Studies show remote work could be a big plus for mental health — but it could also obliterate any semblance of work-life balance

JGalione/Getty ImagesOver half of Americans don’t want to go back to an office following the coronavirus pandemic — and while that could mean better mental health for some, it could also mean longer hours and a nonexistent work-life balance.
  • A survey by job search engine FlexJobs found that nearly half of Americans working remotely are happy with their current work-life balance – and they want to continue working from home following the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Studies from IBM and Owl Labs also show that American workers like working from home, which could be a driving force behind so many companies pledging to work from home indefinitely.
  • Other studies, however, including one from Microsoft, found that remote work leads to longer hours and a blurrier line between work and life, showing there are still trade-offs with the mass shift to remote working.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Remote work is either great or terrible for Americans’ work-life balance and mental health, and maybe it’s both things, surveys of the country’s workers show.

Most recently, job search engine FlexJobs conducted a survey of 800 employees across the US to assess how workers are faring with their mental health amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The survey was conducted at the end of August and found that nearly half of respondents with flexible work options — 48% — reported their work-life balance is very good or excellent. Just 36% of workers without flexible work options said the same.

Roughly 54% of those respondents with flexible working conditions found that they had the emotional support necessary to manage the stress that accompanied the job, while just 45% of those without flexible working conditions reported the same.

Above all, the majority of workers were not interested in returning to an office post-pandemic. Roughly 66% of all respondents, or two-thirds of workers, said they would prefer to work remotely full-time following the pandemic. The other 33%, or one-third of respondents, said they would prefer a combination of working in an office and working from home. Less than 2% of respondents said they would prefer to be in an office full-time.

Separately, a pre-pandemic survey of 1,200 conducted by videoconferencing company Owl Labs found that 91% of respondents said remote work had improved their work-life balance, while 79% said it had increased their productivity and focus, and 78% said it had provided them with less stress.

An IBM study confirmed such findings. IBM conducted a survey of 25,000 people in May and found that over half of respondents said they would prefer to continue working remotely following the pandemic.

Remote work seems to be the most popular option among American workers right now. And it no doubt drives more major companies to commit to working from home indefinitely as a business strategy. But other studies have found that remote work ultimately blurs the line between work and life, erasing any notion of work-life balance.

Microsoft analysed the remote work habits of 350 of its own employees in July, and found that employees were spending 10% more time in meetings each week. And it’s not just meeting time that skyrocketed — total working time did, too. The analysis found that Microsoft employees were typically working through lunch breaks and well into the night. The number of instant messages sent between 6:00 p.m. and midnight increased by 52% amid the pandemic, according to the analysis.

Other studies found similar evidence of remote work increasing working hours. A Business Facilities study found that US working hours increased 40% in March, adding three extra hours per day. No other country saw an increase so dramatic due to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, a separate study conducted by consulting firm Eagle Hill found that 45% of workers were already feeling burnout in April. Roughly 45% of workers cited workload as the root cause, while another 35% cited trying to establish a new sense of work-life balance.

What to make of this apparent contradiction? With so many Americans reporting that they would rather continue working remotely anyway, they may consider blurring the line between their personal and professional lives to be less stressful than the old way of working. Or perhaps the stress of any job these days — no matter how demanding it is — is better than the alternative of unemployment.

Whatever the truth is, the world of remote work is a strange new one, and it may become normal if it lasts for much longer — with all the attendant stress and relief that may bring to the typical American worker.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.