Pandemic a mixed bag for remote workers - study

A majority of workers in IT and telecommunications suffered a regression in their physical health as the COVID-19 pandemic forced them into remote working

A majority of workers in IT and telecommunications suffered a regression in their physical health as the COVID-19 pandemic forced them into remote working.

A study by Dr Luke Fiorini, director of the Centre for Labour Studies at the University of Malta, found remote working proved to be a positive experience for some, but was also a period of poorer health for many others.

Indeed, more workers reported a regression in their health during the first year of the pandemic as opposed to an improvement, a health impact that depended on how much of their work was being carried out at home or another location outside the office.

Those who carried out a greater percentage of their work through remote-working were more likely to report better levels of health. Health levels were worse for those who spent less time working outside the office.

Participants in the study experienced the pandemic in different ways. For those who experienced an improvement in their health, the pandemic was an opportunity to put in more exercise in their day as they no longer wasted time commuting to work.

The added flexibility meant that they were able to sleep longer hours, prepare more nutritious food and spend more time with their loved ones or practicing different hobbies.

These participants often described the work-from-home period as one of reduced stress and greater efficiency.

For those who experienced a deterioration in health, this period saw them becoming more sedentary, eating more frequently or more junk food, and unable to go to the gym. Spending more time at home led these participants to develop negative feelings or mental health issues, especially feelings of loneliness due to reduced social contact. They also felt more anxious and uncertain due to the nature of the pandemic.

Another major struggle among workers was that they struggled to draw the line between work and non-work hours. Some used digital communications more frequently whilst working from home, resulting in them falling behind in their work and having to make up for this time in their non-work hours.

Others struggled to cope with working from home whilst dealing with other domestic duties, such as caring for children.

The results offer several implications for companies toying with the idea of working from home or adopting a hybrid approach. Remote working offers added flexibility and reduces wasted time in the daily commute, but it also poses health risks on physical and mental levels.

While this bodes well for a hybrid approach, the study found that those working from home on a full-time basis were more likely to report positive health changes.

In his study, the researcher suggests that organisations should consider policies that limit excessive digital communications or communications outside working hours to alleviate some of the challenges faced by remote workers.

Organisations should also remain in touch with those workers who find working from home to be a lonely experience.

Other measures organisations could take include health promotion initiatives, such as remote exercise classes, or training for managers on how to manage remote workers.