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Does Telecommuting Really Improve Work-Life Balance?

Business News Daily Editor
Business News Daily Editor

Employees who work from home put in an average of three hours more each week than their peers who work in the office.

  • A study reports that employees who telecommute work longer hours than their peers who never work from home.  
  • Despite what many people think, telecommuting doesn't always help employees balance out their home and work lives, research finds.
  • Researchers from the University of Iowa and the University of Texas at Austin found that employees who worked at least part of the time from home put in, on average, three more hours of work per week.

The study from sociologists at the University of Iowa and the University of Texas at Austin report that employees who telecommute end up working longer hours than their peers who never work from home.

The research revealed that employees who worked at least part of the time away from the office put in an average of three hours more per week than those who spent all their working time in the office. And those extra hours didn't translate into additional pay, according to the study.

Mary Noonan, one of the study's authors and an associate professor at the University of Iowa, said it's a little simplistic to conclude that working from home always improves work-life balance. 

"It cuts down on commuting time, and it appears to add more flexibility to the workday," Noonan said in a statement. "But it can extend the day, and it doesn't get you much more in terms of wage growth."

The researchers said that salaried employees who telecommute simply extend their workweeks, which in turn carves into their home and family time.

"It doesn't seem like telecommuting is used by people to replace work hours," Noonan said. "When people telecommute, they use it mostly to do more work."

The study's authors surmised that telecommuters end up working longer hours because these employees feel more pressure to show how productive they are. Telecommuters feel this pressure because their bosses don't see them working each day, the researchers said.

Noonan added that knowing what happened during the Great Recession could also play a role in the long hours put in by those who work from home.

"There's a lot more stress with some people that if they don't do more, they could lose their jobs, and if they don't do their job, stay connected, the next person will," Noonan said. "It's hard when there's anxiety about performing."

The research is based on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which surveyed workers at regular intervals between 1989 and 2008. Among the midlife employees surveyed, more than 40% of salaried workers had worked from home at some point, the survey found.

The study's authors looked specifically at people who had worked for the same employer over the span of the survey and had telecommuted at least some of the time.

The research found that even though telecommuters put in longer hours, their earnings growth differed little from that of employees who worked in the office all week.

The study did find that women employees who worked a 40-hour workweek from home were paid the same as men who telecommuted. 

"Employers are becoming perhaps more and more cognizant that men and women are dividing housework more evenly," Noonan said. "Perhaps the employers look at men and women more similarly today than maybe 30, 40 years ago."

Since employers know the advantage of offering flexible work options, like working from home, as perks to attract employees, it's the companies' responsibility to either discourage working the extra hours, or at least pay for it, Noonan said. On the other hand, employees need to keep their bosses apprised of how many hours they work each week, she said.

Workers should remember to tell their employers "what they accomplish when they work at home or work overtime," Noonan said.

The study, which was supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, was co-authored by Jennifer Glass, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Remote work tips on maintaining work-life balance

To ensure workers remain complete tasks efficiently while maintaining a good work-life balance, OWL Labs offered these five tips.

1. Set a schedule and stick to it.

To avoid the pressure of feeling that you should be online all the time, set a schedule. This will be helpful to your co-workers who will know what time they can find you online. Having a set schedule is also beneficial for you so that you have time to complete personal errands and tasks, and spend time with your family without interruptions from work.

2. Use communication tools to indicate when you are offline or online.

Many software applications allow you to customize the notifications you receive during and after the workday. On Slack, for instance, you can adjust your do-not-disturb schedule so you don't receive notifications during your offline hours. On Google Calendar, you can establish your working hours, and new events that are scheduled either before or after your set schedule are automatically declined. 

3. Use personal activities or errands to take breaks during the day.

Working alone in the house as opposed to the office can make you feel like your work is monotonous. It's also easy to feel disconnected from others and lonely when most of your day is spent in solitude. Use personal errands to get away from your desk. You can spend time offline jogging, cooking or doing some light cleaning. The breaks can help you return to work fresh and ready to resume your duties.

4. Make plans for after-work hours.

It is essential to have activities to do in your after-work hours. Have a schedule for these activities. This prevents you from working late and logging in into your computer during the weekend. Have a set time each evening or on the weekend to spend time with your kids doing a family activity or meeting up with your friends. 

5. Designate a place in your house as a working space.

Working from home can be more distracting than working in an office. To avoid this, set up a clutter-free area dedicated to your work. Choose a space that is quiet and allows you to be productive. If you can, set up a workspace that is a little distant from the other areas of your home so that you're able to separate your work life from your home life.


Working from home does not mean less work. It is crucial that you work on managing your time effectively to ensure that you meet both your responsibility at work and at home.

Image Credit: Zivica Kerkez/Shutterstock
Business News Daily Editor
Business News Daily Editor
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