Is Working From Home Wreaking Havoc With Your Health?

Dangers of Working From Home

Originally published in

Working from home has done wonders for people’s flexibility and the lack of a daily commute has reduced travel expenditure — but it might have come at a cost to our overall health.

  • It has become clear that many employees are not going back to the office five days a week, but workers and business leaders alike are still unsure as to what work model is healthiest.
  • In a recent article, renowned sports physician Jordan Metzl says that remote work can be severely detrimental to the overall (mental and physical) health of employees.  
  • It is essential to assess the advantages and potential drawbacks of all options and choose a model that aligns best with an individual’s work-life balance and overall well-being.

As the debate around flexible working rights and productivity continues, employers struggle to strike the right balance between the amount of in-person and remote work they expect from employees. Notwithstanding return-to-office demands from employers, remote workers are proving they can be just as productive working from home as in the office. This is a point in favor of remote working, but with reports indicating that working from home is potentially detrimental to overall well-being, is this option still attractive?

Why working from home could become a threat to your health

Working from home has afforded previously office-based employees benefits such as reduced commuter stress, flexibility, and more control over their work environment and daily schedule. For some workers, this has meant more time to schedule healthy pursuits into their day ­— from walking the dog to taking the time to make a nutritionally balanced meal.

According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, a phenomenon known as Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) enables the body to expend energy even when not engaged in formal exercise (such as walking to and from work, for instance). However, when healthy habits are not built into the day, working from home can lead to some serious health problems.

Leading Sports Physician, Jordan D. Metzl (MD), espouses the many benefits of NEAT activities and highlights how remote work can be detrimental to our physical health when we do not engage in NEAT behaviors. Long periods of continuous sitting down can compromise our daily energy expenditure, and a lack of activity can be the precursor to many ailments ranging from tight ligaments to cardiovascular disease. Becoming more active can counteract the effects of being sedentary, but this takes discipline and a concerted effort when you work from home.

Physical health is not the only component of overall well-being that can be affected by working from home; isolation and loneliness can also lead to poorer mental health. Just as our bodies require NEAT, our minds need social stimulation. For some employees, the negative ramifications of working from home have been somewhat of a shock — especially the impact of isolation.

Research from the U.K. reveals 80% of employees working from home believe this work model has negatively affected their relationships and overall mental well-being. Social isolation and the stress of endless video calls have contributed to this alarming statistic; however, many of these employees still resist the notion of returning to the office five days a week. Reports reveal that as many as 50% of employees would quit if forced back into the office.

Why working near home could be the healthier option

If employees are not inclined to return to the office, what alternative do they have to working from home? There is, of course, the popular hybrid model of work whereby employees are based in the office on specific days whilst working from home on others. This model suits many employers and employees alike, and can offer the benefits of some flexibility combined with opportunities to network with colleagues. However, it can also be quite a rigid approach when there are stipulations concerning when, where, and how employees can work.

Allwork.Space reported that 36% of hybrid workers were looking for an alternative (third) workspace. Alternatives include local coworking spaces and coffee shops where remote workers can connect with others, enjoy a change of scenery, and engage in NEAT activities, such as walking to and from the venue.

These local spaces offer remote workers the opportunity to work near home ­— an alternative that does not involve a stressful commute or rigid hours. Research conducted by IWG has revealed that 77% of employees view a place closer to home as the ideal type of work arrangement. With such positive attitudes towards this third space, what are the core benefits of working near home?

  • A clear separation between work and home life: Distinct boundaries between the professional and personal can remove the tendency to bring work stress into the home environment.
  • Increased social interaction: This can include opportunities for collaboration with colleagues and the possibility of local networking events.
  • A change of scenery: This is not to be underrated; different work environments can inspire and encourage people to think in alternative ways.
  • Improved physical well-being: This could include walking and cycling to and from home (depending on the proximity of your workspace).
  • A greater variety of quality resources: This could be in the form of ergonomic furniture, office equipment, top-speed broadband, and other resources that might not exist at home.

Some aspects of working near home, such as reduced commute time, a better work-life balance, and enhanced local community engagement positively impact well-being. Employers should view these benefits as potentially leading to a less-stressed, more productive workforce. Companies should also consider offering holistic employee well-being programs for all workers, including those who prefer to work from home. Remote workers who are more proactive in relation to their physical and mental well-being and employees in receipt of support in this area (from employers, colleagues and others) could continue to work from home with fewer health risks.

The flexibility to choose between working from home or near home (or perhaps a combination of the two) empowers people to select a working model that best suits their circumstances — something that is becoming increasingly important to employees in this new world of work. What is certain is that there is no perfect one-size-fits-all work model.