A man with graying hair and a stubbled chin sits at a desk, holding a mug and wearing a wired headset. He has a cup of coffee in his hand and gazes at the window above the desk with a slight smile. The wire on his headset connects to a laptop on the desk. The desk also holds a book, a stack of Post-It notes, a couple of stacks of paper, and a pen, all neatly arranged.
The Cornell University ILR School survey split WFH employees into two categories based on work hours and found differing levels of satisfaction between the two. — Getty Images/Inside Creative House

Some data shows that work-from-home (WFH) employees express higher levels of satisfaction, improved well-being, and increased engagement. Studies also found that workers can experience more stress resulting in higher turnover. Yet research often fails to differentiate between various types of work-from-home employees.

Cornell University ILR School researchers discovered that the pros and cons of WFH differed substantially between workers with regular work hours (replacement work-from-home) and those who work “from home outside of those hours” (extension work-from-home). Moreover, they identified HR policies and practices that could help businesses and employees navigate remote work. Learn what science says about WFH and how to apply it to your workplace.

Research compares results from different groups of workers

Remote work received more exposure during the pandemic, but examining its benefits and risks goes back more than two decades. Researchers from Cornell University ILR School reviewed the literature and completed their own analysis based on results from the German Linked Personnel Panel (LPP).

Unlike previous studies, Cornell University ILR School classified groups according to their type of remote work. Replacement workers complete their regular schedule at home, like doctors meeting with patients virtually from their homes. Extension workers work from home before or after heading into the office, like when a teacher grades papers at home after the workday ends.

The employee questionnaire looked at:

  • Work-to-family conflict: Work factors affecting family life. “The demands of my work interfere with my home and family life.”
  • Family-to-work conflict: Family issues impacting work life. “I have to put off doing things at work because of demands on my time at home.”
  • Psychological well-being: A scale for “feeling cheerful, calm, vigorous, fresh, and rested and whether life is filled with things that interest me.”
  • Job satisfaction: “How satisfied are you today with your job?”
  • Engagement: A scale for engagement and subscales for vigor, dedication, and absorption. “I am enthusiastic about my job.”
  • Intentions to leave the job: “How many times in the past 12 months have you thought about changing your job?”

[Read more: Leading a Hybrid Team? Here’s How to Create and Maintain Your Culture]

Remote workers are more engaged than their on-site counterparts. But longer hours, job pressure, and blurred work-life roles can skew the benefits.

Working from home has clear advantages

Like previous studies, their results revealed that remote work positively affected employee job satisfaction, well-being, and engagement levels. The researchers found that “engagement is highest for men and women who perform replacement work-from-home. Next in line are those who perform extension work-from-home.”

However, WFH schedules affect benefits and drawbacks. Replacement workers experienced higher psychological well-being and job satisfaction than extension or on-site employees. The turnover rate was substantially lower for replacement workers, whereas extension employees had higher rates than both classes. These rates remained true even when accounting for individual variables, such as job pressure and total working hours.

Extension employees tended to work longer hours (44.92) than replacement (41.73) or office staff (39.53). They also rated their job pressure as being higher than other groups.

Disadvantages of working remotely

Previous research shows that “role-blurring behaviors” are more likely to occur with home-based work. Employees may think about work while making dinner or check company email while streaming TV. Consequently, Cornell University ILR School researchers found that “more time spent working from home predicts modestly higher work-to-family conflict.” In addition, job pressure and working hours (higher in remote groups) also increase work-to-family and family-to-work issues.

With the variables accounted for, extension workers are still more likely to think about leaving their job. They also express less job satisfaction and emotional well-being than replacement or on-site employees.

[Read more: How 3 Companies are Monetizing the Pain Points of Remote Work]

Well-designed WFH policies reduce risks

Remote workers are more engaged than their on-site counterparts. But longer hours, job pressure, and blurred work-life roles can skew the benefits. Cornell University ILR School researchers believe companies can “develop new norms that welcome both remote work and clear boundaries between work and family lives.”

Employers should forgo the idea of staff being “always on.” Instead, emphasize the importance of only working “during regular, contractual hours.” Researchers also point to the literature suggesting remote workers are more likely to feel lonely. A lack of “practical support and feedback from others” can contribute to this feeling and potentially reduce engagement. A strong culture, occasional on-site work, or a hybrid schedule could alleviate some issues.

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