More and more people are choosing to work from home either part time or full time. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 22 percent of employed people worked from home at least some of the day in 2016.
And while the idea of sending emails from your kitchen table sans pants might sound appealing, it’s not a perfect setup. There are significant advantages and disadvantages to opting out of the office, particularly when it comes to your mental health.
Cara Maksimow, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist, told HuffPost many people choose to work from home in search of a better work-life balance, since remote working can “lessen some of the pressures that go along with going into an office every day.” Think: commuting, working under a manager’s supervision or attending meetings.
Ryan Hooper, a clinical psychologist practicing in Chicago, also believes “the flexibility and independence can be wonderfully freeing for some people.” Not only do you have fewer rules to abide by, you also have more autonomy over your time. You can schedule your hardest tasks during your peak productivity hours, take a two-hour lunch to recharge or attend a mid-morning yoga class.
Particularly if you feel restricted by your hours, commute or office environment, Hooper said, working from home can be a solution that reduces stress and adds more joy to your life.
Working from home can come at a cost
This isn’t a blanket rule, though. For some people, working from home can put their mental health at risk, causing feelings of isolation and disconnection, Hooper noted. When you don’t have an office to show up to, you miss out on opportunities for regular social interaction and connection with co-workers.
“For some people, the feedback and encouragement loop of the work environment is critical to their jobs,” Hooper explained.
On top of the isolation, working from home can also make it difficult to set boundaries.
“It can be really helpful to get some household chores done in the middle of the workday, like switching laundry or picking up a child from school,” Maksimow said, “but the lines between work and home can blur and make it hard to ‘turn it off.’” As a result, you might find yourself logging more work hours, some of which might cut into your family time or affect your sleep schedule.
You might also experience increased anxiety or stress, since “working remotely creates a unique pressure to appear busy,” said Jane Scudder, a certified personal development and career transition coach. Because you’re not present in an office, she explained, you may feel pressure to be online every hour, make yourself constantly available or otherwise prove you’re spending your time in a productive way.
To make matters trickier, people who work from home might feel a sense of guilt about their work arrangement, Scudder explained. This guilt, coupled with the anxiety that comes from needing to prove yourself, can make remote workers question their worth, she said.
How do you know if working from home is right for you?
How you respond to a home work environment depends on a handful of different factors, like your living situation, health, personality, work culture, habits and daily job duties.
If you’re considering either working from home for the first time or transitioning back to an office environment, Scudder said it’s important to ask: “What do you need to be a functioning, fulfilled human and worker?” Do you crave independence and space to work, she said, or do you prefer to engage with people on a regular basis?
“I would encourage you to take an honest survey of your work habits and tendencies,” Hooper added. “Being a self-starter, maintaining good organization and being a great communicator are all important for working from home,” he explained.
It’s especially important to consider your mental health history when making the decision. If you struggle with depression, for example, working from home has the potential to exacerbate feelings of isolation and perpetuate inactivity.