This article is the fourth in a series on work from home strategies in the post-COVID era. Read part three here.

Up until now we’ve touched on two of the biggest misconceptions that plague remote workers and make it hard for them to do their jobs effectively. The first is that working from home saves money, and the second is that telecommuting maintains or even boosts productivity levels. Unfortunately, the data does not broadly support either of these claims. Next, we’ll be discussing the third and final misconception in this series:

Misconception #3

“People who work from home have a better work-life balance.”

Working from home has its benefits — no commute, comfy clothes and more time with family or pets. But data reveals it also comes with its own set of trade offs. It’s tempting when working from home to be “on work” from sunrise to sunset. Place-based rituals like commuting to work or grabbing a coffee at the café help create important work-life boundaries.

Reality: People work longer as the line between “work” and “home” blur.

Employees around the world have increased their average workday dramatically since the onset of remote work following the COVID-19 outbreak .

“Social exchange theory” indicates that employees respond to being given the ability to work remotely by working more, according to the Harvard Business Review. Employers frequently add to the workload, making requests that can’t get done within a certain time period which can contribute to employee resentment and burnout. Buffer’s State of Remote Work study found that the top struggles people cite are the difficulties with collaboration and communication, loneliness and not being able to unplug.

Working from home exclusively can also cause a phenomenon called “temporal disintegration.” If you find yourself asking “What day is it?” you are experiencing it — people can feel slightly disoriented, without a sense of the future. It is connected to loneliness and feeling a lack of purpose. Without place-based rituals like driving to work, or being with others, people struggle to differentiate one day from the next. Without a physical separation between work and life, it becomes difficult to set boundaries.

Reality: Virtual meetings are more exhausting than in-person ones.

“Zoom fatigue” is real. The exhaustion many people feel from a life lived on screen day-in-and-day-out is based in neuroscience. Our brains have to work harder to make sense of the limited cues we get on screen. We have to pay more attention to understand facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice and body language (BBC). In addition, having a monofocus in one spot fails to allow our eyes or brains to take a break like we can when we are physically present. And while it helps to see faces on video, all that time on the “virtual stage” pressures us to feel like we have to perform which tires us out. Experts say boundaries and transition periods are important factors to reducing fatigue, but they require much more intentionality online.

Steelcase research during the pandemic found that only 21 percent of people reported being highly engaged at home—significantly lower than the 34 percent reported by the Steelcase Global Report: Engagement and the Global Workplace done before COVID-19. More research prior to the pandemic confirmed constant digital interactions can be a barrier to engagement as people hit a “digital wall.” Two-thirds of employees who always or very often work remotely are not engaged (Workplace Trends and Virgin Pulse). Working virtually became a little easier when everyone was doing it during the pandemic. As more employees return to the office, meetings will increasingly experience “mixed presence.” This can create “presence disparity,” a disadvantage for virtual attendees during meetings with co-located teammates who may struggle to participate fully. The result is inefficiency that’s exhausting for virtual and co-located workers, alike.

Reality: Sedentary work takes a toll on physical wellbeing.

WebMD polled more than 1,000 readers in the U.S. and found half of the women and 25 percent of men reported gaining weight due to COVID stay-at-home restrictions. Contributing factors included: a lack of movement (no walking between meetings), no shifts in posture, constant access to food, etc. In addition, damaging ergonomic environments are literally generating physical pain at home. WKspace, a UK workplace strategy firm, reports 84% of people still need a suitable workspace at home. Movement, ergonomics and healthy nutrition are all dimensions of wellbeing people are missing while away from the office.

Movement throughout the day makes a difference. Sitting in the same spot, staring at the same screen day-in and day-out makes people physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. Physical movement allows people to re-energize and rejuvenate.

In our next post, Work From Home Strategies Part  5, we’ll finish up with a future-forward view of life in the office. What needs to change? How can we keep employees safe? In the meantime, click here to learn more about how bkm is tackling changes caused by coronavirus for workplaces across the United States.