Working from home? Here are some tips, and a look at the long-term effects of permanent telecommuting

New research by Kimberly A. Eddleston suggests that people who routinely work from home are no less likely to be promoted than those who don’t, but that they’re less likely to get raises at the same rate. Photo by Ruby Wallau/NortheasternUniversity

Kimberly A. Eddleston has a lot of insight on working from home—as a professor of entrepreneurship and innovation, she’s been studying remote workers for years. And even she says that these are “unprecedented times.” 

Almost overnight, millions of people who usually commute to an office found themselves working from home for the foreseeable future, in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Schools and childcare centers around the world have closed for the same reason, many moving to online learning for their students.

Kimberly A. Eddleston is the Schulze Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

“Even people who are used to working remotely also now have to manage their children at home—that’s unique here,” says Eddleston, Schulze Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Northeastern. She has some tips for people who find themselves suddenly thrust into a remote office, and new findings about people for whom working from home is nothing new.

New research by Eddleston and a colleague indicates that, to a certain extent, working remotely on a regular basis does not have a negative impact on people’s ability to be promoted. But (again for people who do this all the time), working from home does appear to slow wage growth.  

Eddleston and Timothy D. Golden from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute studied 405 employees, some of whom worked remotely a few days a week, some who worked remotely all the time, and some who didn’t work remotely at all. These were not employees who were sent home to mitigate the spread of COVID-19; Eddleston and Golden studied employees who work from home on a regular basis.

The researchers collected data on these employees’ promotion and salary growth rates over the course of six years. Eddleston and Golden also collected data on how acceptable it was within the employees’ company culture to work remotely, how much time outside of standard work hours employees spent working, and how frequently they interacted with their supervisors face-to-face.

They found that people who worked remotely (with any frequency) didn’t get promoted any more or less than those who worked in the office full-time, but that people who worked remotely did tend to have lower salary growth.

They also found that a negative stigma about working remotely was more intense as employees worked from home more frequently—and that this stigma associated with telecommuting negatively affected employees’ wage growth.

This research is focused on employees who routinely work remotely, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect any effect that the forced remote work situation caused by COVID-19 will have, Eddleston says. 

Now, for people who are working from home as a result of the pandemic, Eddleston has some tips.

Establish a dedicated workspace

“I don’t think people realize how important this is,” Eddleston says. Even—especially—if a home office isn’t available, it’s crucial that people have a place to be comfortable and work uninterrupted, she says.

And this does not mean a bed.

“Taking a nap while you’re working in your bedroom? That’s an occupational hazard,” Eddleston says.

Maintain a routine

“As much as possible, we want people to keep their routines,” she says.

For people who aren’t used to working from home, that means getting up at their usual time, following through on their usual morning routine, and getting to work.

Eddleston and her colleagues interviewed one person who got up, got fully dressed, and drove around, only to return home and begin work—just because driving to work was part of his usual day.

“That transition—from not working to working—is really important,” Eddleston says.

Keep usual work hours

The flip side of being able to slide so easily between working and not working is that many people who work from home end up working more hours than they would in an office, Eddleston says.

“It can be hard to ‘shut off,’” she says, which can lead to feeling burnt out and less productive in the long run.

Eddleston suggests that if a person normally works until 5 p.m. in their office, they should keep the same schedule at home.

Create a sense of community

“People are used to going into the office and being among other people, having a chance to talk about their kids or their lives,” Eddleston says. Building in some time during the week to talk to co-workers—by phone or video—about topics that are not related to work can help ease the shock of losing that in-person contact, she says.

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