The shift from a traditional office to a home office raises fresh challenges to maintain work-life balance essential to productivity.
Greenblatt (2002) defines Work-Life balance as “the absence of unacceptable levels of conflict between work and non-work demands."
Balancing Work and Life entails creating and maintaining a supportive and healthy work environment that fulfills both work and personal responsibilities. One major advantage of a home office is the possibility of striking a better balance between work and life. This advantage can however turn into a major disadvantage if the work-life balance is not proper, for the inability to strike the optimal work-life balance results in loss of productivity.
Key Areas of Work-Life Balance
Achieving balance between work and life requires fulfilling the demands of the three primary areas of an individual’s life: work, family and self.
The “Work" component of the work-life balance not only demands working a set number of hours but also achieving high intensity work, or high levels of concentration and energy during the work hours. Extra workload requires extra hours with the same intensity, taking from the “family" or “private" area of the balance. Such extra work not only leads to lesser time for family and private affairs but also causes fatigue that affects the quality of home or family life.
The traditional office allows separation of the demands made by work, family, and self, and caters to high intensity work. The home office merges the three key areas of work-life balance: work, family, and self. The conflicting demands of each area made simultaneously raise challenges to maintain the work-life balance, and in the process, work productivity suffers.
How the Home Office Impairs Productivity
The home office has a negative impact on the work-life balance essential to productivity in the following ways.
- Increased demand by the family owing to proximity of the family makes it necessary to spend more time in the “family" area of the work-life balance. This extra time comes from the “work" area, decreasing home office productivity.
- Lack of direct supervision leads to the home-based worker's procrastination and drift away towards “self" activities such as playing computer games, browsing the internet and other such activities, eating into the “work" area of the work-life balance. A short break boosts productivity, but extending the break or increasing the frequency of such breaks decreases home office productivity.
- Distractions to the “work" area from “family" and “self" affairs, combined with the possibility of flexible timings wherein one can alternate between work affairs and family affairs intermittently lead to decline in work intensity. Even when the time allocated to work remains the same, the quality of work output suffers.
- The home office increases the risk of distractions to work from “family" and “self," but the absence of set regular hours can also lead to overwork, or workaholics going out of control. Such overwork causes stress and negative feelings that ultimately harms work productivity. A study by Lowe (2005) identifies working hours and schedules as the most crucial aspects of work-life balance. Long work hours, in excess of ten hours a day, and certain kinds of shift schedules cause mental and physical health problems, decreasing productivity.
- Distractions from “family" and “self" lead to a drop in the work intensity, leading to the home worker’s inability to complete the allocated work in the set hours for work. This causes an increase in work hours that not only reduces the time for “family" and “self" but also stifles creativity, leads to exhaustion from staring at the monitor for too long, increases stress, and causes work accidents, all leading to a drop in productivity.
People consider a shift to the home office as a solution to achieve work-life balance and increase productivity. Increased flexibility that the home office brings could however compromise instead of enhance work-life balance essential to productivity. The key to maintaining productivity in the home office is to understand the fresh challenges to work-life balance raised by the home office and work to resolve such challenges.