More than two years since COVID-19 began disrupting office life around the world, crucial changes are needed to safeguard health while teleworking, two UN agencies said on Wednesday.
In a new technical brief on healthy and safe teleworking launched on Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) outline the health benefits and risks of remote work arrangements along with the measures needed to accommodate both the shift, and the ongoing digital transformation.
“The pandemic has led to a surge of teleworking, effectively changing the nature of work practically overnight for many workers”, said Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health.
Among the benefits, the report says, are an improved work–life balance; opportunities for flexible working hours and more physical activity; reduced traffic and commuting time; and a decrease in air pollution across urban areas.
These can all improve physical and mental health, and social wellbeing.
Moreover, teleworking can also lead to higher productivity and lower operating costs for many companies.
However, the report warns that without proper planning, organization and health and safety support, teleworking can lead to feelings of isolation, burnout, depression, eye strain, increased alcohol consumption and unhealthy weight gain.
“Which way the pendulum swings, depends entirely on whether governments, employers and workers, work together, and whether there are agile and inventive occupational health services to put in place policies and practices that benefit both workers and the work”, said Dr. Neira.
Settling into a ‘new normal’
As both companies and employees alike have experienced the benefits of home and hybrid work, the Director of ILO’s Governance and Tripartism Department, Vera Paquete-Perdigão, said that they are “here to stay and will likely increase after the pandemic”.
“As we move away from this ‘holding pattern’ to settle into a new normal, we have the opportunity to embed new supportive policies, practices and norms to ensure millions of teleworkers have healthy, happy, productive and decent work”, she said.
Occupational health services should be providing provide ergonomic, mental health and psychosocial support to teleworkers using digital telehealth technologies, the report says.
For example, employers should put measures in place to ensure that personnel receive adequate work-related equipment; relevant information and training to reduce the psychosocial impact of teleworking; and establish the “right to disconnect”.