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Is Working from Home the New Smoking?
Not quite, but when it comes to health, it does have pros and cons.
Near the end of a long day that found me hunched over my desk in the same position for hours on end, I came across an article in the New York Times, “Working From Home Is Less Healthy Than You Think.”
“Although productivity is important, we haven’t given sufficient consideration to the potential negative health effects of remote work for some people. Those who have the luxury of working from home might end up realizing that remote work is disadvantageous to their mental and physical well-being.”
The quote above captures the gist of the article. Likeand I, the author loves a good research study and cites an evidence-based literature review of the consequences of Covid-19 on remote workers. The article makes a couple of main points. First, we tend to move less when we work from home. This is definitely true for me, but I thought I’d check with Alex, too, who also works a hybrid schedule. He shared his weekly step graph—no prizes for guessing the days he worked from home.
The second point has to do with mental health, including the potential isolation and anxiety that can come from conducting interpersonal interactions primarily online. The article notes:
“Even if it’s easier, there is a sense of isolation that develops when real, in-person communication is substituted with virtual interaction.”
Again, this rings true for me. I live alone with my dog (who does not appreciate me making noise during her long afternoon naps). And because I’m an introvert, I rely on work to get me out of my head and into human interaction.
All that said, I think the key phrase in the article is “for some people.” What works for any given person is going to be very situational, as we emphasized in our epic smackdown over home gyms vs. memberships.
I live in a tiny apartment with a dog and crave the change of scenery and interaction that going into the office affords. I have other friends who relish the moments they can spend with their partner, children or pets while working from home. Some people find it easier to get away from their desks at home than at the office, or perhaps are more disciplined than me about working in some exercise snacks instead of noshing on fake health food during breaks.
Of course, this all presupposes the luxury some of us have of working from home or in a hybrid situation, which is something many, many people cannot choose. If you do work from home either occasionally or full-time, though, here are a few practical tips for keeping your health and sanity:
Make time to move. This goes without saying, but it can be soooo hard to do in practice. Set an alarm or put it on your calendar. Stand up and make a phone call instead of sitting and sending an email. Do whatever it takes to get your body moving.
Phone a friend. As the New York Times notes, screen time is not quality human interaction. Recently, a friend and I have made a point of calling each other to chat a few times a week. Just 15 minutes of talking about something other than work can be such a refreshing break and a way to connect with someone on a more intimate level than text messaging or exchanging emails.
Set some boundaries. Zoom fatigue is real (there’s science behind it!), and it’s worse for women and newer employees. Company culture varies widely on this, and I know that some organizations are very much “cameras on.” But if you have some flexibility, try to take some calls while walking, even if it’s just around your living room or gazing out a window.
I find it’s helpful to say up front you will be taking the call with your camera off, so that other participants know you are still fully engaged. If you’re a people leader, consider making some of your meetings audio only to give folks a break from being always on.
Those are my top tips from my own experience. What’s worked for you? Let us know in the comments or drop us an email.