.

Those keen to avoid a ‘Robert Kelly moment’ need to ensure they clearly set the boundaries at home, creating a conducive work environment.

As the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety suggests, this requires: “A space or room where it is easy to concentrate – preferably separate from other living areas and away from the television, a level of security as required by the workplace… household members who will understand you are working and will not disturb you unnecessarily.”

According to IWG’s report, many businesses – though quick to acknowledge the advantages of flexibility in the work landscape – are still falling short of providing the cornerstone requirements for successful home working, such as the right tools for the job.

While 57% of workers report they have a fully equipped home office, only 28% confirm their business contributed to its set-up costs. And, if a worker has difficulty accessing a printer or a slow internet connection, the advantages of home working begin to be undermined.

Add into the mix an inability to ‘switch off’, the temptation to procrastinate, little human interaction, the lack of a collaborative working environment and possible bad health habits (raiding the fridge sound familiar?), and working from home might not be for everyone.

But persevere and the benefits – boosted morale, increased motivation, higher productivity, convenience, an improved work/life balance – could reap rewards for employer and employee alike.


Discover more about IWG Global Workspace Survey and its findings