The Pros and Cons of Working Independently

What are the advantages of working independently? Is it more beneficial than working in a team? We've listed the top 10 advantages and disadvantages of working alone.

Reviewed by Hayley Ramsey

The Pros and Cons of Working Independently

Working independently can come in many forms, such as working from home, working on solo projects at work, or even making the plunge into freelancing. For many people, working independently is a dream come true, or a logical next step in their career path or personal development plan. The notion of independent working has gained traction in the last couple of years, especially with the need for remote working and for atypical working patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

People seeking a move to working independently should carefully weigh up the pros and cons to decide if it is right for them. This article takes you through 10 advantages and 10 disadvantages of working independently.

The pros

1. You get all the credit

Working independently means that you are the one responsible for all successes and for the execution of the work. It might sound scary, but this means that you will be the one who gets the credit when the work is signed off. There is no debate as to where the ideas or effort came from, and as such, working alone can really benefit your professional credibility.

2. You’re in charge

Being self-sufficient on tasks can be an amazing feeling. Akin to empowerment, being given the opportunity to work independently means you can solve your own problems and make your own decisions. Not only can this help you work faster, but it can also create extra learning opportunities. Being given — or taking — this extra responsibility can help you become increasingly self-motivated, and you’ll come across as more dependable in the eyes of managers or peers.

3. There’s less chance of conflict

Working independently means that you’re working with fewer people — sometimes no people at all — and this will naturally reduce the risk of professional conflict. With conflict at work commonly arising from differences in opinion, variations in work approaches, or good old-fashioned office politics, working by yourself allows your energy to be focused on the task at hand rather than mediation with colleagues.

4. You can set your own pace and hours

Perhaps the largest attraction to working independently is being able to manage your own time. Lone working often enables people to set their own working patterns and structure jobs in such a way that it will complement their own productivity. This is harder to do when working alongside other people or as part of project groups. In some situations, you might be given more flexibility in your working pattern and schedule, which is great for your job satisfaction and general organisational experience.

5. You don’t need to manage others

Managing a team or generally being able to utilise leadership skills can be an exhilarating prospect, but for some people, it just isn’t their cup of tea. Removing the management or leadership aspects of work frees up plenty of time. This can be used to focus on work tasks, or simply as time-in-hand to maintain work life balance.

Working independently can remove the need to manage others, but you might still need to work alongside colleagues and indirectly manage them as part of general organisational interactions.  

6. There are fewer distractions

Working with other people can lead to distractions, with some being connected to performance management or conflict. Essentially, working with others causes inevitable distractions.

Distractions are the product of general workplace hubbub. This could include ever-ringing telephones, chit chat, other office noise or even just disruption by contractors, cleaners, and the limitations of working before or after office hours. Working by yourself might allow you the opportunity to minimise these distractions, either by moving to a closed office or remote working, being able to put headphones in to work by yourself, or by minimising unnecessary meetings and interactions.

7. You can be more creative and innovative

Being able to work to your own timings and system is a sure-fire way of getting those creative juices flowing. You will have more freedom to set your own working pace and have much-needed time to reflect, as well as being innovative and thinking up new ideas, which will help drive your work forward. You might also be given greater autonomy and trust to make your ideas come to life without too many levels of approval.

8. It can boost your job prospects

Being able to work independently means that employers and clients can trust you to get work done. This might result in you receiving more solo assignments or being called upon to train others to work in the same way. You might also be called upon to set up offices or projects where there is less support or structure in place. You might even be promoted or recognised because of your dependability, self-motivation and productivity.

9. You’ll improve your self-learning and development

Working by yourself means that you have the opportunity to see through projects and tasks from start to finish. You might be expected to come up with solutions to problems yourself or have less support from others when tackling challenges. The upshot of this is that we learn from our success and mistakes. Working independently means that you will be exposed to more and be stronger because of this.

10. You’ll be more satisfied with your job

All the advantages to working independently contribute massively to job satisfaction. Even if you love working as part of a larger team, there will always be compromises to optimal job satisfaction because of the need to consider other people.

When you work independently, the sheer scope of being able to manage your own working experience means that attaining job satisfaction is a lot easier, and, well, satisfying! Ultimately, if you are happier in what you do, you will feel stable in your role and likely be performing stronger as well.

The cons

1. You could get lonely

There is a certain buzz to a large office or team that is hard to replicate anywhere else. One of the most important elements of collaborative work — and something which has been further investigated since the rise of remote working associated with the pandemic — is the importance of socialisation. Humans, no matter how extroverted or introverted they are, require some degree of socialisation for their overall health and wellbeing. Working independently deprives people of this, and as such, these workers might need to find new ways and places to mix with others in a professional setting.

2. It’s more stressful

Working independently can increase workload and stress. There might be as many tasks to complete as when you were working in a team, but working alone means you’ll be responsible for them all. This might include some tasks undertaken by specialist units, such as administration, human resources or accounting.

Some people who work independently may do so with a metaphorical guillotine over their head. This is driven by questions, such as “What if I fail?”, or “What if I need support and no-one is there?”. The consequences of the dreaded “What ifs” are magnified when being completely responsible for a task or being left to your own devices on how to achieve it, and ultimately, cause stress levels to increase.

3. You’ll have more responsibility

Working independently means that even if you still have a direct manager, you will be expected to manage yourself to a greater extent. Whereas this can be a liberating, exhilarating experience, you might find yourself struggling to get others to support you, as you don’t belong to a direct team, or you have been handed accountability of tasks, as well as the task itself. If this applies to you, research and understand who your support network is, both inside and outside of the workplace. Having a mentor or an impartial advisor often helps.

4. There’s less teamwork

When you are working independently and/or working from home, the benefits that come from working in a team are harder to come by. Not only might there be less direct support or someone next to you to help with a second opinion, but you could be missing out on that wonderful organisational buzzword – synergy.

Few things compare to the powerful hive-mind of a top-performing team. Teams are often created from disparate mixes of skillsets and personalities just for this reason. As an independent worker, you might still benefit indirectly from teams around you, but to be a part of one can be a great advantage.

5. There’s less communication

Working independently could mean that you are left out of the loop. This is rarely intentional, but often comes as a by-product of working at home or alone, where trickle-down messages might simply miss you. Being copied on emails and included in meetings might be annoying or time-consuming to some, but they are often useful and important for inclusion and information. Being missed out on these communications can have lasting consequences, such as missing out on critical business and industry updates, or adding to feelings of loneliness.

6. You might be less efficient

Not only might work be more stressful when working independently, it might also be less efficient. Having to juggle different tasks by yourself, as well as manage workloads with little or no assistance, might not make for the most conducive working environment.

Another challenge with working independently is the need to discover which working pattern works for you. Lone workers must have excellent self-management skills. For some, working alone can lead to significant loss of productivity or procrastination, behaviours which are not sustainable in the long term.

7. There’s no separation of duties

For independent workers operating in legally sensitive areas such as finance, law or professional consultancy, there might be the need to work across several areas which naturally benefit from segmentation or separation. For example, if you are working in a smaller business unit or an office by yourself, you might be asked to work both on selling and the auditing or reporting of these sales, which can present a conflict of interest.

A famous example of this is the rogue trader Nick Leeson, who bankrupted Barings Bank after concealing almost a billion dollars’ worth of bad trades in Singapore by executing them and auditing them himself, a system approved by his superiors, far away in London.

8. You might get less feedback

Working alone means that you are trusted to do so. Managers might therefore be less inclined, or feel less need, to give you feedback. On face value, this might sound like heaven, but having a regular supply of positive and constructive feedback is essential to be able to learn from mistakes and motivate yourself to achieve bigger and better things. Independent workers will have to look elsewhere for feedback. This might come from customer reviews, supplier feedback, or even through means of self-assessment or reflective practice.

9. You’ll have a smaller professional network

Working independently can potentially mean fewer opportunities to network and connect professionally. Independent workers often work from home, and might be a lot busier, which makes networking opportunities harder to commit to.

Being in a larger office or working in a team means that introductions can be easily made through colleagues or mutual connections. It might also be easier to receive invitations to networking opportunities, either through the firm or through professional association. Independent workers may need to lean more on websites like LinkedIn and location-specific online forums to connect with people professionally in their field.

10. There are less collective learning opportunities

Working with others is a great way to learn. You can pick up a lot from the good work colleagues do, and from their mistakes as well. Some of the best ways adults learn are through socialisation or collaboration interventions, where ideas and thought can be bounced around. Working independently or remotely will still give you access to organisational learning practices, but you might need to seek them out or request certain learning opportunities, rather than benefiting from them organically.

Final thoughts

Working independently might seem like a fantastic idea and a gateway to a new and better way of working, but the truth is that it will suit some people and not others. When considering a move to working independently, take some time to weigh up the above pros and cons to determine if it is the right choice for you.

People who gel with working independently will probably find that their personal and professional satisfaction skyrockets as a result. Others might still feel more comfortable working in a team in a busy office. Ultimately, do what you think is best for your own wellbeing, and remember that if you don’t like working independently, it can be reasonably easy to revert to the ways of working you had before.

Do you find it easier working independently? Or is working in a team where you thrive? Let us know in the comment section below.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on 2 September 2019.