Remote working works ... but the 'off' button can be hard to find

04 October 2017 - 15:16 By Claire Keeton
Working from home can be very nice, but it isn't without its downsides according to a new study.
Working from home can be very nice, but it isn't without its downsides according to a new study.
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock-

Working remotely is seen as a win-win situation for employees and their bosses and is growing significantly worldwide. But a new study finds that working away from the office comes with costs as well as benefits.

The UK study‚ released on Wednesday‚ is one of the first to examine the assumptions behind the revolution of working remotely — using technology to work away from a fixed place — and its positive effects.

People working remotely have greater commitment to their jobs and rank their job satisfaction and wellbeing higher‚ the study showed. At the same time‚ they find it harder to switch off at home and keep a work-life balance.

About one in seven UK employees were working remotely in 2014‚ significantly more than 20 years ago.

In Europe in 2010 about a fifth of workers were mainly working at home‚ on clients’ premises‚ on sites outside the factory or office and in cars or other vehicles.

In the US roughly one in four workers were doing some or all of their work at home in 2015‚ up from about one in five in 2003.

In South Africa‚ companies and cities are implementing remote working arrangements. The City of Cape Town has introduced flexitime for many of its 27‚000 employees in an effort to ease rush-hour congestion into the CBD.

Financial services giant Allan Gray‚ with offices at the V&A Waterfront‚ has informal flexitime and a small “hot desk” workspace outside the CBD for staff who prefer not to come into town.

Remote workers value flexibility — on how long‚ where‚ when and what time they work— which suits their domestic and personal circumstances‚ research has demonstrated.

Prior research found that a working at home group outperformed their office-bound counterparts in terms of time‚ effort and intensity.

For example‚ 39% of them reported they often had to work extra time above the formal hours of their job to finish work or help out‚ compared to 24% of those in fixed workplaces.

Significantly more remote workers reported an inability to switch off and unwind at the end of the work day‚ with work pressures spilling over into personal life.

Psychology researcher Ted White identified the toxic effect that “technoference” has on families and couples in 2015 after a survey of 143 couples in the US found 70% of relationships were interrupted by computers‚ smartphones‚ cellphones or TV.

But the benefits of flexibility outweighed the risks for remote workers‚ researchers reported. Professor Alan Felstead from Cardiff University and his co-author found: “The effects of remote working may be negative for work-life balance while beneficial for workers’ attachment to the organisation‚ enthusiasm for the job and job satisfaction.

“For these benefits‚ remote workers appear willing to work harder and longer.”

The latest research was published in the journal New Technology‚ Work and Employment.