Working from home has evolved from a necessary response to a public health crisis into a potentially permanent fixture in the corporate world. Even as many employers are encouraging (if not, demanding) a full return to office, many workers also are seriously evaluating if they ever want to go back at all. What began as a year of adjustment and uncertainty, working remotely has become not only commonplace, but very comfortable. And it’s no wonder. The benefits are simply hard to ignore, particularly when it comes to taking care of work-life balance, as well as your mental and financial health. But before you donate your suits and stock up on sweatpants, it’s important to look at some of the perks and drawbacks to understand whether or not remote work can pay off for you.
When we think about remote work, one of the first things that comes to mind is flexibility. Whether that’s folding laundry between tasks, catching a lunch-time yoga class, or taking Zoom calls from a distant mountain-top (thank you, Internet), it’s never been easier to create your own schedule. The best part? This newfound flexibility may save workers money, too.
It makes sense. If you’re a full-time, in-office employee, think about what you typically spend on commuting expenses, professional attire, lunches out, coffee breaks, and after-work happy hours. Even if your company covers lunches or offers commuter benefits, those perks generally don’t compare with the money you can save when you work from home. Depending on where you live and how long your daily commute, you could save upwards of $4,600 a year.
That’s a lot of money. And when put to good use, it can make you even more money. For example, you can increase your monthly contributions to your retirement account, or put those extra funds into a high-yield savings account. Or, you can use your newfound savings to pay down debt, saving you on interest in the long run.
Now consider the mental health benefits. Imagine if you could reduce your time spent in bumper-to-bumper traffic by nearly 100%? In some metro areas, commuting can take more than an hour—and that’s just one leg of the trip. Eliminating this daily activity is not only a big time-saver, but an enviable stress-reliever. You could spend those unlocked hours improving your quality of life. In other words, you’d have more time for exercise, sleep, hobbies, and family. If (like us) you believe “time is money,” doing away with daily travel to and from the office can pay off in more ways than you can imagine.
Plus, you might be surprised to learn that remote work actually enhances productivity, debunking the theory that employees get less done when they’re away from the office.
Working remotely also creates geographically boundless opportunities. Previously, employees working in expensive cities like New York or San Francisco were hard-pressed to find affordable housing within a reasonable distance from the office. The rise of virtual work now enables employees to choose where (and how) they want to live. That could be closer to family, into a larger home in a less expensive suburb, or to a farming or mountain community further afield. Being able to leave high-cost rentals for places with a lower cost of living has enabled remote workers to not only save money, but to afford a home for the first time in their lives.
And it turns out, when you’re able to save money—and liberate your time to do the things you enjoy—your mental well-being and outlook on life are likely to change for the better.
Of course, remote work isn’t for everyone, and downsides do exist.
First, check in with your employer and ask about any rules, policies, or expectations that come with remote work. For example, if you’re planning on moving, some companies may decrease your salary to match the market rate of your new location. This might be a lot less than what you’re making now, wiping out any potential savings you were hoping to achieve with a move. Also, some employers are asking employees to go 1099 (become a contractor) if they move out of the area, pushing the tax and health care liability entirely on the worker. And some state tax restrictions could prevent you from relocating to certain states, so connect with your manager and HR department before making any sudden moves.
While you could save money in the long run, be sure to consider all your upfront costs. For example, you may have to spend more than you expect to create a remote office. If your employer doesn’t offer reimbursements or a stipend for setting up a workspace, the initial output can eat into your budget.
From a social standpoint, working from home isn’t exactly a party. Virtual work may lead to less interaction and collaboration with peers and managers. This can lead to feelings of job insecurity, or that you need to be responsive to texts and calls at all hours to make coworkers back in the office understand that, yes, you are indeed “working.” This can lead to mental burnout, which can affect both your health and your finances.
Similarly, if you you know you thrive on daily office interactions (e.g., brainstorming in the conference room or lunches and coffee breaks with friends) you may find remote work isolating (and perhaps a little lonely). This might lead to anxiety or depression, and not worth upending everything just to save money on gas and parking.
Distractions at home can also be an obstacle for remote workers. This became abundantly clear early in the pandemic, as hundreds of thousands of new remote employees found themselves working alongside partners, children, and roommates under less-than-ideal circumstances. On top of that, there’s another subtle downside of remote work that you might not anticipate: the inability to unplug.
For some, commuting to and from an office provides a psychological boundary between work life and home life. Removing that boundary causes some to work longer hours and neglect their personal needs. Success as a remote worker requires continuous monitoring of your work-life balance to maintain equilibrium.
Ultimately, what you’re able to achieve as a remote worker comes down to discipline. This translates to creating an environment that is not only conducive to being productive, but that supports your daily tasks, and ensures lines of communication remain open.
First, it’s critical to have a designated workspace. Everyone’s home environment and personal preferences vary widely, so there’s no one-size-fits-all workstation. You have to find what works best for you (and whomever you may share your space with). If you don’t have a study or spare room, you may need to get creative. “A few simple investments can make a huge difference,” says Corissa Peterson, a writer and hiring manager with Resume Genius. “This doesn’t mean that you have to spend thousands of dollars on a fancy new office set-up. There are plenty of affordable additions you can make: a lumbar back support cushion, an adjustable monitor stand, or even a height-adjustable standing desk.”
Flexibility is key. In the same way you may have to negotiate your workspace with a housemate, collaborating with coworkers remotely can be more difficult than if you were working in the same office. If you live a time zone away from your primary office, for example, you may end up taking calls earlier or later in the day (or night) than you’d like.
And when you’re separated from your team and company by screens, effective communication is paramount. Whatever mix of tools are available at your organization, make a point of getting to know your coworkers’ personal communication preferences (and let them know yours, too). The more empathy and understanding you have for your coworkers (and yourself) while working remotely, the better your communication will be.
Finally, work within your company’s rules and policies. Discuss your needs with your manager to develop a structure that works for your role and the needs of your team. It may take some trial and error, and that’s normal. If your company values what you bring to the table, they’ll be willing to work with you to get it right.
While it appears that remote work could be here to stay, whether it’s the right choice for you all depends. If your organization is moving to a remote or hybrid-work model, or you simply feel like you’re ready to make the switch in your next role, take time to consider the pros and cons of working away from an office. Evaluating your needs as well as the above factors will help ease the transition.