A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) says working from home can blur the boundaries, with individuals working longer hours than before
While working from home has become ingrained across many professions during the pandemic, the World Health Organisation warns that there is a “blurring of boundaries” – in a detailed report that examines the positive health benefits and potential risks of teleworking.
Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, World Health Organization, said: “The pandemic has led to a surge of teleworking, effectively changing the nature of work practically overnight for many workers.”
Teleworking, defined as the use of information and communications technology (ICT) – such as desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones – for work that is performed outside the employer’s premises. This includes work performed from home, a satellite office or another location. “Hybrid” work refers to a combination of telework and work on the employer’s premises.
WHO report mixed feelings about working from home
While the literality of working on a computer shapes the immediate physical health of an individual, long-term isolation is another consequence examined. Studies have proven that human interaction is essential for most people. Loneliness can be caused by internet addiction, or the absence of meaningful conversation.
According to the report, musculoskeletal damage and eye strain are two consequences of prolonged computer work. However, there are fewer clear understandings of how telework impacts health on the whole.
In general, this report finds that telework has a positive effect on self-reported health, with workers preferring to have access to more nutritional food and their own space. However, working hours tend to creep up when working from home, as “changes in work routines and the blurring of the boundaries between paid work and personal life” overwhelm the individual.
In early stages of the pandemic, people looked for ways to differentiate their time at home. A definite transition, like having a dedicated workspace to vacate at the end of the day, was a commonly agreed upon solution. However, some people telework from difficult conditions. Sometimes, there is no possibility of transitional space – with individuals working from the same place they relax, lacking appropriate ergonomic support.
It seems that people working from home had fewer complaints about arterial hypertension, and lower blood pressure overall. However, the blurred boundaries of home mean that sick teleworkers struggle and simply continue working, a phenomena known as sickness presenteeism.
Does working from home reduce stress?
It seems to be so-so.
The WHO report finds that levels of stress depend on several factors, such as levels of social isolation, guilt about work, and levels of irritability. A study, included as evidence, found that employee data shows a reduced risk for depression among the people who worked from home.
In the US, a different study highlighted that teleworkers were able to spend more quality time with pets and family members – but working from the office held appeal too, as it provided opportunities to socialise and less conflict between work and family.
Dr Neira further said: “In the nearly two years since the start of the pandemic, it’s become very clear that teleworking can as easily bring health benefits, and it can also have dire impact.
“Which way the pendulum swings depends entirely on whether governments, employers and workers work together and whether there are agile and inventive occupational health services to put in place policies and practices that benefit both workers and the work.”