Distractions and the downsides to working from home

Remote workers cite a decrease in life satisfaction, more reliance on mobile devices, longer hours than at the office and fewer perks, according to a new survey by Joblist.

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Image: iStock/stefanamer

For many, remote work wasn't a choice but thrust upon them due to the rapid evacuation of on-premises offices because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now more than a year later, Joblist surveyed more than 1,000 workers across the U.S. and asked them to reflect and assess what it was like to turn personal spaces into professional ones. After all is said and done, Joblist predicted that remote work, however challenging its adoption was, will "become more mainstream once it's all said and done."

SEE: Working from home: The future of business is remote (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Working from home: How to get remote right (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

An initial concern was how effectively employees would be able to balance home and work life, but even as people slowly began to adapt, they were faced with the lack of in-person contact. So when Joblist asked respondents if there was an overall change in life satisfaction since working remotely, the 41.8% who said it had decreased are also addressing the social and emotional effects of COVID-19 protocols infringing on their lives daily. Another 35.3% cited it had "increased," likely those who fully embraced the sheltering-together as a family or pod, and 22.9% said they haven't noticed any change.

Working at home features distractions and 53.1% of respondents believed working remotely had made it more difficult to separate work and nonwork life. More than one in 10 millennials admitted being distracted by playing video games during the workday and one in five boomers did laundry during the workday. Other overall distractions include watching TV, cooking, running errands, doing laundry, childcare, watching movies and cleaning. The video game industry in 2020 increased by 9%, to $153.9 billion from 2019, and there are predictions it will be just more than $200 billion by 2023.

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Image: iStock/PRImageFactory

SEE: Zoom 101: A guidebook for beginners and business pros (TechRepublic Premium)   

"Working from home has blurred the lines between work and personal time," said Kevin Harrington, Joblist CEO. "While this schedule flexibility can be beneficial for many, it also presents challenges." 

Remote work's impact on nonwork life is a mix of positive and negative; nearly half (49.4%) spend more time with family; 44.6% watch more movies/TV; 44.2% spend less time prepping for the workday; 37.6% spend more time with a partner (10.8% spend less time with a partner); 36.1% spend more time doing chores; 28% exercise more (but 14.1% exercise less) and 25.1% read more.

The next sets of percentages are negative ones: 24.1% feel more alone; 21.6% gained weight; 21.2% feel their mental health has decreased. 

These were followed by four positive changes: 20.7% picked up a new hobby; 19.1% have sex more frequently (10.6% said they have less sex); 18.5% spend more time outdoors (conversely 14.9% spend less time outdoors); 16.6% said their mental health has improved; 14.3% lost weight and 10% spend more time prepping for the workday. 

The key, Joblist noted, to combat feelings of isolation and detachment is for friends and co-workers to offer up "a mental-health check-in."

Remote work changed morning routines (no more commute, etc) and "an increased propensity to work past normal office hours." Forty-one percent of respondents started their workday nearly two hours earlier and 47.3% started about 1.5 hours later than they did when they were in the office. 

Morning routines have changed, with many citing they wake up later, make coffee at home (saving a lot of money, Joblist noted), spend more time with family, have a healthier breakfast, wake up earlier, exercise before work, catch up on news, and nearly half 46.6% of women skipped putting on makeup.

It's not as easy to end the workday when you don't have a commute to consider: 59% said they regularly worked past normal office hours while working from home, and do so because of excessive workload, pressure to do so, working toward a promotion or raise, feel more creative outside office hours, company expects everyone to do so, busy with childcare during office hours and boredom. But 28.2% felt more productive the day following working late, while 38.2% felt less productive.

Productivity overall has increased, according to 41.6%, but 33.5% said there was no change and 24.9% said it had decreased.

Managers may have a harder time separating work from life because 63% of managers said they now check their work devices more frequently than they did pre-pandemic.

Early in the report, Joblist said remote work is likely to be around for a long time and respondents weighed in on how they could improve remote work: 80.6% prefer a four-day workweek while working the same hours.

"To maintain productivity and a healthy work-life balance, it's important for remote employees to set boundaries, limit distractions, and be intentional about how they spend their time while working from home," Harrington said.

The most desired remote-work perks were: Pay for internet, flexible work hours, better company equipment, allowance for office furniture, wellness allowance, home delivery service, days without Zoom meetings, regular virtual team bonding, pay for subscription service, access to learning and development opportunities, company trip, tuition reimbursement, additional time off for volunteer work and allowance for child care.

Joblist concludes its report: "Clearly, people have reacted differently in their transition to a remote-work lifestyle. Many have decided to switch up their routines accordingly and have rediscovered enjoyable pastimes to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Generally, though, people have become more productive, although they should be wary of burning out. Many felt some more at-home work perks would be nice too."

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