The formative years of a career are by far the most important. It is arguably the time when young professionals are most motivated, when key skills are learned, and professional networks are formed. For better or for worse, the initial steps made by a young professional in the working world determine the trajectory of their working life.
The pandemic upended working life as we know it, most notably in the way we work, as industries that could make the practical switch from working in-office to working from home did so. For some, working from home has significantly improved their work-life balance and general attitude towards the grind, alleviating the anxieties they had come to associate with being physically present in an office, 9-5.
But worryingly, for the overwhelming majority of people, being forced to work from home has left them feeling disconnected, unmotivated, lost, and a whole host of other feelings that are sure to significantly hinder their career progression.
So, given that working from home clearly benefits some but not all, let’s dive deeper into the impact of this switch, draw up the benefits and limitations of this work approach, and try to get some insight into what this says about where the working world is heading.
The Positive Impact of WFH
While the switch to remote working may have negatively impacted more people, it’s impossible to ignore the clear benefits that the switch had, and is still having, for many people. So, before we get to the bleak side of WFH, here’s how this work revolution improved the lives of certain individuals:
Your own schedule leads to a greater work-life balance
The rigidness of office hours and the Monday-Friday commitment of in-person working surely had its advantages, but it didn’t suit the work habits of certain individuals. With no space to be flexible, not only did an individual’s commitment to the job decrease, but also their ability to produce good quality work diminished.
On one level, the relentless need to be present in an office five days a week negatively impacts an individual’s ability to perform. The dread and boredom that can become associated with an office can limit concentration levels and wear out their motivation for the job. This leads to missed deadlines and a whole host of other problems for the company.
While working from home, the individual is in an environment that they are more comfortable with, and they generally can be more flexible with their work schedule. As long as the work is complete by a fixed date, remote workers tend to be free to work whenever it best suits them.
With this, individuals can work only when they feel motivated to do so. With no time wasted on bouts of work inability, individuals can work more efficiently. Remote workers may find themselves more productive in the morning than in the afternoon, or feel they benefit from putting in a few hours in the evening. The only way you can figure this out is by working outwith rigid office hours.
On another level, being more flexible with work hours permits the workforce to fulfil day-to-day tasks more easily, such as running errands, attending appointments, etc.
The individual is also free to fit in recreational activities between work commitments, such as going a jog or attending an online yoga class, ultimately leading to a greater work-life balance.
A broadened work horizon
An obvious one, but important to highlight nonetheless - working remotely allows the individual to work full-time for a company without being physically near to where the business is based.
This significantly increases the number of job opportunities for new workers, as they’re no longer limited to apply only for jobs within their geographical region. This is a huge benefit for those living outside of cities and business epicentres who don’t want to have to leave where they're based purely for work purposes.
Working remotely also permits individuals to pursue a nomadic lifestyle. Generally, all that’s needed to meet the demands of a remote job is a strong enough Wi-Fi connection, and you’re good to go. The opportunity to travel is something many may wish to do but wouldn’t find the opportunity being bogged down in a traditional in-office career.
Don’t need to commute
Prior to the pandemic, one of the big talking points on the limitations of office work was the commute. The commute adds time to the individual’s working day, which is significant when you consider the journey there and the return trip.
Additionally, this created an added expense for the individual, as they would have to either cover the cost of public transport or the price of petrol. Added to this is the price of mental strain that the journey to work can sometimes cause. Whether racing for train times or circumnavigating around traffic, the commute to work impacts both your mental and physical health and has been linked to increased blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and depression.
Finally, the commute is bad for the environment - particularly if you drive to work each day.
So, the removal of the commute grants the worker more time and increases both their physical and mental capacity to complete work.
Quiet work environment
Not only can the remote worker choose where they work, but they can also control the noise level. When working in an office, there’s always going to be some level of distraction, whether it be in the form of general conversing, phones ringing, or music blaring from a co-worker’s desktop.
For those who believe silence to be the foundation of creativity, working from home could help them reach maximum levels of productivity. Alternatively, if they are the type who work best to music, they can also do this without fear of districting co-workers!
Generally, the remote worker can do whatever they want in their home-work environment to make it as comfortable as possible for them.
Introverts can thrive
Working remotely simply suits the personality of certain individuals. Some aren’t interested in the social aspect of office life and actually find it enervating to the point where it limits their ability to work.
Being given the opportunity to work mostly independently while keeping up correspondence on the likes of Slack and attending the occasional Zoom meeting better fits the attitude of introverted types.
With fewer social anxieties to overcome, working from home can allow introverts to focus their energies exclusively on the work at hand!
The Negative Impact of Working From Home
Despite all its perceived qualities, it’s impossible to overlook the thousands of individuals who struggled at the height of the pandemic - and are still struggling - with mental health problems linked to home working. The negative impact of working from home is multi-faceted, but it all links to the drastic move from on-site to in-bedroom working.
From reduced concentration levels to limited career prospects, let’s take a closer look at the negative impact of remote working.
Lack of face to face interaction
Zoom doesn’t exactly allow for strong working relationships to form. If the new recruit has never met the team in person before, they could have a warped impression of their colleagues that is based on messaging and video calls alone.
This could make forming relationships with co-workers challenging for new employees, leave them feeling outside of the core work team and constantly uncertain of where they stand with the people they work with.
For some individuals, this could be catastrophic for mental health. Those who rely on social interactions may feel too cut off to work. Young people particularly feed off the camaraderie of the workplace and use the energy gained in order to work.
This bonding experience is not only vital for the mental health of young employees, but it also stunts their ability to network effectively. With no real relationships made, the employee has gained little by the end of their employment term, having made no solid connections to people in the industry.
The lack of socialisation could also have a long-term impact on those who are new to the world of work and have not yet developed critical emotional and social skills, which are normally formed in a workplace environment.
Plus, the office environment thrives on bonding activities outside the work at hand. Opportunities to socialise and team bonding events are often organised to improve working relationships; again, this is near-impossible to replicate virtually.
Lack of self-motivation
Lack of self-motivation is the biggest drawback of remote working from the employee’s perspective, but it also impacts the employee massively, too. In an office setting, as much as having someone watching over you can be distracting, having no one to monitor progress whatsoever can leave the employee to give in to their procrastinative impulses.
Although the remote worker can set up their environment to ensure maximum concentration is achieved, becoming distracted is to be expected - especially with their phone and internet access close at hand.
With no one to tell you to keep working, it can be impossible to force yourself to do so. Five minutes scrolling on your phone quickly becomes ten, and before you know it an hour has passed.
Plus, some office workers feed off the fact that everyone around them is also working, which, in turn, encourages them to work. Some people need the all-in-this-together type of encouragement in order to keep a steady workflow. Without it, they can grow un-motivated and lost.
Can’t develop core skills
Working from home is definitely easier for those with several years of working in-person in an office under their belt. Simply bearing witness to how an office operates allows the individual to more accurately replicate it and meet its demands in a virtual setting.
The inner runnings of office life cannot be conveyed through Zoom or via tutorial videos, it takes real-life immersion to fully understand how the company works, both in terms of the structure of the team and the technology used. It can be very intimidating for new employees to learn how to use technology without having someone at hand next to them to ask for assistance.
Some people learn best through osmosis, which is the development of core skills by watching others do it. Without visual demonstration, a new employee can grow confused and frustrated at their inability to perform the task. Osmosis is, of course, impossible to attain virtually.
The limitations of WFH technology
Given how quickly the switch between the office and WFH was made, the technology that supports remote working had a lot of catching up to do. The likes of Slack, Asana, and ClickUp are good, but there are still limitations of each that cause a divergence between in-person relations and virtual ones.
Most importantly, text-based communication can easily be misinterpreted by an employee and lead them to complete their required work wrongly. Some people are simply not good at conveying what they need through text, which severely limits the effectiveness of these online work platforms.
Plus, it can sometimes take forever for certain employees to reply and it’s always slower than it would be in person. This impacts the time management of all employees.
Miscommunication on these platforms often forces companies to increase the frequency of video conferences, which are a hassle to organise and often eat up employee time.
Furthermore, remote workers could suffer from limited technology and poor Wi-Fi connections and are far more susceptible to security threats at home than in the workplace.
Work-life balance thrown off-course
Although we mentioned before that remote working can improve work-life balance for some, for others, it can completely jeopardise their ability to even come close to achieving one. Just because a remote worker is unmotivated doesn’t mean they get a reduced workload or postponed deadlines; they’re still expected to turn over the same amount of work as a highly-motivated colleague who knows how to curb procrastination.
For every hour a remote worker gives in to procrastination, an hour gets added on to their working day. The work still needs to be done, regardless of their inability to get motivated for it. This could see a remote worker at their laptop all through the day and evening, giving them no time off whatsoever.
Not only does this lack of time management throw the worker’s daily schedule into disarray, but it also leaves them no time to do things outside of work, such as socialise with friends or pursue a hobby. An overdue deadline could see them working through the weekend and eating into their vital recreational time.
These overtime hours add up, with 43% of remote employees working 40 hours a week than onsite workers.
This leads to burnout and, in combination with feelings of isolation and lack of drive, can create serious mental health problems for the individual. 56% of people surveyed by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) stated that they felt they could not switch off while working remotely.
This is a dangerous cycle to get into, and with many jobs that are currently remote looking to stay remote, it is an issue that will likely grow at an exponential rate.
Unsuitable home workspace
A young worker simply may not have suitable enough home working conditions to replicate an office environment. Whether their home lacks the specialised equipment necessary, has too many other occupants to ensure peace and quiet, or simply lacks the required space, it can be impossible for some to feel even comfortable working from home.
If they share an apartment with other tenants, organising a worktime schedule can be difficult if there’s only one area suitable for working in the flat. Noise levels are also not within the home worker’s control.
An RSPH study found that one in four home workers operate entirely from a sofa or their bedroom, with 48% reporting the development of musculoskeletal problems from this.
Additionally, the home worker may suffer from connection issues and be unable to complete work. They will also likely have to pay an increased heating and electric bill due to this additional time spent at home.
Decreased earning potential
We’ve already touched on how home working stunts the amount of networking a new employee can perform, but haven’t explored fully the severely limiting implications this can have on a person’s career.
The inability to network effectively has been a huge area of anxiety amongst the young workforce. So much so that in a study conducted by Universum, nearly a third of the 18,000 young individuals asked felt that this inability could cap their earning potential and severely limit their ability to progress to their desired career level.
This barrier could leave individuals feeling even more disengaged and unmotivated than they already are, knowing that they are missing out on the potential opportunity to further excel in their careers.
When working remotely, the lines between work and life have become increasingly and undeniably blurred, with work regularly coming out as the dominant sphere of influence on the individual’s life. The changes WFH has made on the workforce are innumerable.
Some may thrive because of these changes, particularly introverts who enjoy being alone and work better that way. They may feel that they can far easier achieve a work-life balance and can easily attain a perfect working environment. Working from home also removes the need for a commute, saving the individual time, money, and both mental and physical strength.
On the other hand, working remotely can leave the individual feeling cut off from the company they’re working for. Those who started post-pandemic may have never met any of their colleagues face-to-face and have been forced to learn their job role and the operational side of the company purely through text-based conversations and Zoom meetings. This impacts their ability to develop core skills and build friendly relations and network with their co-workers, and can leave them feeling unsure of how to complete their work.
Furthermore, working from home leaves individuals prey to distractions and feeling like they can’t ever fully switch off. With no physical office to leave at the end of the day, their daily mental structure becomes confused and undefined.
Overall, working from home has negatively impacted the mental health and prospects of almost all who have partaken in it so far, to varying degrees.