Back to Work We Go: What Are the Costs and Benefits?

Productivity, motivation, and creativity may be influenced by working from home.

Posted Jun 11, 2020

The Monday-to-Friday grind has been a mainstay for many livelihoods. However, times are changing and not everybody is going off to work to then enjoy the weekend at home. COVID and social distancing have led many people to a work-from-home routine, and to develop some creative if not effective work habits that may provide a good alternative to a long commute. 

However, there may be some psychological costs to working at home. 

Our casual “work-social” life may suffer, as you won’t have a lunch break with co-workers, or a much-needed coffee and some casual conversation with colleagues. People may be surprised that a great deal of small-talk socializing happens in the workplace (we often notice things when they are gone). These interactions can have a positive effect on one’s mood. We stay up to date on people’s lives with these short interactions, and they differ from a short text or email. Reading emotions is much easier in person, and emotional cues can guide conversations and provide some much-needed awareness of how the people around you act/react on a day-to-day basis.

People have work habits, and these habits can be useful and rewarding, both at home and at the workplace. While some habits may waste time, there are ways to make workers productive and happy if healthy habits can be encouraged and engage some social interaction. Motivation that comes from one’s one interest and curiosity (intrinsic motivation) can be one of the best drivers of productivity and creativity, and being around those who are intrinsically motivated can be beneficial [1]. Motivational cues and social habits by necessity involve working with others and seeing how people behave in groups and in one-on-one exchanges.

A lack of face-to-face time, and opportunities to have dynamic conversations, can lead to more emails and less room for creativity. There are also many topics and issues people would discuss in a casual conversation, but not in an email exchange. Losing those opportunities could lead to a loss of overall productivity as well as room for innovation and creativity, as we are often inspired and challenged by being around others and doing some social comparisons. People may feel more value and inspiration for the work they are doing when they are around others with similar goals [2, 3]. You don’t see people with similar goals when working from home, and this may reduce motivation.

Finally, the lost “opportunity costs” can be immeasurable. How many times did you talk to someone, and walk away with a new idea, thought, or way to do something? Are there people you can turn to for a quick conversation or bit of advice and guidance? These conversations may lead to some innovative steps that you may not have considered otherwise.  

There is a reason we work together with certain people, as they have both common and complementary expertise and training that we can benefit from when working in familiar settings [4]. Under the right conditions, we can often take advantage of these skills by having short, impromptu exchanges with people we are close to in our environment and better understand people’s perspectives [5], something that may be harder to gauge via email and virtual meetings. In fact, some casual and useful interactions can lead to serendipitous ideas, and this may happen at the proverbial water cooler, something that might not happen in an on-line/remote work environment.

There are many convenient and economical advantages of working from home, but there are some hidden costs, and the long-term costs may be something to consider even if the commute is much shorter. Like most things in life, we need balance: Some hybrid work from home/in-person work interaction may be best in the long run.

References

1.    Barroso-Tanoira, F. G. (2017). Motivation for increasing creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. An experience from the classroom to business firms. Journal of Innovation Management, 5(3), 55-74.

2.    Duncan, J., & West, R. E. (2018). Conceptualizing Group Flow: A Framework. Educational Research and Reviews, 13(1), 1-11.

3.    Crown, D. F., & Rosse, J. G. (1995). Yours, mine, and ours: Facilitating group productivity through the integration of individual and group goals. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 64(2), 138–150.

4.    Goodman, P. S., & Leyden, D. P. (1991). Familiarity and group productivity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 76(4), 578-586.

5.     Oztop, P., Katsikopoulos, K., & Gummerum, M. (2018). Creativity through connectedness: The role of closeness and perspective taking in group creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 30(3), 266-275