Remote workers are making the most of their new professional lifestyles, according to two Carleton University researchers, who argue that making conscious, healthy decisions is key to a successful telecommuting position.
In a new study published in the journal Environmental Science and Engineering, researchers Farzam Sepanta and Liam O’Brien found that remote work has its advantages and disadvantages, but many workers feel more productive and believe that their overall quality of life has increased since the switch.
Since the pandemic, telecommuting has become extremely popular. Many polls since the pandemic have shown increased interest or preference for remote careers.
Sepanta says it’s no surprise that interviewees felt the same way.
“People enjoy telecommuting so much that some of them have been willing to change careers to stay telecommuting,” he said. “Can we say that the quality of life is increasing? We definitely need a larger sample size to know for sure, but we can say that people are interested in telecommuting and … it can improve their lives.”
For the study, the pair conducted in-depth interviews with over a dozen remote workers who moved more than 20 kilometers from their original location when they switched to telecommuting.
Positive benefits for employees
“Our proposal was approved before COVID-19 happened,” says Sepanta. “We were trying to see how technology can improve telecommuting and what the implications are in different areas such as transport, offices and homes. Now we are almost back to normal, but the big difference is that there is a widespread adoption of telecommuting. It gives us the opportunity to study how people live.”
The report, which will be followed by another larger study in the coming months, showed that remote working can have a number of positive benefits for workers.
First, workers tend to have more flexibility, allowing them to move outside of city centers without worrying about long commutes to the office. Sepanta says the majority of respondents decided to make the move to be closer to nature, find more kid-friendly neighborhoods to raise a family, or buy larger, more affordable homes.
“People generally wanted a bigger house because they wanted a home office,” says Sepanta.
But Sepanta argues that the success of telecommuting depends on the employee’s ability to make healthy lifestyle choices.
“You can be a healthy and sustainable telecommuter as long as you make conscious decisions,” she says.
For example, the majority of respondents, many of whom moved to homes near nature, became more physically active rather than less because of their proximity to hiking trails. But some reduced their physical activity and confined themselves more to their homes.
“It’s a very personal thing,” says Sepanta.
Easy to experience “house fever”
There were similar trends regarding social interaction. Some respondents maintained healthy social lives that were not based on professional interactions, but spent time with family, friends, and acquaintances through recreational activities.
But without a water cooler to gather around, it’s easy to become isolated. In these cases, workers may begin to experience what Sepanta calls “home fever.”
“It’s when you feel restless or irritable or that sudden urge that most of us have experienced to get outside and get some fresh air,” she says. “From what we’ve seen, cabin fever (for remote workers) can easily be avoided to make sure your productivity stays high.”
Sepanta recommends taking regular walks and breaks throughout the day, as you would in a normal office environment. A quick trip to grab a coffee or simply spend some time away from your screen to get outside can keep those symptoms at bay, she says.
But social interaction can be a challenge.
Sepanta found that the impact of telecommuting on social needs varied from case to case. Some of the respondents were introverts, others extroverts. Some had a partner or children at home and others were single.
Their level of social interaction also differed depending on how far they were from their friends after moving. If they had to get in a car to meet, it could hurt their level of socialization.
“If you’re a telecommuter, making informed decisions means you consider all of these aspects before you step away,” he said. “Social interaction is definitely one of those things that can help keep you from isolating yourself and experiencing home fever, but the degree to which you want to settle down is case-by-case.”