More people are working from home these days than ever before. Even positions that have traditionally been onsite occupations have found a way to work-from-home. As many companies are making the shift to a remote workforce, more employees are getting their first taste of a work-from-home environment. Some studies show greater employee satisfaction in work-from-home positions, while other research indicates that isolation and depression can be problematic for some individuals who work from home. So what is the truth? Is working from home healthy?
Recent studies show that there are health benefits to working from home. Remote workers report health benefits, such as increased mental stability, better work-life balance, decreased stress, and fewer colds. But despite these health benefits, some remote workers battle loneliness and isolation.
If you are interested in finding out more about the health benefits of working from home, some challenges remote workers face, and more, keep on reading.
Is Working From Home Healthy?
Over the last decade, as technological advances have made it easier for employers to use a remote workforce, many companies began to assess the benefits of offering employees the ability to work from home. Stanford Professor Nicholas Bloom published the results of a 2-year study that showed that utilizing a remote workforce led to a 13% increase in overall productivity and decreased the number of sick days employees took.
The biggest indicator of better health among remote workers is the decrease in sick time.
Employee illness is the most common reason for productivity loss in the workplace. Remote workers report much fewer instances of opportunistic infections such as the common cold, stomach viruses, and the flu, which equates to less time lost due to illness, and better overall employee productivity.
For many remote workers, working from home helps to improve their overall work-life balance.
In recent years, the term work-life balance has become a bit of a buzzword, with both employers and employees.
Progressive companies tout their work-life balance as a selling point to potential employees, as individual workers try to find a way to manage their professional and personal responsibilities in the best way possible.
Far more than just a selling point for companies, a good work-life balance can dramatically improve one’s physical and emotional health.
Many American workers feel stretched further than ever before. The pressure to consistently perform well at work, plus work longer and longer hours to increase productivity, makes it difficult to maintain a healthy personal or family life.
In cases like this, physical and mental health can be dramatically affected.
A Closer Look at Work-Life Balance
A 2014 Gallup poll indicated that nearly 40% of workers reported working 50 hours or more per week. For many, trying to meet professional requirements, while still maintaining a healthy home and family life, is quite challenging.
While this may seem like it’s just a fact of life, a poor work-life balance can cause significant health issues.
The biggest consequence of feeling stretched to the limit by a demanding work schedule and poor work-life balance is stress. For many, the stress of trying to do it all is simply part of their daily life.
Over time, this prolonged and significant stress can cause major health issues, from insomnia to depression to more serious physical ailments such as:
- Digestive issues
Maintaining employee health should be a priority for every professional organization. Poor health can affect an organization’s bottom line in various ways, whether through:
- A loss of productivity due to sick days
- Higher insurance premiums due to workers’ health issues
- High attrition rates due to employee turnover
Therefore, helping employees maintain a positive work-life balance should truly be a priority.
Remote workers report a much higher level of work-life balance than onsite employees.
There are several reasons for this:
- First, remote workers simply have more time for themselves. Without a daily commute and the hectic morning family routine, remote workers can use the time previously spent driving and getting ready for work in more productive ways, such as completing small household tasks, spending time with family, or family meal prep.
- Folks who work from home have more flexibility. While their professional requirements are still the priority, it only takes a moment to throw a load of wash in the washing machine, straighten up around the house, wash some dishes, or help a child with school work.
Completing simple life tasks and working them into the traditional workday makes managing a household on top of professional responsibilities much easier.
A good work-life balance benefits everyone.
While workers experience less stress and better health, employers reap the benefits of:
- Happy employees
- Better productivity
- Less missed time due to illness
- A lower turnover rate
The Benefits of Working From Home
In 2020, there are more remote workers than ever before.
As the US, and the world, faces a global pandemic, to remain viable, many companies had to make some adjustments to how they do business. With their employees’ physical health and safety at risk, many companies began allowing employees to work from home for the first time ever.
With so many people working from home, it is easier to see some of the benefits to physical and mental health, as widespread inquiries show similar results. Some of the health benefits of working at home include:
- Fewer pollutants
- More time for physical activity
- Reduced stress levels
- Less illness
- Better diet
- Higher job satisfaction
Whether traveling to work via automobile, bus, train or on foot, the average worker is faced with a significant amount of pollutants on a daily basis.
The Covid-19 pandemic had the unintended consequence of shining a light on the true effects of typical day to day commuting.
Most people have seen the reports of the inadvertent, yet positive environmental effects of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Over the second quarter of 2020, experts estimated a 30% drop in Nitrogen Dioxide pollution, which is directly caused by the burning of fuel through transportation.
While in early 2020, we saw a dramatic positive impact due to lockdowns worldwide, any daily commuting emissions reduction will positively affect both the environment and personal, individual health.
Nitrogen Dioxide pollution has a dramatic effect on personal health and well-being. According to the American Lung Association, Nitrogen Dioxide can dramatically affect lung function by causing:
- Inflammation in the lungs
- Reduced lung function
- An increase in asthma attacks
- Worsening cough and wheezing
Any reduction in air pollution from the burning of fuels can greatly benefit overall respiratory health.
More Time for Physical Activity
Within the United States, the average daily commute to and from work is 26.6 minutes each way. When we extrapolate that 53.2 minutes over a month, it means that, on average, in-office workers lose nearly 20 hours a month just getting to and from work.
Working from home gives employees the gift of time.
With an extra 5 hours a week, this allows more time to make healthy changes, such as:
- Increasing physical activity through a morning walk
- Making a trip to the gym
- Prioritizing a quick home workout
Daily exercise has been proven to have a positive effect on both body and mind. And, many remote workers report that their schedule allows them to take advantage of a quick mid-morning or afternoon workout, which helps keep them energized and results in increased productivity.
Reduced Stress Levels
Stress within the workplace is inevitable.
Every position has its unique stressors, and it is impossible to eradicate stress on the job completely. However, many companies have found that working from home has helped reduce employees’ overall stress levels.
The vast majority of remote workers report feeling less stressed when working in their home environment. The reasons for this may be different for everyone:
- Whether it’s the flexibility afforded to at-home workers
- The elimination of the daily commute
- The opportunity to work in a comfortable and familiar environment of the home
As seen with Covid-19, infectious illness can pose a serious threat to the workplace.
As illness is spread among co-workers, the loss in productivity is multiplied by the number of affected individuals. Remote workers report much lower instances of illness than in-office workers.
By working in a home environment, employees aren’t subject to contagious illness from others within the workspace.
Additionally, remote workers won’t spread illness among their co-workers.
Employees who work from home acknowledge that there are instances when, if working in-office, they would have opted to use sick time, rather than report to work with a potentially contagious illness, even if they feel well enough to do their job. At-home workers are much more likely to work, even if feeling slightly under the weather when compared to their in-office counterparts.
For many, the daily lunch break means a quick trip to the closest fast-food restaurant or a visit to the in-office vending machines if time is a consideration.
Let’s face it; it isn’t easy to stick to a healthy diet when working 40+ hours a week. While everyone understands the importance of eating healthy in this day and age, very few workplaces offer employees healthy meal and snack options.
For those who work-at-home, preparing a healthy lunch or snack is much easier. Without the limitations of vending machine snacks and quick lunch runs for fast food, remote workers report that they are much more likely to eat healthy when working from home than working in the office.
While many people who commute to their office choose to bring a healthy lunch from home, the temptation to snack or join co-workers for a quick pizza lunch can often derail even the most serious dieters.
It is much easier to meal-plan and resist temptation when working from home by simply eliminating bad food choices from the household.
Higher Job Satisfaction
While working from home may not work for everyone, in general, remote workers report:
- A higher level of job satisfaction
- Lower attrition rate
- Overall better work-life balance
Quality of life can be dramatically affected by job satisfaction.
A recent study shows that at-home workers were more likely to report being satisfied and happy in their position when compared to in-office counterparts. In one study:
- 91% of remote workers reported better work-life balance when working from home
- 79% reported better productivity and focus
- 78% reported less stress
All of which equated to higher overall job satisfaction.
Challenges of Working From Home
While working from home has its benefits, there are definitely challenges that every remote worker must face at one time or another.
The easy camaraderie and the ability to bounce ideas off of co-workers isn’t quite as easy when working in a home environment. And at times, it may even be difficult to stay motivated.
Here are some of the common issues that remote workers may experience.
- Staying organized
- Staying Engaged with the team
- Managing Time
- Collaborating with co-workers
- Social Engagements
For some, working in the same space where they live can make staying organized a challenge.
The day-to-day distractions that exist in the home environment can easily encroach upon the workday if the employee is not careful.
Simple tasks, like loading the dishwasher, folding the laundry, or packing school lunches, can be easily integrated into the workday. However, when the at-home tasks begin to affect productivity, it can create problems.
The solution to staying organized is to create a separate workspace.
Rather than work at the kitchen table or in front of the TV, remote workers should set up a specific workspace, with limited distractions, that is only used for work.
This makes transitioning from home to work tasks much easier. Even in homes with limited space, it can be as simple as setting up a table in the corner of the room as a designated workspace and only using that space for work activities.
Staying Engaged with the Team
While many at-home workers report fewer distractions in a home environment, it can be difficult to stay engaged with co-workers and superiors when working remotely.
While in the office, asking a quick question of a deskmate or confirming information with a boss is often done without a second thought. However, when working from home, interacting with co-workers doesn’t happen naturally.
The key to staying engaged or keeping employees engaged is communication.
Whether it’s a quick team Zoom meeting or video conference at the beginning of the day, or a mid-day phone call or email with the boss, it is important to communicate with in-office and other remote counterparts.
It is important to make these meetings or calls part of the daily routine, even on days when there is no real agenda.
Just taking the time to connect with co-workers and superiors daily keeps employees engaged and invested.
The fact is, employees who work from home have more time available to them than their commuting counterparts. That said, making the best use of that time can sometimes be a challenge.
For workers who have small children or even a spouse at home, time management can be an even larger issue. Taking a quick time out for simple tasks is fine, but it is important to ensure that it doesn’t affect overall productivity.
One of the best ways to manage time when working from home is to create a schedule.
Divide daily work tasks and create a schedule to manage those tasks effectively.
There are various productivity apps available for iOS and Android devices that can help at-home workers remain on task.
Be Business Casual, Not Weekend Casual
Productivity experts suggest dressing up for work.
As simple as it is, the act of dressing and getting ready for the workday has been shown to help remote workers focus, as well as separate their work life from their home life.
Equally important is setting appropriate boundaries. Whether that means ensuring that family members don’t interrupt the workday or limiting personal use of electronic devices and social media, it is important to identify potential distractions and create a plan to combat them.
Collaborating With Co-workers
For individuals who work in independent positions, a daily or weekly meeting may do the trick. But for the vast majority of workers, their daily work can often affect other team members, as well as other company departments.
It can be tempting to simply complete work independently, but collaborating with co-workers can create a higher quality of work.
For projects that require the input of more than one person, consider programs or tools such as Dropbox, or other mechanisms to share:
- Project plans
- Other documents
It is also important to set expectations with co-workers, assign tasks, and make decisions together about how best to communicate with one another.
Quite often, when working in a full-time position within an office, the average worker spends more time with their co-workers each week than their family.
As such, most people engage in a bit of social interaction with co-workers on a daily basis. Whether it is a quick trip to the coffee machine or a standing lunch date, the social aspect of work can break up the workday’s monotony.
More and more, Human Resource organizations recognize the need for some employee socialization, and as such, have created various team-building exercises that can help employees stay engaged with each other.
Whether it is:
- A work-related game, where employees have to work together, albeit remotely, to solve work-related questions to complete a puzzle
- A weekly meeting where a small portion of the time is devoted to “fun” conversation
Co-workers must connect on more than just a professional level. Studies show that “water-cooler” moments can actually improve employee morale, increase productivity, and overall job satisfaction.
Is Working From Home Right For Me?
More people are working from home than ever before, and the vast majority genuinely enjoy the benefits that come along with being a remote employee.
Even so, working from home is not for everybody.
In fact, for some, working from home can:
- Increase job stress
- Negatively affect mental health
- Decrease overall job satisfaction
While working from home has its benefits, it can be challenging and is not the best fit for everyone.
Here are some things to consider when deciding whether working from home is the right fit.
- Must have plenty of self-discipline. Self-discipline is key for at-home workers. Without the direct supervision of a manager or supervisor, the remote worker must be able to dive into their workday and maintain the same level of productivity as they would in an onsite office.
Exactly as would be expected if working onsite at the company headquarters, it is important to be able to:
- Stay on task
- Follow an appropriate schedule
- Meet all professional deadlines
- Must not be easily distracted. Working from home can provide employees with a better work-life balance, but only if they can rid themselves of distractions.
Let’s face it. There are plenty of things at home to pull attention away from work, such as:
- Family members
- Social media, television
- Lack of supervision
For some, making the transition from the traditional office to home is a difficult one. It is important to be able to focus on work and not become distracted by competing priorities.
- Must be organized. Maintaining an organization is vital when working from home. When work and home life collide, it can be tempting to let some things slide, or allow work to bleed into home life and vice-versa.
It is more important than ever to create to-do lists, daily schedules, and send daily and weekly updates to co-workers and superiors when working from home. If organization is a challenge, there are plenty of helpful apps and programs that can help!
- Must have excellent time-management skills. It is inevitable that when working from home, some life responsibilities will interfere with the workday.
- A sick child
- A visit from a handyman or contractor
- Just the simple daily tasks of home
One of the best things about working from home is the ability to attend to such emergencies and interruptions easily. However, remote workers need to quickly get back on task and meet deadlines, even with the distractions of home.
- Must be able to work without supervision. When working onsite, it is easy to address questions and concerns with a superior.
When questions arise about prioritizing a work-load, speaking with someone to organize and prioritize tasks is much simpler.
When working from home, it may not be as easy to address questions. Remote employees must make appropriate professional decisions without constant management input. They have to have the:
- Problem-solving skills
- Must be comfortable being alone. For many, the idea of working from home is better than the reality.
The fact is, working from home can be a bit isolating.
Without the day-to-day banter and camaraderie with co-workers, some employees struggle with feelings of isolation. Remote workers need to be comfortable working alone without the company of others.
While most remote employees appreciate the benefits that come with working from home, it simply isn’t the best fit for everyone.
For some, working from home can actually create more problems than it solves. These are the common complaints from work-from-home employees:
- Feelings of isolation
- Feeling disconnected from the workplace
Staying on task for 8-hours a day may be necessary, but it isn’t very exciting at times.
Many people enjoy a corporate setting’s social aspect, and working alongside others helps to keep boredom at bay. Just like within an onsite office setting, work-from-home employees are entitled to breaks.
Experienced remote employees suggest setting aside regular break times to:
- Stand up
- Take a few minutes to email a friend or check social media
Feelings of Isolation
Feeling isolated from co-workers and the company is a very real aspect of working from home.
This is exacerbated if other co-workers are working in the corporate setting. It is easy to feel forgotten when you work by yourself all day long.
Experts suggest maintaining daily contact with co-workers via a quick morning or late day meeting. Not only does this help ensure that each member of the team is on the same page regarding workflow, but it also helps to provide some much needed human interaction.
Feeling Disconnected From the Workplace
When working in an office, it is easy to keep on top of all the comings and goings.
Whether it is information about company performance, upcoming events, or company goals; or personnel-related information like new hires or job openings, information travels fast when working in the office.
However, when working from home, it is easy to feel less connected to the company, overall performance, and other issues outside of personal job performance.
This can lead to a decrease in morale and job satisfaction.
Human Resource experts suggest developing ways to communicate information to remote employees via:
- Zoom meetings
- Weekly “newsletter” emails
- Regular in-person meetings, when possible, with Management
These tools will help remote workers feel like they are still part of the action, even when working from far away.
So, Is Working From Home Healthy?
Today, more employers than ever before are utilizing technologies that allow employees to work from home.
Studies show the vast majority of the time, remote employees experience higher levels of job satisfaction, better physical and emotional health, and higher productivity.
Still, there are all pitfalls and concerns that may need to be addressed, especially for people new to remote work.
The key to a healthy solution is finding the right mix of employee freedom, accountability, and communication. With the right mix, the work-from-home model can benefit everyone.