The case against working from home


IIt is not that difficult to make a list of the advantages of working from home.

You save hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, on gas by forgoing two daily trips. You are often better able to balance your professional life and your real life. There are countless fewer interruptions. And the dress code is definitely much more relaxed.

Many companies also found that employee productivity was higher during the pandemic when working from home. But a study by the University of Cambridge neuroscience team shows that working from home full-time also carries some risks.

The main risk of working from home, especially for single people, is isolation. And the lack of social interaction that many of us have in the office or in the field can impact brain structure.

The brain, argues the research team, is specifically developed to support social interactions. And being part of a group increases satisfaction and well-being.

The study mapped the brain regions of nearly 7,000 people, finding that the regions that are used during social interactions are strongly linked to those that support cognition, including those that help us focus; which help with memory, emotion and motivation; and which help us regulate our emotions.

What the researchers found is that social isolation could be an early indicator of people at increased risk for dementia. In fact, in a follow-up with nearly 500,000 participants 12 years after the initial study, those who were socially isolated had a 26% increased risk of disease.

This type of isolation, of course, was more than just working from home. But it does underscore the potential cognitive risks of avoiding the office altogether.

Gallup, meanwhile, conducted a less scientific, but still remarkable survey of more than 15 million employees a decade ago that examined, among other things, the importance of social interaction at work. The results revealed that people with a ‘work wife’ or ‘work husband’ – someone they consider their best friend in the office – are “seven times more likely to be engaged in their work, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, [and] have higher well-being.

And if your company prides itself on having a team culture, a 2017 Harvard Business Review study found that those who work remotely often feel less like a member of that team. A lack of close contact, according to the study, impairs the formation of trust, connection and mutual purpose.

The potential problems of working from home are compounded for women. Bank of England policymaker Catherine Mann, speaking at an event for women in finance late last year, noted that as workers return to the office, women who continue to work from home could see their careers begin to stagnate.

These comments were consistent with Deloitte’s Women @ Work global survey, which found that 51% of women are less optimistic about their career prospects today than they were before the onset of COVID-19.

And young workers don’t want to to work at home. A national work-from-home survey by economists from three universities found that less than 25% of Gen Zers (in this case, defined as workers in their 20s) would work remotely full-time if they did. had the opportunity (more than 40% of people aged 50 and over said they would). And LinkedIn found that 20- to 24-year-olds were the least likely to apply for remote roles in a study of job applicants on that site.

How come? They crave that office community, especially those who have moved to a new city. This offers them both a social outlet and a place to learn from their peers and supervisor.

Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that 11% of couples say they met as co-workers or through mutual co-workers.

Sometimes the best argument against working from home is the most basic.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


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