Telework-Life Balance: Creating a Healthy Home Office

Separating work from home without leaving the house.

Posted Aug 14, 2020

Many people have worked at home for years, enjoying a healthy family life and a thriving income. Other teleworkers find it challenging to concentrate on work responsibilities amidst domestic distractions. And of course, some jobs are better suited for telework than others. Given the increased value of being able to work from home during the pandemic and no doubt beyond, what factors come into play when deciding whether a home office is a workable plan?

Image by Chuck Underwood from Pixabay
Source: Image by Chuck Underwood from Pixabay

Building Boundaries 

Joni Delanoeije et al. in a piece entitled “Boundary Role Transitions” (2019) explored some of the potential conflicts that can arise when attempting to balance home life with working-at-home.[i] They examined the ways in which teleworking impacts work-to-home conflict and home-to-work conflict, based on boundary theory.

They note that boundary theory holds that “individuals create and maintain psychological, physical and/or behavioral boundaries around their different life roles, such as their work and home roles.” As an example, they note that when an employee works from home, both their professional and personal roles are contained within the home domain, which makes boundaries more permeable. As a result, they note that role transitions between the two domains are more likely.

Delanoeije et al. defined preferences that are domain-specific: referring to a worker’s inclination to protect the job from interruptions at home (i.e. work protection preference), versus a preference to protect one’s home from interruptions at work (i.e. home protection preference).

Transitions Between Work and Home When Home Is the Workplace

Delanoeije et al. found that when employees worked from home, they made a greater number of work-to-home transitions, which resulted in less work-to-home conflict. They pointed out that this finding suggests that role transitions can have a positive effect on work-home conflict since employees are able to respond more easily to demands at home.

However, teleworking is not without its downside in terms of creating conflict. Delanoeije et al. also found that on teleworking days, employees make more home-to-work transitions after hours, which was associated with a higher degree of work-to-home conflict. They explain that when the home environment also functions as the workplace, the boundary becomes more permeable, and easier to cross. Consequently, it may be more difficult for employees to fulfill their domestic responsibilities, and disengage from work after hours—which can increase work-to-home conflict.  

Delanoeije et al. do note, however, that their results showed that “the work-to-home conflict-reducing effect of work-to-home transitions seems to be stronger than the conflict enhancing effect of home-to-work transitions since overall, employees experience less work-to-home conflict on teleworking days."

Note that they also found that an increase in work-to-home transitions when employees were teleworking was linked with a higher amount of home-to-work conflict. They opine that employees working from home take on a greater number of home responsibilities because the “home domain is then more salient,” which increases the prevalence of domestic demands interfering with work. 

Successful Working at Home Depends on the Work

Amit Kramer and Karen Z. Kramer (2020) examined the impact of Covid-19 on occupational status and working from home.[ii] They recognize that among the many ways in which the pandemic may reshape both perceptions and the reality of work, what they refer to as the great “work from home experiment” may change how such a schedule is actually viewed by employees and organizations. They note that when organizations are better able to understand what type of characteristics enable productive teleworking, they are in a better position to designate individuals to work (or not) from home.

They note that in some occupations, the type of work itself, as opposed to worker personality characteristics, may dictate the level of productivity employees can achieve from home. In other occupations, however, they note that individual differences in behavior and personality may significantly impact the productivity of different employees, even when they are performing similar tasks.

Incorporating the research done by Delanoeije et al., another consideration for employers might be gathering input from the employee regarding the extent to which home demands would complicate a teleworking schedule. People who live alone would experience a teleworking day entirely differently than a parent juggling work and family responsibilities, especially if they are also homeschooling children.

With the increased amount of teleworking opportunities in the modern workforce, employers and employees alike continue to explore the possibilities of earning a living, while having a life.

References

[i] Delanoeije, Joni, Marijke Verbruggen, and Lynn Germeys. “Boundary Role Transitions: A Day-to-Day Approach to Explain the Effects of Home-Based Telework on Work-to-Home Conflict and Home-to-Work Conflict.” Human Relations 72, no. 12 (December 2019): 1843–68. doi:10.1177/0018726718823071.

[ii] Kramer, Amit, and Karen Z. Kramer. 2020. “The Potential Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Occupational Status, Work from Home, and Occupational Mobility.” Journal of Vocational Behavior, May. doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2020.103442.