If you’re one of the millions of employees who traded an office cubicle for a kitchen counter “workspace,” you might wonder if working from home is actually worse for your health than taking your chances with germs in your old office setting. That aching neck, accompanied by frayed nerves from listening to your children shriek in the background as you try to respond to your boss’ urgent email, may have you longing for the comfortable and relatively quiet office you had to abandon.
All of which may make you wonder if working from home is healthy. Or at least, is it healthier than a traditional office environment?
From the standpoint of reducing your exposure to germs (like the virus that causes COVID-19), your home definitely wins. At home, you’re rarely exposed to the germs other people can spread on every door handle, copy machine button, and communal refrigerator at the office.
But people displaced to home for work do report a number of physical and psychological effects related to this shift. Some people say they feel isolated and miss chatting with colleagues. Others feel pressure to be working 24 hours a day to prove they’re actually doing their job.
Some people report binge eating (and drinking) to cope with the stress of moving their workspace into the living room. And the physical challenges of typing on a laptop set up on a dining table or, worse, propped up on your lap while you work in bed, can lead to real muscle strain that could develop into a condition like carpal tunnel syndrome.
At the office, you can get up and stroll around throughout the day. In your much smaller home environment, you may find you don’t move around very much. That can lead to weight gain and, eventually, a higher risk for cardiovascular problems.
The good news is you can make your home a healthy place to work by adapting your behavior. Take breaks throughout the day to stretch your legs. Stock healthy snacks in the fridge to munch on. Put the wine glasses away until the weekend. Set a work schedule (say, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) and resist the temptation to respond to emails or other work tasks outside that schedule.
So, is home a healthy place to work? It depends on what you make of it.