The Social Impact of Working from Home

If you work from home in Rhode Island, prepare yourself each winter for a wave of resentment from friends and family. Watching your car disappear under an igloo of snow until you’re ready to dig out, working in cozy clothes … these are the benefits of gigging and working from home, flexibility and a temperature-controlled climate, chief among them.

But what are the social impacts of not having a workplace to go every day, where you get dressed and interact with other people whether you want to or not?

Let’s look at the numbers. A Gallup study released this March found 43% of employed Americans surveyed in 2016 did at least some work from home. Of those, 31% spent at least 80% of their working time remotely. In terms of how telecommuting affected their mood, employees who worked full-time at home or full-time in an office were equally disengaged with their work. According to Gallup, those who were most engaged – it’s tempting to substitute the word “happiest” here – were those who spent one to two days per week in an office. This was also the group most likely to think they had a best pal at work.

And while it wasn’t officially reported, I’m sure this was also the group least likely to stalk their mailman for casual conversation.

I worked from home for two years. My mailman’s name was Zayne and he prowled the streets in a safari hat, the top of his shirt open in a fashion that must have been at least one button out of regulation. The conversation was stilted, but I didn’t mind because I considered Zayne a casual colleague, not a full-blown team member. We spoke once or twice per week. To use corporate parlance, he was like the guy on the other side of the office you periodically bump into on the way to the bathroom. Not a major player, but a friendly face nonetheless.

Assigning virtual strangers to disproportionate roles of importance in your life isn’t uncommon if you’re the type of person who needs a little social juice. “There have been very low times when I desperately sought out connections with the grocery clerks and librarians of the world,” says Michele Graf, who works out of her Seekonk home as a medical coder, and also teaches English to children in China online. “Sometimes I would talk their ears off more than appropriate, just to feel connected to life.”

For Annika Hayman, a children’s clothing designer in Barrington, working from home hasn’t been a social hindrance, but a catalyst. She credits the freedom of her lifestyle with unlocking her passion. “We live a life most people only live when they are on vacation,” she says of her family. (Hayman educates her children at home.) “We can go and socialize with people we like, and are not forced to be with people that we don’t have anything in common with, like it would be in a daily office job. We meet people everywhere we go. At the supermarket, at the beach or at the gas station.”

Hayman’s point is true for many, and certainly one of the brag-worthy aspects of not having to clock in. But when the idea of having to pick up new friends in an organic setting fills you with dread, your at-home office could feel less like a retreat from corporate culture and more like a PRISON OF YOUR OWN MAKING. Can you guess which category I fell in?

When I worked from home, my energy needs became completely out of whack with my boyfriend’s. When he’d come home from work, he’d often find me melted into the couch, depleted by being inside all day.

“What do you want for dinner?” he’d say. “I’ll go to the market.”

“I’ll go with you!” I’d shriek, more excited than I’d ever been for anything in my entire life.

I was like a golden retriever in perpetual need of a walk, desperate for stimulation I’d become too apathetic to give myself. After two years, I was so bummed out by being alone all day that my work station had become the couch and coffee table. I moved the mouse with my toe whenever the computer fell asleep.

I had to accept working from home wasn’t for me. I loved not having to waste sick days on things like a nagging cough that would freak out my co-workers. Sneaking in extra gym time during the day was cool, too. But I didn’t like the way I felt after listening to the hum of a computer all day. And I especially didn’t like feeling that any stresses I had about work were invalidated by those around me who thought my situation seemed so cushy. (“But you work from home” was an insta-response to any complaint.)

Ultimately, I wasn’t much different from the Gallup results. I liked my freedom. Just not too much of it.

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