What effect does working from home have on your mental and physical health?
Prior to 2020, working from home (or remote working) was a concept just beginning to catch on. For most employees working from home was only available as an option every so often, when there were extenuating circumstances, for example when you had a doctor's appointment.
The notion of offering remote working as a company benefit was an emerging concept, but mainly among trendy startups (when they didn’t want to fork out for an expensive city office space). And then came 2020, and with it the Coronavirus pandemic that has dramatically changed our lives. Remote working went from a concept looked down upon by management, to a necessity keeping most businesses afloat, overnight.
Pros of remote working:
Perhaps the most notorious positive impact of home working is that employees can grasp back a little bit more autonomy over the structure of their day. According to a recent survey of more than 4,000 people working from home due to the pandemic, 73% said that working from home improved their work-life balance, allowing them to spend more time with their partner, family or pets (Forbes, 2020).
Naturally, having more time available to spend time with loved ones, or to complete enjoyable activities such as exercise or hobbies will have a favourable impact on your mental health. It also gives back control over your workday to an extent. You can use breaks to do more productive things such as household chores or preparing food, meaning your free time before and after work is freed up for fun and social activities.
A topic for discussion is whether or not employees are more productive when working in the office versus working remotely. A study conducted by Airtasker found that “working from home not only benefits employees by eliminating their daily commutes, it also increases productivity and leads to healthier lifestyles” (Sammi Caramela, 2019).
With less distractions and interruptions from colleagues my personal experience has been immensely positive. You are able to completely ‘get in the zone’ and accomplish tasks more efficiently than usual and this brings a sense of achievement and job satisfaction. Having ticked something off your to do list, you feel more entitled to take a break and reward yourself, which as a consequence has a positive effect on your mental health and mood.
Remote working essentially means you can work from anywhere in the world (time zones allowing). On a smaller scale this means that many employees who had been bound to living in the city close to their offices, can now choose to live further away and in less built up areas. This gives many people the opportunity to keep their successful city careers but in more desirable environments.
(ScienceDaily, 2018) Found that living close to nature and spending time outside has a significant impact on a person's health. Benefits of this included reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stress and high blood pressure. Not only is access to nature good for your physical health, it is also great for your mental health to spend some time outdoors each day.
“Stress is relieved within minutes of exposure to nature as measured by muscle tension, blood pressure, and brain activity. Time in green spaces significantly reduces your cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Nature also boosts endorphin levels and dopamine production, which promotes happiness” (Parks Blog, 2020).
No More Commute
Working from home makes the need for a commute into work obsolete. Some people usually spend hours travelling to and from the office every day, and when remote working is made possible this time can be given back to employees to do with whatever they wish. This is vital time that they can spend doing something that makes them happy, exercising or getting in some additional sleep. It gives employees a chance to start their working day in a more positive light, improving their mental state as they start the day.
When working from the comfort of your own home, you have control over where you choose to spend your working hours. You can control the environment in which you choose to work, meaning you can make improvements by choosing comfortable furniture and decorations that have a positive impact on your mental health and productivity. You can ensure comfort by purchasing good quality furniture, such as a decent office chair, to avoid back pain, or making an effort to switch it up from working from a desk constantly, to standing for a call or sitting comfortably on the sofa.
You also have control of the decorative aspects, and no longer have to spend the entire day in a drab office space void of any personal touches. Easy changes can be made such as introducing pleasant lighting, bright colours, plants, or anything else that brightens up your day. All of these modifications can help to relieve stress levels and have a positive effect on mental health.
“There have been a number of studies which have proven that indoor plants improve concentration and productivity, reduce stress levels and boost mood – all of which makes them a perfect addition for those working from home” (Geall, 2020).
Gone are the days of barely finding time to leave the office to grab a sad supermarket meal deal or overpriced salad. Working at home means you have the opportunity to be more mindful of what you decide to fuel your body with.
You have access to a full kitchen and more time to prepare home cooked food which is better for your health. With no need to grab convenient fast food, or even worse skipping lunch altogether, you can make yourself healthy balanced meals whenever you have a break in meetings.
Cons of working remotely:
Working from home can also have many negative impacts on your health. One of the most prominent is the aspect of loneliness and social isolation people may feel as a result of having no face to face interaction with others. According to (Geall, 2020) “almost half (46%) of UK workers have experienced loneliness while working from home, with women and younger workers (those aged 18-38) most likely to be affected”. It goes without saying that feelings of loneliness will lead to a decrease in a person's wellbeing, both mentally and physically, as a result.
The result of national lockdowns and imposed home working could have some serious negative impacts for a person's health due to the fact they are not leaving the house, in some cases for weeks on end. "Staying inside all the time may lead to one missing out on several health benefits of sunlight, Exposure to the sun is essential as it can help with the regulation of one's circadian clock, it enables the body to synthesize vitamin D, and additionally helps to improve one's mood" (Wolff and Polish, 2018). Alongside this, a person's mental wellbeing is likely to suffer from a lack of stimulation and a decreasing sense of belonging to a community.
Whilst working from home allows employees to be more flexible with their hours and breaks, it also allows for people to work excessively long hours. (The Economist, 2020) found that people around the world tended to work increased hours on average than they did before the pandemic.
With no clear start or end times and the constant access to your laptop and emails, employees end up putting in extra hours to meet deadlines or get a head start on projects. As there is no clear separation of work and free time this can lead to stressed and burned out employees which can lead to a number of health implications.
Without the distractions and interruptions of having to go to meetings or speak to colleagues across the office, it is much easier to spend long periods of time seated. It is advised by the NHS that we should aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise per week and that being inactive for long periods of time can have many negative health impacts. The most notable of these are obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer (NHS Choices, 2021).
Even before working from home was common practice, many employees were spending increasing amounts of time using electronic devices. But when taken out of an office environment, the need to be staring at a screen all day becomes unavoidable. Meetings and social events are no longer a break from this, which is having negative impacts on employees health. Not only can staring at a screen for long periods of time have an impact on a person's eyesight, it can also have an effect on your ability to fall asleep effectively.
“Digital devices can interfere with everything from sleep to creativity”, and it is a well known fact that the blue light emitted from devices, such as laptops and mobiles, can disrupt your sleep pattern. This is due to the blue light suppressing the body's ability to secrete melatonin, which is a hormone that helps control our sleeping patterns (Harvard.edu, 2019).
Another possibility of a negative impact is that new distractions are introduced when working from home instead of the office. A survey by (Guardian staff reporter, 2013) of people working from home found the following: “I asked home-based workers about their greatest distractions in a survey on my website and their response, in descending order, was family, neighbours, housework and the lure of food and drink”.
Constant distractions at home could have many implications on how employees feel about their workday. Some might feel guilt for not completing enough and then work late into the night to compensate. These types of effects could then have an impact on people's mental health, as well as increased stress and lack of sleep.
- Mai, D. (2018). 21 Work From Home Pros and Cons – The Surprising Truth Behind Remote Work. [online] Digital Nomad Soul. Available here https://www.digitalnomadsoul.com/work-from-home-pros-and-cons/
- [Accessed 22 Jan. 2021].ScienceDaily. (2018). It’s official -- spending time outside is good for you. [online] Available at sciencedaily.com [Accessed 22 Jan. 2021].
- Geall, L. (2020). Working from home: how making small, easy changes to your workspace could help your mental health. [online] Stylist. Available at stylist.co.uk [Accessed 25 Jan. 2021].
- Spiggle, T. (2020). Coronavirus Silver Lining: A Better Work-Life Balance? Forbes. [online] 15 Oct. Available at:https://www.forbes.com [Accessed 25 Jan. 2021].
- Sammi Caramela (2019). Working From Home Increases Productivity. [online] Business News Daily. Available at:https://www.businessnewsdaily.com [Accessed 1 Feb. 2021].
- Parks Blog. (2020). Mental health benefits of spending time in nature. [online] Available at: https://www.ontarioparks.com. [Accessed 1 Feb. 2021].
- The Economist (2020). People are working longer hours during the pandemic. [online] The Economist. Available at: https://www.economist.com [Accessed 9 Feb. 2021].
- Geall, L. (2020). Loneliness: has working from home left you feeling isolated? You’re not alone. [online] Stylist. Available at:https://www.stylist.co.uk [Accessed 9 Feb. 2021].
- NHS Choices (2021). Why we should sit less - Exercise. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Feb. 2021].
- Harvard.edu. (2019). Screen Time and the Brain. [online] Available at: https://hms.harvard.edu/news/screen-time-brain [Accessed 9 Feb. 2021].
- Guardian staff reporter (2013). Avoiding the distractions of working from home. [online] the Guardian. Available at:https://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2013/aug/05/working-from-home-distractions-tips-focus [Accessed 9 Feb. 2021].
- Wolff, C. and Polish, J. (2018). 7 Signs You’re Spending Too Much Time Inside & It’s Affecting Your Health. [online] Bustle. Available at:https://www.bustle.com [Accessed 10 Feb. 2021].