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How Flex Work is Bad for Work-Life Balance

Patrick Ball on November 03, 2014 10:56 AM

Working from home. Sounds great, right?

No more commute. No more awkward elevator rides. No more watching the clock tick slowly toward quitting time. And, best of all, flex work means better work-life balance.  

Except only it's not as easy as it sounds. Flexible work arrangements aren't an automatic fix for work-life fit. 

Many companies are allowing employees to adopt flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting and schedules with reduced hours in the office. But with much of the focus on the potential to increase productivity, what’s often overlooked is that, in some cases, flex work can be bad for work-life balance -- and even more disruptive than the traditional 9-to-5 and daily commute.

With that in mind, work-life balance experts Molly Gordon, founder of, and Leonard Wallace, a flex-worker who authors the blog “The Long Odds,” weighed in with some thoughts on flexible arrangements.

Here are five ways flex working can be bad for work-life balance:

  1. Work Always Comes Home
    Telecommuters, try as they might to dedicate work time to work, can’t escape the reality that when you work from home (even if it’s just part of the time) the tasks and assignments are present even when you’re off the clock.

    To counter this, Wallace suggests telecommuters take occasional breaks to get away from work. “If I can’t clear my head, the best two places I can go to help find clarity are either in the shower or out running a trail,” he says.  

  2. It’s Harder to Unplug
    A daily schedule, stationary workspace and set break times encourage employees to accomplish tasks in a timely fashion, whereas working whenever or wherever you want can lead to workdays without a clear start and finish. Without an office to leave -- and with laptops, tablets and mobile devices providing constant connectivity -- workaholic types can easily slip into a routine of 12-hour workdays.  

    Read more about Managing a Remote Workforce 

  3. Separating Home From Work Becomes Difficult 
    When you work in an office, you can leave work at work and come home to relax, socialize with friends or spend time with family. It’s not as simple for telecommuters to leave their workspace, since they also live there. Without those boundaries, it can become more difficult to let the business line go to voicemail when it rings during dinner.

    One way to help separate work from home is establishing a home office -- with a door. That way, it’s still possible to leave “the office” at the end of the day. Plus, closing the door during work hours is an effective “Do Not Disturb” signal to the family.

    Find out Ways to Make Flex Work Work for You 

  4. Distractions and Interruptions Abound 
    Within a structured work environment, an employee’s time is often monitored to maximize productivity. At home, Internet use isn’t regulated, and it’s all too easy for errands, TV, the family and other home-related distractions to consume your time during the workday.

    “If you think that your kids shouldn’t interrupt you, and they do, you can really make yourself nuts,” says Gordon. To that end, she suggests working with the family schedule to figure out how to plan breaks so as to minimize work interruptions during the day, which would result in working longer hours to complete all of the necessary tasks.  

  5. Work-Life Tips Too Far Toward Life
    For all of the concerns about bringing work home and not knowing when the workday ends, flexible work arrangements can skew the other way, as well. Tempting as it can be to toss in a few loads of laundry or stop by the park after picking the kids up from school, telecommuters need to make sure they’re still delivering the work for which they’re being paid. If productivity slips, then flex work isn’t working.

So yes, if you’re not careful, flex work can be bad for work-life balance. But it doesn’t have to be. Set some guidelines with these 9 Tips to Making Work From Home -- Work