Working at home is ‘a double-edged sword’, new research reveals

New research conducted by academics at the Universities of Leicester and Exeter has revealed how working at home can be ‘a double-edged sword’.

Whilst working from home enabled staff to remain more focused and enjoy greater ‘peace and quiet’, the blurred boundaries between home and work contributed to increased levels of anxiety, with more than 50% of homeworkers typically reporting symptoms in any one week.

In a survey involving more than 850 members of staff at the Universities of Leicester and Exeter, employees were more likely to feel anxious if they were feeling isolated, unable to detach themselves from their work, or had to make large adjustments from their normal working arrangements. 

The study revealed that whilst 80% of staff reported a high level of satisfaction with homeworking in October 2020, this had dropped to 70% by February 2021.

Professor Stephen Wood, Professor of Management at the University of Leicester, said: “There are many obvious benefits of homeworking, such as enjoying the peace and quiet of home and being able to think on your own, but there are downsides – it can be a double-edged sword.

“When employees talk about missing the social side of work, they are referring to more than chatting socially over coffee; it also refers to being around colleagues to share ideas and brainstorm.”

“Much comes out of impromptu encounters and corridor meetings, and the value of being able to nip into people’s offices which resolves issues quickly. The social side is intrinsic to your job.”

Participants in focus groups reported that working from home made them more focused, but some were prevented from working effectively because they were, for example, unable to access their laboratory.

Staff were conscious that working from home offered them the ‘peace and quiet to get on with their jobs’, however missed social interactions and the personal connection with colleagues, which they felt were intrinsic to their jobs. 

Additionally, staff enjoyed having increased autonomy, but found the blurred boundaries between home and work difficult to manage.

Professor Wood suggests involving staff in working parties that make recommendations about staff-related issues as a good way of helping employees feel more connected when working remotely. 

He continues: “Virtual birthday parties are not the answer. You have to involve people more and a good place for organisations to start is with genuinely involving employees in the design of the homeworking practices.

“People want to retain some element of working from home - developing home working policies must be part of a vision for healthy workplaces.”