It’s a new day for the way we work, and for most people that means the opportunity to work from home—at least a few days a week. This is a wonderful thing; after all, who doesn’t appreciate avoiding the commute, taking their dog for a walk over lunch or working in their yoga pants all day? Further, many disabled workers found themselves in a more comfortable position, with the option to cut out an uncomfortable commute and the option to create a welcoming home office.
For those who have the option, getting out of the house can be a welcome change of pace—and can have a positive effect on everything from work-life fulfillment to motivation and career growth. The key is balance, and finding just the right mix of time in the office and time at home.
Since many employers are offering the option for hybrid work, it’s wise to consider when you might want to work from home and when you want to make the trek to the office. Being intentional will add to your happiness, for sure. So when should you go to the office? Here a few considerations to take into account.
Style of work
One of the challenges in working from home is feeling less stimulated to create, ideate or think in unexpected ways. Your surroundings are the same every day and this predictability can get in the way of feeling inspired.
Research from Maastricht University and Erasmus University found when you’re doing routine tasks, working alone at home may be just fine. But when your work is more complex or you’re facing more pressure or the need for a lot of speed to get through it, you’ll be better off to be in the office, working together with others. You’ll benefit from the energy and the teamwork of people around you.
You’re generally more creative when you can put various ideas together and connect the dots in novel ways. Go into the office when you need the stimulation of a different venue, diverse people and the energy which can help you innovate and solve problems in new ways.
If your home office is a quiet place with plenty of solitude, it can be nourishing. But too much of a good thing can also cause you to feel tired or demotivated. The call of a Netflix binge or the draw of a mid-afternoon nap can get in the way of your effectiveness and your esteem.
In these cases, going into the office can be just the boost you need. Research in the Journal of Labor Economics found performance had spillover effects. The four-year study found when individuals performed better, overall teams performed better as well—teammates had a strong influence on each other’s productivity. This is the power of emotional contagion—the phenomenon in which people are inspired by the energy of the crowd and by being around others who are working hard and performing well.
In addition, a study by the Association for Psychological Science found when people were engaged, they also tended to be more satisfied and productive. These factors tended to reinforce each other—when people were satisfied with their work, they in turn tended to be more engaged and productive. When they were more productive, they also tended to be more engaged and satisfied. Being in person with colleagues can positively affect the desire to dive in, get involved and participate fully, as you benefit from the spirit of the people and the work going on around you.
In order to build your career successfully, you’ll need to build your network, and you’ll need to nurture your social capital with those you may not work with as closely. New opportunities are most likely to emerge from your secondary or tertiary networks, not from your primary network. This is because people who are farther away from your inner circle typically have access to information about growth prospects that you don’t.
The best way to build relationships and get to know people is through face-to-face contact. Of course, virtual works too, but when you’re in the office you can run into the colleague you wouldn’t normally see or grab coffee with an executive mentor more casually. In addition, you’ll benefit from the familiarity effect in which people tend to keep top-of-mind those they see and interact with more frequently. So go into the office when you want to connect with people and learn from those you don’t see as naturally in your day-to-day work, and when you want to be more visible.
With more work from home, people are experiencing declines in well-being and increases in feelings of social isolation, and these issues are on the rise over the last couple years. In a study by Oracle and Workplace Intelligence, people said they were struggling with mental health, managing work-life boundaries, decision-making, stress, burnout, loneliness, and productivity. Working from home isn’t the only variable driving these statistics, but it is a major contributor, according to the research.
Getting out of the house and spending time together with colleagues can be restorative. Escaping the monotony of your home can disrupt your routines in positive ways and provide a welcome relief. Even for introverts, the opportunity to work where there is the buzz of background noise or the energy of others who are in the space can be helpful to meeting (even minimal) social needs.
Leaving home can also foster constructive boundaries. When your work is always from home, it can intrude on your life, and it can be tough to separate. If your laptop is on your kitchen island, you can be drawn to do one more email or follow up on one more task—with work always on your mind.
In a similar way, the pressures and distractions of home can also get in the way of work. Your children are playing nearby while you’re trying to finish a high-pressure work project, or the doorbell rings while you’re making an online presentation. When you go to the office, you can reinforce the boundary of work and home—and create some healthy distance between each.
Importance of relationship-building
Another reason to go into the office is to build relationships with colleagues. Virtual meetings are great, but there’s nothing like being in the trenches together, rolling up sleeves and working on a project face-to-face. And there’s benefit in grabbing coffee between meetings where you can reconnect with a co-worker informally.
In addition, if you have a sensitive issue to work through with someone, being face to face can help. Conflict is normal with any relationship, and work relationships are no exception. If you have a challenge with someone, going into the office so you can tune in, read body language, listen, demonstrate empathy and respond can make a difficult conversation a bit easier.
The best of hybrid is having the option to work both at home and in the office—and you can benefit from being intentional about where you work. Choose the location that is best for you, your team and your effectiveness. When you get the most out of working from both home and the office, you can enhance the fulfillment you feel in both your work and your life.
Tracy Brower is a sociologist focused on work-life happiness and fulfillment. She works at Steelcase, and is the author of two books, The Secrets to Happiness at Work and Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work.