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Earlier this week, Thom Rainer wrote an interesting blog post: “Why Many More Employees Will Soon Be Working from Home.” He made the case that the Millennial generation (of which I am part) expects employers to offer flexibility in the where of working. He quotes a recent article from Fast Company that predicts 29% of office workers doing their work remotely by 2020:

  • Already 24 percent of organizations are changing the way their offices look to accommodate a more mobile workforce. They are adapting to and preparing for that more mobile workforce.
  • Of the 24 percent noted above, 96 percent are redesigning office space to reflect greater flexibility and collaboration. These redesigned spaces recognize that an employee who is in the office today may not be in the office the next three days.

There’s no doubt many Millennials expect to work off-site. I’ve talked to a number of people about job openings at LifeWay, only to find that relocation is sometimes an instant deal breaker. I’ve also talked to organizations that tout the “work-from-home” model as one of the best reasons to work there.

But I have serious reservations about the new model. Like it or not, it’s coming. But the new reality is not nearly as enticing to me as it might have been a few years ago. And I say this as someone who has a daily commute that puts me on the road an hour and a half.

Strengths of Working from Home

Let’s look at a few of the strengths of the home-based model.

  1. Less Overhead. No need for as much office space. Hook up a new employee with a computer and the ability to teleconference, and you’re on your way.
  2. No “punch-the-clock” mindset. I recently talked to an older lady who rides the bus with me to Nashville every day. I recommended she get off at an earlier stop so she could arrive at work ten minutes earlier. Her response? “It doesn’t matter, because I can’t leave any earlier.” She had a “punch-the-clock” mindset about her job. Put in your time, clock out when it’s time to go home, and you’re done. That mindset is foreign to me. Working from home does away with the time clock and puts the focus on getting the work done.
  3. Better use of travel time. Many employees commute more than 20 minutes one way to their work destination. Staying at home reclaims 40-75 minutes each day, time that can be used in productive ways. (Not to mention the savings on gas every day!)

Weaknesses of Working from Home

Despite these very real strengths, there are some significant drawbacks. Here are two big ones:

Loss of iron-sharpening interaction

This is the biggest weakness. In the two years I’ve been at LifeWay, I cannot underestimate the profound impact of working in an environment with so many gifted, driven, focused individuals. Hallway talks, quick conversations in the elevator, lunches with leaders – all of these contribute to an innovative work environment.

Interestingly enough, the same day I read Dr. Rainer’s blog post, I came across this section in Tim Keller’s Center Church, where he explains the migration of young people and innovative businesses to city centers. Keller writes:

Research shows us that productivity is significantly higher for companies that locate near the geographic center of “inventive activity” in their industry. Why? Proximity to others working in your field enables the infinite number of interactions, many of them informal, that turns neophytes into experts more quickly and helps experts stimulate each other to new insights.

A further observation comes from Edward Glaeser:

Much of the value of a dense work environment comes from unplanned meetings and observing the random doings of the people around you. Video conferencing will never give a promising young worker the ability to learn by observing the day-to-day operations of a successful mentor.

Keller summarizes this phenomenon, described by urban theorists as “agglomeration”:

The physical clustering of thousands of people who work in the same field naturally generates new ideas and enterprises.

It’s safe to assume that the reverse of this research is also true. Distance from co-workers dampens innovative thought.

Less Productivity

The strength I mentioned above (no more “punch-the-clock” mentality) has a corresponding weakness that can result in a loss of productivity. If you have many tasks to complete before the end of your work day, you are more likely to stay focused on the task at hand.

But when you are working at home, some of that urgency dissipates. You are more likely to be scattered than focused. You may get the same amount of work done, but it may take more of your time.

(There are exceptions to this rule. If the work you need to do is significantly creative in nature, working at home may indeed be the best way to focus on one particular task and not be distracted by everything else going on in the work environment.)

Toward a Hybrid-Model

Dr. Rainer envisions a hybrid model in the future:

The likely future is a hybrid of office workers and remote workers, many of whom will be home workers. And that likely future will accelerate with the Millennial generation once the unemployment rate declines to more normative levels. What is your organization doing to prepare for this future? How will the office space change? What will be the best ways to engender accountability? How will leaders guide those who are in the office one day and out the next?

It’s likely that working from home will be more and more common in the future. But I hope this does not mean the end of physical office space.

The best way forward for professionals would be a hybrid that leads to the maximization of productivity. Employers need to know and recognize the unique gifts of each employee in order to determine a middle path.

When working from home is ideal, it should be allowed. When the need for office interaction is ideal, it should be expected.

What About You?

What do you think? What are the strengths and weaknesses of working from home?

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10 thoughts on “The Strengths and Weaknesses of Working from Home”

  1. Reg Schofield says:

    Like it or not , many employers will be shifting this way. The numerous people I know who have his type of employment are highly motivated , consistently do more than they have to by working ahead of their task assigned , enjoy the flexibility and truly love the company they are working for . In winter , if the roads are bad and its a day they are scheduled to go into the office , most have the luxury of staying home safe , and work from a home office.

    Is this type of model for all , no. Plus the people I know who have this type of home option still have to go into a actual office at least 50% of the time . So I think the hybrid system will be the most effective model. I think its great but one thing I was told by all who do this at home , have a actual office space unique and separate from your regular home and treat it as such. But one thing I know , they make their office at home their own “space” with posters and even decorations that they like , not some generic office cubicle. I think its great and would love to have this option because I would take it in a heartbeat.

  2. Well, working at a church I find that there are some days I have to be in the office and it helps. I have meetings to go to and given the section of the office I am in, all of us are constantly in and out of each other’s offices which does result in some exchange of ideas and coordination. On the other hand, it’s almost ludicrous for me to expect to write my sermon at work. That might be because our walls are paper thin, but if I’m going to read anything longer than a blog post or write anything longer than a facebook comment, I pretty much have to leave the office. This means that on those days where I am in the office and don’t have meetings, I am more likely to be productive if I am at home. Certainly on the days that I prep for preaching, I am in the office for 1 hour, but I will have worked 12 hour day.

  3. DesignChic says:

    As a creative that works in a traditional office environment (complete with a micro-managing boss), the idea of working at home is enticing, but only as a means of escape. When I envision my “dream job” it is always with a small group of like-minded creatives. It’s so much easier to generate concepts and excitement about a project when there are others adding their own ideas and excitement. That would be my idea of fulfillment in the work place.

  4. Jason McNair says:

    Primarily, I work from home. I am one generation older than Millennial (An older X’er). I have two school aged children in public school. As a State Convention employee, we have an office that consultants can use for meetings and central conferencing. All of us (7) meet together there one day a week for chapel and once a month for staff meetings. I happen to love working from home. I can start my day early, avoid the traffic rush, and finish most of my projects/contacts/meetings/consultations by 3:30 PM by working through lunch and healthy snacking throughout the day. Then, I can spend the afternoon tying up loose ends and helping my boys with their homework. My wife works at a local bookstore (LifeWay) in the morning while I am in my home office. If I am not visiting church offices around my state, I schedule teleconferences with pastors and church leaders throughout the day and can accomplish the same or more than I would if I had to tack on a 40 minute commute, saving the gas. As I said earlier, I love working from home, and I think my company/state convention likes it, too. They have successfully home officed their consultants/state missionaries since 1996. Call us trendsetters.

  5. Ryan says:

    Working from home has disadvantages for some, but has been a relief in many ways for me. My wife and I have shared a car since we were first married 17 years ago, and with me working from home and her serving as a homemaker it is convenient to make only one car payment when children need to go to the doctor and other activities. It is also possible for me to respond quicker to emergencies, whereas before I had a 45-60 minute drive.
    Stress levels are lower as there is no heavy traffic to navigate through. There is extra time in the day to experience family and we get to eat lunch together.
    As far as communication with colleagues, we communicate with e-mail, chat, video, and phone. Currently I discuss business issues in real time with colleagues in Tulsa, Portland and San Diego, sometimes even concurrently.
    From a productivity standpoint, I now get more done in less time. There are fewer distractions so I can remain focused on tasks longer. I even have time to read interesting blogs during down times which relieves monotony resulting in poorer performance.
    The main setback is the potential for isolationism. Sometimes you can become paranoid that you are missing an essential business communication. You might be the last to know that you are fired.
    For those with a family it also takes discipline to set boundaries. They must know that when you are at work, you are at work. Conversely you must set boundaries for your workplace. Working late when it is unnecessary is harmful the other way too.

  6. Nick Horton says:

    For 14 years I worked in an office. For 13 of those years I drove approximately 160 miles a day round trip. For the last year I have worked from home.

    I was overjoyed to work from home, as I thought I would be interrupted far less, even with my now 2.5 year old son and wife home with me all the time. Working in the office in my organization was one of constant interruption. Open work areas designed for teleworking make it hard to do long periods of focused work. This is not to say I am no longer interrupted at home, because I am. However, the interruptions are less frequent.

    Managing your work environment at home is critical to productivity. When I first started working at home I tried using the kitchen table, or the couch as a work area. This did not work at all. My back ended up hurting and I was too integral to the action of the house. We ended up sectioning off a space of the house as a dedicated office. This made a huge difference in home productivity.

    Now that I am not driving 3+ hours a day, I am more rested, do better work, and most importantly I see my family so much more. This reclaiming of rhythm of work and life balance, has made me a better worker.

    The downside is as you say, the loss of those interactions with co-workers and others in the office. In the time I have worked from home, my office has moved to approximately 3 hours away now. I still make a point of driving in to the office once in a while for a day to see people and keep those relationships alive. It’s important not to treat working from home as a right, but as an incredible blessing. I try to maintain that attitude and be flexible to whenever I am needed in the office.

    There are ups and downs to it for anyone, and for me its mostly up. It’s enabled me to be fully rested, have more time with my family, and to now have more time for ministry in my church.

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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