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Is remote work healthy?

Last updated on
October 25, 2021
Is remote work healthy?

Fitter, happier, more productive. Remote work is often sold as a win-win opportunity for employees and employers alike – and with 50% of our workforce working remotely, here at Memory we tend to agree. But remote work doesn’t always work out for everyone and eulogizing it is actually pretty unhelpful. Many employees have learned that the hard way, being thrown into distributed working overnight as a result of Covid-19 lockdown. But for those considering a long-term remote work arrangement, seriously consider if it’s actually the healthy choice for your individual needs and personality type.

Does remote work make you happier?

High-profile academic research has lent serious weight to the idea that remote work makes you happier and healthier. Some of the juiciest stats suggest remote workers:

Are 13% more productive than in-office counterparts (91% agree they get more done when working remotely)
Report higher levels of job satisfaction and are 9% more engaged at work
Feel more valued at work and are happier, with 82% experiencing lower stress levels

Pretty hard to argue with. But what exactly makes remote work so good for you?

At its heart, it has a lot to do with giving people agency. Remote workers are able to design their workspace and work where they feel most comfortable – often living in places that wouldn’t have been possible previously. Work autonomy extends to the realization that you are in full control of your environment.

Remote working also tends to come with a great deal of flexibility: on how you structure your time, where you work, what you wear and how you balance personal time. The ability to have a flexible schedule and the flexibility to work from anywhere were rated as the two biggest benefits of remote work, according to Buffer's 2020 State of Remote Work report. Remote work offers families the opportunity to support each others’ schedules, and the adventurous the freedom to travel. Everyone benefits from the ability to manage commitments according to what’s most convenient.

And the quality of work benefits as a result – boosting our own sense of purpose and satisfaction at work. Remote work gives you the space and time to regularly enter productive flow states, which enables the most satisfying and challenging type of work: deep work. By organizing your own time, you can work when you are most productive – setting positive individualized working habits. Removing the tedium and expense of commuting is also a clear mental win – your time is fully your own.

🏠 Is working from home the most productive work model?

The dark underbelly of remote life

But it’s not all plain sailing. Research has also shown that remote workers:

Take fewer breaks and sick days – continuing to work even though they would consider themselves too ill to go into an office
Work longer hours, with 59% of remote workers working overtime at least once a week
Develop weaker relationships with co-workers than all other workers
Can have progress stifled by nature of being remote – 27% reporting that location separation had blocked their work
Feel anxious about job stability, professional development and work visibility

Understand, remote work can be an extremely lonely experience. Remote workers are at a great risk of feeling socially isolated, which in turn can lead to depression and a 29% increase in mortality risk.  Relationships and direct in-person contact really matter. Even if you proactively arrange social activities outside of work, it’s hard to bridge the emotional distance and feeling of disconnect that exists between you and your colleagues.

There’s also the issue of work intensification. The downsides of increased engagement and productivity are fewer breaks, longer hours and supplemental hours – a sure road to burnout, stress and disturbed sleep. When your home is also your office, it takes a lot of energy to keep work and personal time from overlapping. While flexibility sounds great in theory, the lack of structure and boundaries it entails can be mentally overwhelming.

And let ‘s not forget the anxieties linked to physical separation and flexibility. With research showing work presence directly affects the likelihood of promotion, positive performance reviews and raises, many remote workers often feel the need to make themselves constantly available. Extra energy is used to broadcast active work and, coupled with a fluid work-personal space, many remote workers find it difficult to disengage from work.  

🚨 The downsides of remote work

A personal choice

So, is remote work good or bad for your health?

Beautifully, there is no universal answer to that question; it depends entirely on your own self-discipline, social resilience and personal vision of work happiness. With the right boundaries and routines, remote team culture and remote employee management and company-wide investment, remote can be an extremely rewarding experience.

But be under no illusions: remote work requires ongoing effort from employees, colleagues and management. It’s not a lifestyle choice either; at the end of the day, you still need to actually enjoy your job and be willing to become more self-directed in how you work.  

💻 How to keep remote work visible

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