Can home working benefit your health? The positives of remote work as UK workers seek flexibility post-lockdown

A total of 57 per cent of workers want to continue working from home once lockdown is lifted, according to a YouGov poll

Continued lockdown restrictions for the past year has forced millions of workers to adapt to life working from home.

While the shift to converting kitchens and spare rooms into functional office spaces was difficult to begin with, remote working has gradually become the norm - and for many, it’s become a preferred way of working.

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A shift in work culture

Recruitment experts have seen a huge interest in remote working over the last year

A total of 57 per cent of workers have said they want to continue being able to work from home once lockdown restrictions are lifted, according to a YouGov poll conducted in September last year.

This includes 18 per cent who want to be able to work remotely all the time, while 39 per cent wish to combine home and office work.

By comparison, only four in ten (39 per cent) workers said they no longer want to work from home once the pandemic is over, suggesting businesses may have to support some form of continued remote working in the future.

Joe Wiggins, career trends expert at Glassdoor, said that interest in remote working has increased significantly over the last year and many employers are now becoming more flexible about where workers are based.

Virtual meeting have been an integral part of working from home

Mr Wiggins explained: “We were already seeing an increase in interest in remote working before the pandemic, with roughly three times the number of applications in February 2020 compared to February 2019.

“That trend accelerated considerably with the advent of Covid-19, resulting in four and half times the number of applications in February 2021 compared to February 2020.

“Remote working is the hot new trend, with employers increasingly offering flexible options.

“A recent survey we conducted amongst UK employees showed 54 per cent of people feel that jobs have become more flexible in terms of where and when they work and as a result 50 per cent believe there are more options now in terms of what job they might choose.

“After a year or so of working from home we, as a nation, have ironed out all the niggles and adapted to the distractions. Most employees are now at a point where they have a pretty clear idea what works for them, and for the vast majority it is a blend of home and office.”

Are there any health benefits from home working?

While the option to work remotely opens up more opportunities for people in terms of where they can work, it has the added bonus of avoiding commuting, creating more time for family life, and helping people to save money.

Mr Wiggins notes that companies which can offer flexibility for workers will likely be the most attractive among job seekers in the future, as people now want to choose what works best for them.

He said: “Companies which offer flexibility and which are inclusive will be the most attractive to candidates.

“Job seekers want to see that they are going to be equally valued, whatever their background and wherever they choose to work. Job seekers also want to know that they are not going to be disadvantaged by making flexibility a priority, and this opens up previously under-served sections of the labour market, such as working mothers.”

Despite the increasing appeal of remote working for many, it does come with its downsides, with the lack of face-to-face interaction being among the most difficult.

Dr Luke Powles, associate clinical director at Bupa Health Clinics, said there are many positive health benefits to be gained from home working, but it is important to stay connected with people to manage feelings of loneliness and isolation.

“Whilst working from home does lack a social element, many people report having a better work/life balance without the added stress of commuting to and from the office each day,” Dr Powles explained. “This tends to have a positive impact on mental health, and many find they’re more productive as a result.

“The other benefit of working from home is the added flexibility. Even though the gyms are shut, lots of the customers visiting our clinics tell us they’ve found more time for exercising, and again, this has a positive impact on their mental and physical health.

“Even if they’re not working out, people can be using the extra time in ways that’s important to them – whether that’s spending more time with their family, or taking time to unwind with a book, which can have a positive impact on mental health too.

“But as well as having its positives, remote working can also have negative impacts. For those who live alone, they can find it lonely and isolating. This is why it’s incredibly important to stay connected with family, friends and co-workers.

“We’re also hearing from our customers that they’re having pain in their back, neck and shoulders due to working in a ‘make-shift’ office and not having the proper equipment when working at home.

“Similarly, the line between responsibilities at work and home is blurring. People might have caring responsibilities for children or older relatives, which are hard to balance alongside work, leading us to feel more burnt out.”

Managing your health at home

With many workers hoping to continue working remotely post-lockdown Dr Powles advised that it is important that feelings of being burnt out, aches and pains and loneliness are well managed going forward.

He recommends that workers who have found their mental and physical health improve from home working speak to their manager, and try to agree on a more flexible arrangement in the future in line with company policies.

Investing in a suitable workspace, including an ergonomic chair, to help protect our posture and prevent injury is also important, while workers should be mindful of balancing work and home life.

Dr Powles advised: “Being kind to yourself is incredibly important, especially when working from home, as it can be too easy to work those extra hours where you’d normally be commuting.

“Following a balanced diet can make sure your brain is getting the right nutrients. In addition to getting enough fruit and veg, try to ensure your diet includes foods which release energy slowly – like wholegrain pasta or rice, oats and cereals or nuts and seeds.

“These can help keep your blood sugars steady, reducing feelings of tiredness or irritation to help promote good mental health.”

Do I have to go back to work?

Those who are eager to continue working from home should speak to their employer about the possibility of flexible working arrangements, as companies are within their rights to ask people to return to work.

However, the pandemic may encourage more businesses to introduce more flexible options in the future, as workers seek out a more balanced approach to work life.

Alan Price, HR expert and CEO of BrightHR, explained: “Where employees' work is generally down to the employer and those who were told that homeworking during lockdown was a temporary measure can expect to be recalled to the workplace.

Employers are within their rights to do this provided the workplace has been made COVID-secure, and government guidance is followed.

“Employers are advised to be flexible where they can, taking employees' individual circumstances into consideration.

“Employees have the right to make a flexible working request, including a request to permanently work from home, once they have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks.

“Requests can be refused though provided the reason given falls within those which are permitted, such as a detrimental impact on quality of work.”

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