The Covid-19 pandemic restricted millions of working professionals to their homes, making work from home a common, widespread practice. While the arrangement offers the comfort of home, it also poses several health risks. Thus, one must be mindful of certain measures to protect their health while teleworking.
Recently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) outlined the health benefits and risks of working from home. Further, they highlighted the measures one needs to take to accommodate this shift.
Elucidating the many benefits of working from home, the report by the two UN agencies said that teleworking offers improved work-life balance, opportunities for flexible working hours and physical activity, reduced traffic and reduced time spent community, and a decrease in air pollution.
This, according to the report, can improve mental and physical health, and the social well being of workers. Additionally, it also has the potential of higher productivity and lower operational costs for many companies.
However, it also warns of possible physical and mental health and social wellbeing risks in the absence of proper planning, organisation and health and safety support. Some possible adverse effects could be – isolation, burnout, depression, home violence, musculoskeletal and other injuries, eye strain, increase in smoking and alcohol consumption, prolonged sitting and screen time and unhealthy weight gain.
To prevent these, the report also stressed the role that governments, employers, workers and health services at workplaces should play.
According to Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, WHO, “The pandemic has led to a surge of teleworking, effectively changing the nature of work practically overnight for many workers. 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 a 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,” she added.
From providing relevant information, and guidelines and training to reduce the psychosocial and mental health impact of networking to training managers in effective risk management, distance leadership and workplace health promotions — the report laid down several crucial measures that should be adopted by employers to promote the wellbeing of employers during work from home.
It also asked to establish the “right to disconnect” and sufficient rest days. Occupational health services should be enabled to provide ergonomic, mental health and psychosocial support to teleworkers using digital telehealth technologies, according to the report.
Stressing the importance of these measures, Vera Paquete-Perdigão, Director of the ILO Governance and Tripartism Department, said, “Teleworking and particularly hybrid working are here to stay and will likely increase after the pandemic, as both companies and individuals alike have experienced its feasibility and benefits.”
“As we move away from this ‘holding pattern’ to settle into a new normal, we have the opportunity to embed new supportive policies, practices and norms to ensure millions of teleworkers have healthy, happy, productive and decent work.”
Offering recommendations for the organisation of telework that meet the needs of both workers and organisations, the report suggested including measures such as: discussing and developing individual teleworking work plans and clarifying priorities, being clear about timelines and expected results, agreeing on a common system to signal availability for work and ensuring that managers and colleagues respect the system.
Further, it asked organisations with employers working from home to develop special programmes for teleworking by combining measures for the management of work and performances with information and communication technologies and adequate equipment, and occupational health services for general health, ergonomic and psychosocial support.