Home or the office? How to choose the most convenient and productive work set-up

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Remote Working

In the past few years, we’ve seen a huge rise in remote office work.1-3 But recently, more and more companies have been requesting employees to return to the office, if not full-time, then at least for a set number of days.4

Personally, I’ve got quite comfortable working from home since 2020. For a long time, it was nearly impossible to imagine getting back into the routine of waking up early, commuting in a packed train twice a day, and spending many hours surrounded by people (as you’ve probably guessed – I’m an introvert).

But late last year, I decided to give traditional office life a try. Perhaps I watched too many “corporate girlie” videos on Instagram that made me feel like going to the office would add more structure to my day and help me peak in my girl-boss era.

I live in London, which is also home to our headquarters. As someone with a science degree, I’ve experimented with working in the office (for several months, 3 days a week) versus working from home. As someone who loves writing more than anything, I decided to compare and contrast my findings in this blog.

So, let’s start with home working. I still remember how new and revolutionary it was in March 2020.5 And now it’s pretty much the norm for many in the UK.1 We have to hand it to ourselves – our ability to adapt as a species in response to changing environmental pressures is truly remarkable. It’s like we’re witnessing our own evolution in real time, at least in a social sense.

The first pro of working from home is that you get to sleep longer. In cities as big as London, your commute can take up to 1 hour (even longer if you live on the outskirts). So naturally, you need to wake up much earlier if you’re coming in. And since I’m not a morning person, hearing the sweet sound of my alarm at 7 am versus 8 am makes a huge difference.

The second pro is saving money on petrol or public transport fares. Travelling in London, especially during peak hours, will help your wallet shed quite a few pounds. And speaking of finances, the increasing rent and mortgage payments sometimes make you feel like you should spend as much time at home as possible to get your money’s worth. (Or is it just me!?)

Working from home also alleviates the pressure of dressing up. Of course, you still need to look presentable, especially if you have calls with clients or colleagues. But we all have low-energy, low-motivation days when putting on a business-casual outfit, doing your hair and makeup, and packing your bag can feel like a lot. Working from home gives you the option to dress not for success, but for comfort.

Another pro is that you can squeeze a few household chores into your day. Load a dishwasher in between meetings? Check! Run the washing machine while you’re preparing slides? Check! Slow-cook dinner, do a face mask, and bottom-water your orchids while reading papers? Check, check, check!

All these can be set up in less than 5 minutes, whenever you need to rest your eyes from the screen. And if the company offers flexible working hours (like Scientific Group does), you can even take a longer break (for example, to do your grocery shopping or pick up your kids from school) and simply make up the time in the evening. Of course, you are still trusted to submit your tasks by their deadlines and be considerate to your team – keeping them informed on your progress, letting them know when you’ll be offline during the day – to ensure that your projects continue to run smoothly.

Lastly, if you live alone, another pro is total silence. Research suggests that working surrounded by speech or noise may increase your cortisol (stress hormone) levels.6 Office noise is also linked to worse cognitive performance, although it’s less likely to affect you if you’re an extrovert.7

All of the above may be why so many people have been reluctant to get back to offices, and for companies that encourage this, the shift has been quite slow.3,8 But even a hardcore introvert like me who lives an hour away can confirm that working in the office has its perks.

First, it can be refreshing to be around people, whether you’re co-working on a project, sharing your weekend plans, or simply witnessing life around you. I feel that during the pandemic, we became so comfortable in our own space that we now feel little need to go out and interact with others, as suggested by a significant decline in extroversion and openness.9 But evolution has preserved our need for social connection, so why ignore our nature?10

And here are my three personal favourites when it comes to office working: the breakfast bar, the local amenities, and the work-life balance.

Thanks to the Scientific Group breakfast bar, you can have unlimited tea/coffee and healthy snacks including plenty of fruit throughout the day to keep your energy levels up. Plus, you can bond with colleagues over toast if you feel chatty in the morning.

Also, offices are usually situated in more central parts of the city. Our London office is on Camden High Street, where you can find everything, from banks and post offices to nail salons and quirky street markets. So during your lunch break, you can run errands that you may not be able to do in more remote residential areas.

I use my trips to the office as opportunities to donate my preloved clothes to local charity shops, or to recycle my soft plastics in a special bin we had installed in the office to support our commitment to sustainability.

Lastly, my absolute favorite is that it’s much easier to respect your own work-life boundaries at the office. Flexible working is great, but at home you may be be tempted to continue after the official EOB, even without a specific project deadline, especially if you’re in hyperfocus mode or simply feel like “you have nothing better to do” (although always keeping an eye on budgeted hours!).11

But at the office, you see most of your colleagues leave on time, and the building gets locked up soon after. So, you have more motivation throughout the day to get everything completed without letting the work bleed into the evening hours.

So what are the conclusions of my “experiment”? Clearly, both ways of working have their pros, but the winner will always depend on your personal situation. In my own experience, it can be useful to give yourself a change of scene every now and then, aiming for balance between working in your own space versus going out into the world and making connections.

Most important though is the choice. It’s wonderful when companies trust their employees to decide where to work and how. It’s also great when your boss believes you’ll do as good a job at home as you would in the office. That way, everyone can choose their optimal environment and deliver their best work.

And of course, the option to work remotely as much as you want creates more job opportunities and attracts diverse talent from around the globe. While our physical office is in London, many of our colleagues work fully remotely, from the USA to Scotland, Cyprus to Singapore.

So, what about you? What’s your preferred work set-up and what are its main perks? If you like having options and working in ways most suitable to you, why not join our team and together we’ll drive MedComms towards a better future.

References:

  1. UK Remote and Hybrid Working Statistics. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/uk/advisor/business/remote-work-statistics/. Last accessed Jan 2024.
  2. Silver H. Working from home: Before and after the Pandemic. Contexts (Berkeley Calif). 2023;22(1):66–70.
  3. McKinsey Global Institute. How hybrid work has changed the way people work, live, and shop. Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/mgi/our-research/empty-spaces-and-hybrid-places-chapter-1. Last accessed Jan 2024.
  4. Business Insider. Here’s a list of major companies requiring employees to return to the office. Available at: https://www.businessinsider.com/companies-making-workers-employees-return-to-office-rto-wfh-hybrid-2023-1?op=1&r=US&IR=T. Last accessed Jan 2024.
  5. Harvard Business Review. A Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers. Available at: https://hbr.org/2020/03/a-guide-to-managing-your-newly-remote-workers. Last accessed Jan 2024.
  6. Radun J et al. Speech is special: The stress effects of speech, noise, and silence during tasks requiring concentration. Indoor Air. 2021;31(1):264–74.
  7. Dobbs S et al. The effect of background music and noise on the cognitive test performance of introverts and extraverts. Appl Cognit Psychol. 2011;25:307–13.
  8. The Conference Board. The Reimagined Workplace 2023: Striking a Delicate Balance. Available at: https://www.conference-board.org/pdfdownload.cfm?masterProductID=47710. Last accessed Jan 2024.
  9. Sutin AR et al. Differential personality change earlier and later in the coronavirus pandemic in a longitudinal sample of adults in the United States. PLoS One. 2022;17(9):e0274542.
  10. DeWall CN et al. Belongingness as a core personality trait: How social exclusion influences social functioning and personality expression. J Pers. 2011;79:1281–314.
  11. UK Parliament. The impact of remote and hybrid working on workers and organisations. Available at: https://post.parliament.uk/research-briefings/post-pb-0049/ . Last accessed Jan 2024.

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