Experts have different predictions about how and to what extent workers will return to their old office spaces when the pandemic is over. Some predict that most employees will find that working from home (when possible) has become the new normal, which drastically reduces the need for corporate real estate and ushers in a new, more virtual era of working life.
Others forecast a slow but gradual return to the previous levels of occupancy in the office. They believe that companies will continue to view physical proximity as the best way to maintain their work culture and to collaborate on projects.
Like most things right now, there is no way to know for certain which prediction will be closer to reality. In the meantime, the decision of when or whether to fully return to the office seems to be something that companies are putting off until later this year.
Many people have started to wonder if they’d truly be happy working from home forever. But before you sign up for a longer arrangement, look for these three signs to help you determine if you are likely to stay fulfilled and progress in your career while working from home permanently.
1. You know what you have to lose
Some people experience a significant increase in their productivity when they start working from home, if for no other reason than the fact that they are better able to focus on their priorities and dedicate more time to actually working.
When you cut out the hours spent commuting each week, the random moments talking to co-workers on your way to the bathroom and what was likely a longer lunch break to pick up food or socialize, you have the potential to get a lot more done from home.
But while it’s important to appreciate the many things you will gain from working remotely, you’ll be more successful if you don’t lose sight of what you’ll be losing. There’s still value in the activities that can only happen in the office. For example, brainstorming meetings flow more naturally in person than on video and what may appear to be wasted moments of idle chitchat can actually improve team bonds, subtly transferring company information that better prepares you to solve problems and lead.
So before you commit to working from home indefinitely, make sure you weigh whether what you will gain is more valuable than what you will inevitably lose in the process. When you have a clear picture of the downsides, you’ll do a better job at finding solutions to address them and knowing when (if safe) you need to prioritize going into the office.
2. You’re prepared to adjust to unspoken rules
If during this crisis this was your first time solely working from home, you may not have a realistic expectation of what it feels like to permanently work remotely while others are in an office environment.
Because of the impacts of the pandemic, many employers are or are becoming extraordinarily flexible with remote workers. Most of your colleagues (your boss, your boss’ boss and even clients) are also working from their homes so it is not necessary to work extra hard to match the norms of professionalism used in the office. Companies have been trying their best to be sensitive to your caretaking responsibilities and many have launched programs specifically addressing how to maintain your well-being while working from home.
However, what working from home veterans can tell you is that many of these attitudes and allowances differ from the normal way of managing remote workers. Working from home is a necessity right now, one your employer placed upon you. You need to know before choosing to work from home forever that you may experience a change in sentiment from your employer when working from home goes from being mandatory to what could be viewed as a luxury or a perk.
There has always been a greater degree of scrutiny on employees that work from home, which has led to several unspoken rules that have been relaxed for the time being. You don’t need to find a collared shirt, put on extra makeup or grab a suit jacket just to appear on video like you would for a meeting in the office. It won’t hurt your reputation at all if your dog barks during a meeting or if you have to step away from the video for a moment to stop your children from bickering. You can feel free to be unreachable for a short period during the day without it raising questions about your commitment to work.
If you choose to work from home permanently, some if not all of these norms will probably change. You’ll find this less disruptive if you are prepared and expecting these changes. One of the biggest challenges while working from home is learning how to project and manage your professional brand virtually. It adds a layer of complexity to your work life that you probably aren’t having to worry about right now.
A lot will have changed when all this is over and it may be that working from home will become so common that managing your career virtually will be easier going forward. But make sure you know what you may be signing up for if you decide to continue to work from home, because what makes you happiest in your job now may be impacted by these unspoken rules.
3. You understand the importance of your professional connections
Working from home can add more formality to your professional relationships; few meetings happen spontaneously versus being scheduled, and written communication via email or collaboration tools, such as Slack, play a larger role in maintaining connections.
Not everyone excels at building professional relationships in this kind of environment so make sure you know if you are good at it or not before choosing to work virtually. Luckily, you have several months of working from home under your belt and can easily assess how it has impacted your relationships with your boss and colleagues. Have these relationships grown stronger or become more distant? Has your internal network continued to grow? What has helped you feel connected to your teammates?
Spend time reflecting on these questions so you can assess how your relationships will be impacted from a decision to stay remote. There is a lot more focus on how your external network impacts your career (especially when you need to conduct a job search), but your internal network is just as important to your success and future career growth. Make sure you have a plan to focus on building strong relationships throughout your company, even if virtually.
Working primarily from home can be rewarding, but it is not for everyone. Before jumping in, make sure you thoroughly assess how it may impact your daily life, happiness and overall career.