Working from home has become increasingly widespread. A 2022 survey from The Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicated that 38% of workers spend at least one day a week working remotely. In theory, the option to work from home should boost productivity. It cuts out long commutes and, proponents argue, allows employees to spend more time with their loved ones, encouraging them to have a more positive mindset towards their work. However, this underestimates the potential negative impacts of remote and home working, particularly in terms of mental and physical health.

Employers have a duty of care towards their employees, and part of this includes ensuring that an office space is safe and suitable. For example, seating with good back support, and proper positioning of electronics to avoid eye strain are must-haves in an office space. As flexible and homeworking has become more prevalent, this same duty now applies wherever the employee is working. However, risk assessments are harder to undertake, and it is naturally much harder to directly supervise employees when they are  working from home.

The physical impacts of home working are clear - nearly half of those who switched to homeworking during the pandemic have reported muscular and skeletal problems, and almost 40% reported unstable sleep schedules due to overworking.  This matches data that indicates home workers are more likely to work with an improper posture in areas that inhibit productivity, such as their bed or sofa.

Office working by contrast, provides fit-for-purpose furniture and amenities, which encourages a stronger work-life balance and separation. With this separation, employees understand that they work in the office and relax while at home, and in doing so, work is then done in an environment designed to protect them from physical problems rather than causing them.

Perhaps the more concerning consequence of homeworking, is the potential mental health impact on employees. Working in an office is in many ways, a constant exercise in team building. Employees get to know their colleagues and feel connected, which encourages productivity in the workplace as well as a sense of community. Home workers are by contrast often lone workers, who act as part of a team in practice but can easily feel isolated and separated. Continued isolation can develop into serious mental health issues such as anxiety or depression when combined with work-related stress.

It is more challenging to detect and provide support for workers developing stress when they are working remotely. Isolated employees are also far less likely to reach out to their peers and colleagues while struggling due to this lacking sense of community. During the Covid-19 lockdowns it was reported that home workers were putting in nearly 28 extra hours of work per month, leading to burnout and dissatisfaction amongst those who felt they were not being adequately supported.

It is impossible to deny the spread of flexible and homeworking post-pandemic. Undoubtedly, flexible and homeworking will likely remain for some time, due to the benefits it provides, however we must not ignore that it comes with underappreciated challenges - most notably for a person's physical and mental stability. By focusing on the positives of home working, there is a failure to recognise the ways in which it disconnects people from their colleagues and managers, particularly amongst larger corporations where a 56% dissatisfaction rate was reported with home working. Hybrid working cannot be regarded as a substitute for a well-managed office environment, which offers employees a sense of community, and encourages a proper work life balance.

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