While Cyber Monday may be behind us (much to the relief of my wallet), the end of the year still represents a time of constant distraction for workers. There are office holiday parties to attend, more gifts to buy, decorations to arrange—the list goes on!
Does bringing these personal tasks into the workplace really harm productivity, or do these breaks in the day actually benefit workers by providing much-needed mental breaks and reduced stress over household to-dos?
Our partners over at Central Desktop, including author Jessica Stillman, share our passion for the new flexible work reality and decided to tackle this very problem. In her article below, Stillman explores the research and principles behind “Homing from work,” or bringing personal errands into the workplace, and whether the practice is as much of a drain on worker productivity as managers may fear.
The following post originally appeared on the Central Desktop blog.
Homing from work: good or bad?
Homing from work: a blessing or just workaholism in disguise?
Thanks to technology, your living room is now also your part-time office. That’s old news. But less discussed is the flip side of this reality. For many of us, our offices are also now part-time living rooms.
In 2011, Captivate Network asked white-collar professionals about their work habits and work-life balance. Just recently, they asked 4,000 North Americans the same questions again. They found that in just a couple of years there was an 11% jump in the number of knowledge workers reporting a healthy work-life balance, and by 2013 just about everyone said they were doing some personal errands at work. 85% confessed to shopping for clothes during company time while 83% sorted out financial or banking chores.
The line between the office and the home is blurring, according to Captivate’s research director Scott Marden, which means “people seem to be getting more comfortable with putting in longer hours. Part of that appears to come from the growing ability to take care of personal business during the workday. It’s a definite shift and it’s impacting not only the way people work but also the types of issues and activities that are on their minds during the workday.” The company calls this shift “homing from work.”
Good for the boss
So should we applaud the rise of homing from work? If you’re a manager or a business owner, all these personal chores being done on the company’s dime might not sound like a good thing at first, but another recent study indicates employers should be cheering and not clucking about this trend.
The study of 1,000 employees and employers from the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France, and Ireland “found that many managers are taking an increasingly relaxed attitude toward how workers structure their days, in part because the bosses assume–correctly, according to the study results–that many are putting in time outside the office to finish work tasks,” Knowledge@Wharton reports.
This is confirmed by the Captivate research, which shows the time employees spend completing personal tasks at work is more than made up for by the time they put into professional tasks after hours. Workdays, you probably aren’t shocked to hear, are actually lengthening. Captivate found a 30% increase in respondents reporting working more than nine hours a day.
Good for you?
It’s pretty clear that bosses can buy additional after-hours commitment from employees by letting the shift towards homing from work go ahead. Are workers getting a good deal, though?
The jump in people telling Captivate they have a healthy work-life balance indicates the arrangement is working for some, but reaping the benefits of homing from work does take some mindfulness on the part of the employee and respectfulness on the part of the employer. Dr. Carolyn Axtell of the Institute of Work Psychology at the University of Sheffield in the UK has looked into the effects of the expanding number of hours many of us spend thinking about work and outlined the necessary foundation for a healthy home-work blend in a report entitled “The Well Being of the Mobile Workforce.” To get it right, she claims, workers need a sense of achievement, control and support.
For individuals looking to home from work and keep their sanity, she recommends they:
- Detach from work: “Engaging in hobbies or activities that require one’s full attention (e.g., playing a tennis match, learning to play a musical instrument, volunteer work) during off-job time can help people to detach and stop thinking about work and also help them develop a sense of achievement.”
- Develop a strong work-home boundary: “Tactics can be used such as blocking off family time and letting colleagues know your expectations for work-related communications outside of work. Having rituals like ‘shutting the office door’, ‘turning off the computer’ or ‘walking through the door at home’ can be useful personal strategies for signalling to oneself that work has finished and leisure has started.”
- Relax: “Take the time to relax and wind down before bed time (e.g. meditation, listening to music, muscle relaxation).”
Companies can help by giving employees “more control over their work” and ensuring they “have the right resources to do their job” – whether that’s adequate training or opportunities to let off steam. Finally, she recommends organizations have explicit conversations about boundaries and expectations for out-of-office work.
Do all that and homing from work might be a blessing. Do none of these steps and it looks a lot like old-fashioned workaholism dressed up in a modern disguise.
So managers and workers alike, remember—buying that last-minute gift or browsing holiday dinner recipes at work may seem like wasted time, but the benefits to productivity and morale are more than worthwhile. With the proper tips and boundaries in place, you’ll find that “homing from work” is a boon for workers, managers and businesses.
Follow us all month long as we explore the benefits of being a little unproductive at work.