Working from home: is it good for employee health and wellness? March 4th, 2013, by Ken Buckley

The issue of working from home, also called remote working or telecommuting, gathered a lot of attention recently, following Yahoo’s leaked memo banning its employees from working from home.

Yahoo’s surprise edict generated widespread criticism, not only from working parents and carers, but from industry leaders such as Richard Branson.

But it has also allowed for some healthy debate around this growing trend.

From a health & wellness point of view, working from home is not as straightforward as it would seem. There are obvious health benefits, but if it’s not managed well, by both employer and employee, it can have drawbacks.

Wellness benefits of working from home

The health and wellness advantages of working from home are pretty intuitive.

For a start, there’s less stress. You’ve taken away the intense stress of commuting (see our blog on the health effects of long commutes). For employees who are parents or carers, you’ve also removed the related stress of trying to fit the whole family around the commute, for example, rushing the kids out the door at 7am to do early school drop off before facing the peak hour traffic.

Working from home opens up an employee’s day, and allows for a much greater fluidity and a more natural flow of work and home responsibilities.

For introverts in particular, a home environment may be more conducive to creativity and productivity, compared to the overstimulating environment of an open plan office. (We cover this very topic in our May issue of Well At Work magazine – subscribe now and stay tuned!)

Then there’s the physical health benefits. Employees who work from home report having more time to exercise and prepare good food. They have an extra 1- 3 hours won from their commuting time, and they often report productivity gains from missing un-necessary meetings.

Employees at home can also easily participate in your online health and wellness programs. Our new WellSteps program offers a large online component. Here’s an interesting article about companies who have made wellness work for off-site employees.  

Wellness disadvantages of working from home

Both Yahoo and Google have made it clear they prefer employees to be in the office. And, from a corporate culture point of view, they make good points. As Google CFO Patrick Pichette says, “There is something magical about spending the time together, about noodling on ideas, about asking at the computer ‘What do you think of this?”

But what about a health and wellness point of view? Well, likewise, there are some benefits of keeping your employees in the office. Here are just some:

1.       Health program participation

While the latest types of health solutions allows for online participation, this is never a replacement for IRL (In Real Life) involvement.

The education component of health programs can easily be done online, but the really successful campaigns, challenges & activities are done in groups, where employees can be encouraged and inspired by their peers.

 2.       Creating a health culture

There’s a fantastic buzz that comes from employees doing health activities together. Whether it’s completing a programmed team challenge, or having an impromptu soccer match at lunchtime, or just chatting about achieving your goals that week,  these activities create an energy and positive feel that’s hard to match.

It also creates a shared sense of purpose and a close bond.

These are all essential components to developing that sought-after “culture of health” in your organisation.

3. Quality controlled ergonomics

When employees are in the office, you know they’re using the right kind of chairs, you can see if they’re hunching over their keyboard, or if they have too many powercords plugged in.

At home, even if they’ve passed an assessment, you really don’t know how or where they’re sitting. Without good education and reminders (booklets and ebooks, anyone?), this can increase risk of injury down the track.

The solution? A balanced approach

Just as you help your employees’ find work-life balance, so too can you find home-office balance as an employer. For most industries and occupations, you don’ t have to have an all or nothing approach.

You could allow an employee one or two work from home days, and three or four office days.  The mix will vary on their job role, your business needs and the culture you’re trying to create.  At Healthworks, for example, we have a number of employees who work from home, either one day a week or as required, but  not all the time.

 

How do you manage working from home at your workplace? Do you think it’s good for health & wellness? Add your comments below. 

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