Lights and shadows of working remotely: 4 advantages and 4 disadvantages

Table of Contents

Teleworking means flexibility, autonomy and productivity, but also stress, loneliness and an unstable life-work balance.

As remote work becomes more and more widespread, it is worth analysing its costs and benefits.


  • Flexible work attracts talent and expands the pool of candidates 

Offering flexible working arrangements that include the ability to work remotely is critical to attracting the best talent.  According to the Zapier Remote Work report, 95% of US knowledge workers want to work remotely and 74% would be willing to leave a job to do so. The results of the International Workplace Group survey are similar. 83% of respondents said that the possibility of working in remote mode, at least partially, would be the deciding factor between two similar job offers. In short, telework is no longer a benefit granted to a few, but an essential requirement for a competitive company. Not to mention the natural expansion of talent to be able to make selection: the geographical barriers that limited the pool of candidates to places close to the company, opening the doors of recruitment to the whole world, are eliminated.  

  • Alternating office and telework increases employee satisfaction 

Off-site work seems to increase staff retention. 81% of FlexJob respondents said that having the option to work remotely would significantly increase their attachment to their employer. And not only that: a study found that employee satisfaction increases with the increased hours of work remotely granted to them. But it stops increasing when you go beyond 15 hours: we like working at a distance , but within the right limits. Employees appreciate flexibility and autonomy, but when telework completely replaces office life and opportunities for employee encounters are reduced, it becomes difficult to nurture the worker-company bond. 

  • Distance work reduces the costs of companies and employees (perhaps)  

Companies get a significant cost reduction: According to Global Workplace Analytics, the enterprise can save about $11,000 per year for every employee who works from home at least partially. The savings involve property and utilities costs, but also cleaning services and expenses reimbursements. And they do not only concern companies. Employees alternating between office work and work from home can save between $2,000 and $6,500 a year: just think of gasoline expenses, car maintenance, parking and dining out. But if the work from home is full time, the expenses at the expense of employees can increase significantly. Bills, telephone plans, wi-fi, home office supplies: additional expenses not to be underestimated when teleworking is massive.

“Employees could bear the costs of basic office supplies (think ink cartridges) and could even buy desks, chairs, monitors and other office supplies”, explained Patrick Donnelly to Forbes, Vice  President and Senior Wealth  Advisor at The Colony Group. Then there are even more expenditures under the surface, such as the potential cost of wear of employees’ personal technological devices. “Home computers, laptops and tablets are working more than ever and these devices will not last as they would otherwise,”  Donnelly continues.  

  • Working at a distance makes us more productive 

 Productivity often increases when people work remotely. According to a 2015 study by Nicholas Bloom, professor of economics at Stanford University, a Chinese travel agency that allowed  a random group of employees to work remotely for nine months, saw their productivity increase  by 13%, generating about $2,000 in annual profits per employee. The CEO of the company expected a decrease in productivity, thinking that telework would lead to savings that would offset lost production. “But it was good for everyone”, Bloom  explains.

Increased productivity comes from the ability of employees to work more efficiently, without interruption from colleagues. People also work longer hours: there are no travel delays,  and even their coffee breaks are shorter. More recent studies confirm it. A study by two economics researchers at Harvard  analyzed the performance of call center workers  between January 2018 and August 2020. They found that the average worker answered 26 calls a day, or about one every 20 minutes. But by comparing the call records of on-site and remote staff, the researchers found that homeworkers took 40 seconds more per call  – 12% less productive than office colleagues.


  • Teleworking and loneliness: the price to pay is high in terms of sociality 

Working from home means completely giving up the social component of office work. Face-to-face interactions between colleagues are  replaced by cold virtual meetings, unable to reproduce genuine encounters between real individuals. This relational flattening has significant consequences for the psychological well-being of workers –  Murthy calls it a real “epidemic of loneliness” (let’s talk more about it here).

And he’s not the only one. According to Buffer’s Remote Work Report 2020, the greatest hardships of remote working are related to loneliness, as well as the inability to have genuine interactions and effective collaborations. This is also confirmed by the results of a recent study conducted by Stanford University in collaboration with Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency. The company’s executives were considering introducing remote work as an alternative to office work and wanted to gather data on the possible impact of such a policy. The experiment initially had positive results: the workers from home declared themselves happier, more productive and more concentrated. In the end , however, more than half of the home workers decided to return to the office, despite an average commuting time of 40 minutes – the loneliness suffered at home was unsustainable.  

  • Too much telework is bad for health 

According to a rapid survey of 500 homeworkers by the Institute for Employment Studies,  20% of respondents admit an increase in alcohol consumption, a third say they eat less healthily, 60% exercise less. In addition, 64% report sleep problems due to anxiety and 48% suffer from stress caused work with irregular work patterns and long days. A third is lonely. And loneliness is not only a social issue, but also a real health problem, capable of having serious consequences on the psychophysical well-being of the individual. Social isolation makes us more vulnerable to infections and diseases: doctors talk about increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, dementia,  depression, anxiety. 

At the end, a few days of work at home relieves us of the stress of commuting, but if telework becomes massive our health suffers heavily.  

  •  Teleworking imprisons creativity and slows down innovation 

Creativity needs inspiration and inspiration  typically springs from out-of-the-ordinary images, sounds and experiences. 

Homeworking means not having to leave the house –  the place where you live, eat and sleep also becomes your office. Reduced to zero external stimuli and interesting conversations, the work is reduced to a flat home monotony that can hardly ignite sparks of creativity and innovation. What’s more, the lack of shared spaces where employees can get together and confront each other hinders brainstorming and the incubation of ideas. 

Photo of congerdesign from Pixabay

This is demonstrated by a recent Microsoft study based on interviews with 9,000 managers and employees in 15 European markets.  Teleworking, while stimulating the productivity of employees, affects their creativity to the point of slowing down the drive to corporate innovation. Last year, the report said, up to 56% of leaders thought their businesses were offering innovative products and services; as remote work increased, by 2020, the percentage had dropped to 40%. Alarming results in a world where creativity and innovation drive are essential to stay ahead of the competition. Not surprisingly, faced with the numbness of the creativity of homeworkers many companies have decided to back off and return to traditional offices. 

In 2013, Yahoo’s then-CEO, Marissa Mayer, caused a stir for forcing employees back into the office after a disappointing telework experiment. “To become the best workplace ever, collaboration and communication will be important, so we need to work side-by-side. Some of the best decisions and insights come from discussions in the hallway and canteen, meetings with new people and impromptu team meetings,” the  company  explained. 

Marissa Mayer al TechCrunch 2008. Credit: TechCrunch50-2008

  • Working from home makes it difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance 

The breaking down of the boundary, both physical and mental, between private and working life eads employees to become overworked and stressed. According to a UK study last year, blurring the boundaries between personal and professional life (40%) and the inability to pull the plug on the virtual working day (38%) are the main reasons for increased anxiety levels among UK domestic workers. To the point that 42% of respondents said they felt more stressed and overwhelmed than when they were in the office. Telework has in fact significantly lengthened the working day: according to data from NORDVPN, a company specialized in the provision of network services,  generalized broadcasting of telework in 2020 has led people to work up to two extra hours a day in Europe and three hours in the United States. 

We are not in control of the situation and we are under chronic stress. There is no respite. (…) We work under the umbrella on the beach, at home, in the office, at all hours. It’s the first thing we do when we wake up and the last thing we do before we go to bed. We don’t have time for recovery or rest” 



Perhaps the most common misconception about the adoption of virtual work is that it is an all-or-nothing issue : either you choose office or telework, out of the way. But does this paradigm force companies and workers to make a radical choice: autonomy or collaboration? Productivity or creativity? Loneliness or sociality? It is neither wise nor effective to turn your back on the benefits of having a virtual workforce. But it is also true that telework risks making  us lose something that is an integral part of what makes companies places “human” as well as productive: human interactions and the sense of purpose that only face-to-face meetings can build. 

The way to meet both needs is to merge the two modes, alternating remote work with moments of interaction and confrontation in the office: isolate to focus, come together to collaborate.

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