In March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and soon enough, many countries around the world started announcing lockdowns and strict social distancing, respiratory hygiene and handwashing protocols to control the global and rapid spread of the disease.
While many essential service providers had to still travel to their workplaces every day, most other offices transitioned to work from home for all employees. This meant that all kinds of professionals, from those working in IT to journalists and moviemakers, shifted from structured workstations to the confines of their homes.
Nine months on, the offices that can still function perfectly without requiring the physical presence of their workers are choosing to continue to do so. Such a huge and prolonged shift was always likely to have a deep impact on all the affected professionals globally.
A new study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine highlights some of the major health issues that have arisen due to working from home.
A study into working from home
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of South California, set out to understand the impact of social, behavioural and physical factors on the wellbeing of office workers during the early COVID-19 work from home (WFH) phase. The researchers created a questionnaire which was deployed between April and June 2020. While nearly 1,000 respondents participated in the survey, the researchers picked 988 as valid for their study.
They then conducted mechanisms like linear regression, multinomial logistic regression, and chi-square tests to understand the factors that were associated with the overall physical and mental health status of the participants. They also used the same methods to understand which physical and mental health issues were new and had only emerged during this WFH phase.
Some effects of work from home
They found that workers across the board reported working at least one-and-a-half hours extra during WFH and were most likely to have less job satisfaction and increased neck pain. They also found that over 64 percent of the respondents had one or more new physical health issues while almost 75 percent of the participants reported one new mental health issue.
The study also illustrated the differential impact WFH had on women, workers with kids, and those with a lower income.
For example, the study showed that female workers with lower annual incomes were more likely to report two or more physical and mental health issues than workers who earned better salaries. They also had a significantly higher incidence of depression.
Almost 75 percent of the workers reported they had increased their working hours, while more than 33 percent said they had scheduled their own work to suit others. Both these categories of workers also reported new physical and mental health issues.
Handling WFH as it continues
Unsurprisingly, almost all workers decreased their levels of physical activity and exercise while also reporting an increase in overall food intake. This not only correlated with a decrease in their mental wellbeing but also correlated with an increase in junk food consumption. Having a pet " which is usually considered to improve mental health and physical activity " did not have any impact at all according to the study's findings.
Workers who were parents to infants reported better mental health while those with toddlers showed better physical health. However, the researchers found that these parents were more at risk of developing new mental or physical health issues in the coming months as the novelty of the situation dies down. On the other hand, living with at least one teenager reportedly lowered the risk of new health issues, physical or mental, from emerging.
Notably, the researchers concluded that most of these issues arose from the fact that not all these workers had a separate area of work. Only about 33 percent of the respondents reported having a dedicated space for work at home and at least 47.6 percent shared their home workspace with others.
The researchers thus recommend that as WFH continues, designating a separate space for work is most likely to have a positive impact on workers. Setting the appropriate view, lighting, and temperature in the workspace and distance from others at home during working hours is also likely to lower the risk of developing new physical and mental health issues.
There are a number of other, similar tips you could use while working from home to reduce your risk of mental and physical health problems.
For more information, read our article on Work from home during COVID-19.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India's first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.