Contrary to popular opinion, people who work from home are not slacking off. In fact, those who work part of the time from home end up working between five and seven hours longer than their peers in the office, according to a study of over 60,000 people in the US.
Mary Noonan, from the University of Iowa, and Jennifer Glass from the University of Texas at Austin, analysed data from two US data sources — the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 panel and special supplements from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, a monthly survey of about 50,000 respondents of which the team took samples from 1998, 2002 and 2004. The study was published earlier this year in Monthly Labour Review.
The findings challenge the idea that working from home is a good solution for those employees needing a better work-life balance or with care-giving responsibilities, suggest the authors. They also challenge the idea that those who work from home are not working as hard as their colleagues in the office.
The authors also speculate as to whether employers take advantage of people working from home, and the resulting longer hours, to increase demands on them. Further studies should look at whether or not those people started working longer hours after they started working from home, they say.
In many workplaces, there is much stigma attached to home-working, and some people may feel pressurised into working longer hours to prove that they are still doing invaluable work. Of course, having the flexibility to work from home is often an essential benefit, but It can also be hard to switch off at the end of the day, when you aren’t physically leaving the office – which might also account for extra hours.
If you are considering working from home, or are struggling to get the balance right, here’s our advice on how to get things done without adding extra pressure:
- Get dressed! If you don’t have to leave the house, it can be tempting to start working before getting ready. It’s true nobody can see you, but to get in the right frame of mind to get things done, you need to feel like you are in work-mode.
- Make a work plan. When you arrange with your boss to work from home, decide on clear objectives of what you are going to get done. This will help you to know you are on track, and it also means you can periodically show that you have done the things you were meant to do, reassuring your boss that you really are working hard.
- Set up a proper place to work. Where possible, set yourself up with some ‘office space’. Make sure you are contactable by phone and email, as you would be in the office.
- Take regular breaks. At work, you take breaks for lunch and to make drinks or chat at the water-cooler. Take time out from work to do the same when you are working from home. This will help you resist other distractions, like the washing up, which you normally wouldn’t think about at work.
- Keep a time log. This sounds obvious, but keep an accurate log of the time you started working, when you finished, and any big breaks in between – for instance to pick the kids up from school. It’s more objective than your memory.
- Make an ‘anti to do’ list. As well as having a clear list of things you need to do, make a separate list of everything you’ve got done that day, both work and personal tasks. Not only is this an encouraging way to see what you’ve accomplished even when things crop up that weren’t on the original plan, it’ll also let you see at the end of the day how much time you spent on work tasks versus personal things, and whether you need to address that balance.