Work From Home: New Health Risks Come With the New Normal

August 12th, 2020  by  Annie Barton

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect “normal life,” work from home becomes routine. The workplace has changed overnight--from open seating to your kitchen table. For some, it may be here to stay. Many companies like Facebook and Twitter have announced the option to work from home permanently beyond COVID-19. A Gallup poll in April found 65% of employees were working from home due to COVID-19. Global Workplace Analytics estimates 56% of U.S. workers have jobs that can be done from home and predicts around 25-30% of the workforce will be working from home several days a week by the end of 2021.

With remote work here to stay, new health risks have been identified. We conducted a survey of 900+ US full-time and part-time workers in June, 2020 to find out how they’re faring in terms of their physical and mental health. Download full report "New Health Risks in the Remote Workplace" here.

The state of remote work during COVID-19

Gone are commutes, office happy hours, and open seating. Instead, the workplace looks more like your dining room or kitchen table with your pet dog as your closest desk buddy. Two-thirds of respondents said they were currently working from home. And the majority are rookie remote workers with 78% temporarily working from their home office due to COVID-19 workplace policies and only 17% calling themselves permanent or regular remote workers.

The home office isn’t quite up to workplace standards

Because the transition to WFH was so immediate, employees are working in substandard conditions in makeshift offices. Most employees are camped out in shared living spaces like their dining room, living room, bedroom, or even laundry room. Only roughly a third boast of having dedicated office space in a separate room. While over half of those surveyed indicated they spend the majority of their time working at a desk, the dining table was the second most popular and couch the third likely place.

The challenges: Social isolation & lack of movement

Social isolation and loneliness tops the list of challenges for remote workers with 37% of survey respondents citing it as their top issue with remote work. Without casual hallway chats or happy hours after work, employees are missing key social interaction with their colleagues.

Skipping the commute and sitting in endless video calls also means many employees are suffering from a lack of physical activity and movement during their typical remote work day. In the old office life, employees used to walk as part of their commute, step out to grab lunch, or dash between meeting rooms in their office building. In today’s remote workplace, people are likely sitting at their desks most of the day--only moving back and forth from the kitchen to their desk for the occasional snack. Lack of movement was the second top challenge for remote workers, with 35% saying they aren’t moving enough.

Finally, it’s not surprising that difficulties separating work and personal life came in third on the list, with 1/3 citing this as a challenge with remote work.

The state of employee health in the remote workplace

Working from home is taking a toll on employees’ back and joint pain

Since people started working in makeshift home offices with minimal movement, it’s not surprising this more sedentary lifestyle is having an impact on employees’ back and joint pain. In our survey, 45% said they are experiencing back and joint pain since they started working from home. 71% said the pain has either gotten worse or it’s a new pain they’re experiencing since working from home.

Remote work is also impacting employee mental health

With social isolation and loneliness topping the list of challenges for remote workers during COVID-19, mental health is also a growing issue for employees. Almost half (48%) of survey respondents said they’re experiencing stress, anxiety, and depression since working from home. And 73% said their stress, anxiety, and depression have worsened or is a new experience they’re feeling since remote work due to COVID-19.

Makeshift offices, lack of movement, and social isolation are increasing chronic musculoskeletal pain and mental health issues among the workforce. With remote work as the new normal, employers and health plans will need to address these emerging health risks to enhance employee well-being. To see more data on how working from home is affecting employees’ physical and mental health, read the full survey report.

Annie Barton

About the Author

Annie Barton is a Marketing Associate at Hinge Health. She is originally from Chicago and recently graduated from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. She has a background in exercise science and loves applying her knowledge to Hinge Health Blogs and living an active lifestyle. When not in the office, you'll find her doing ballet or cooking for her family and friends.

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Learn about the increasing health risks posed by the remote workplace that are largely being left untreated. Download Survey Report