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Mind your health if working online

shutterstock_379997869The traditional office is “under attack” with many business owners now allowing their employees the choice of where they want to base their working day.

Using remote access employees can connect to their “mothership office” via video calls from home,or coffee bars, airport lounges, the beach or the bach. With greater work and home life flexibility many employees can now choose to work anywhere, anytime.

Remote access can be good for business

It’s not only small businesses working in this way.

In 2013 a US federal government report found that 47% of its 1,020,034 employees were involved in some form of work using remote access also known as telecommunicating or telework.

A report from CBI in the UK in 2011 reported that 59% of employees worked remotely (up from 13% in 2006) and this modus operandi offered many advantages to businesses.

A reduction in fixed costs

With staff working from home business owners can down size their central office space reducing their fixed costs and office overheads.

With more flexible staffing arrangements some work may be outsourced during busy periods creating more job opportunities for employees, possibly less pressure on existing staff and certainly greater opportunity to recruit staff on an “as needed basis” thereby reducing fixed labour costs.

Business growth

The flexibility relating to place of work, working times, pay and status and opportunity to work across different boundaries can give growing businesses access to markets they might otherwise not have.

Satisfied staff

Employees reported feeling less stressed and felt well-connected with their colleagues

Time and money spent commuting to work each day could be channelled into getting jobs finished faster and on time.

Companies reported less absenteeism, it gave employees more choice to balance their life and work particularly if also caring for young children and employees reported more job satisfaction.

Protecting the health of teleworkers

While working remotely does offer benefits for business is it good for your health and what needs to happen to make it so?

Employees work longer hours

The CBI study found that employees often work longer hours when working at home rather than in an office. So it is important to set a routine for work, meetings and breaks as well as factoring in holidays and “catchup times” to recover particularly if working on large or demanding projects.

Stress can be greater

While it may be convenient to juggle children and work within daylight hours it can mean later nights in order to meet work deadlines and this can not only increase family conflict but also leave the employee feeling exhausted and “burnt out”.

Sleep deprivation

Quite apart from the emotional turmoil and exhaustion of trying to balance the demands of home and work, sleep deprivation is associated with ill-health. Weight gain, sexual dysfunction, greater risk of miscarriage are just some of the side effects experienced with a lack of sleep and disturbance to the appetite controlling hormones gherlin, leptin and cortisol.

Muscular health and fatigue

When working in an office labour regulations govern health and safety standards. These stipulate the provision of ergonomically approved equipment; such as the height of desks, chairs and work stations, good lighting and ventilation; as being the responsibility of the employer.

When working remotely (unless by prior arrangement) the responsibility for working place set up tends to rest solely with the employee. As working at a computer can be monotonous, repetitive work, employees may be at risk of muscle and joint strain, repetitive strain injury (RSI) headache, fatigue, muscle tension and eye strain. Suitable working conditions are therefore important to the maintenance of good health and need to be considered when setting up home office space.

Security, safety and privacy issues

It is important for there to be a clear division between home and work space to protect the personal life of remote workers and also the confidentiality of work projects. This can become particularly important when companies work across different time zones and boundaries. E.g. Phone calls and faxes in the middle of the night can disturb the sleep of other family members.

Weight and cholesterol control

While the temptation of big work morning teas and birthday shouts may be removed by working at home it is still easy to rove to the refrigerator or pantry for snacks if bored or “stuck” in a work problem. If grazing on high fat, high salt/sugar snacks (particularly if late at night) then this can negatively impact on body weight and cholesterol levels.

People working remotely need to maintain regular meal times throughout the day, also stop every hour or so for a drinks break to maximise hydration and have regular medical checkups with their GP..

Mental health issues

Isolation and loneliness can impact on mental health. Working from home can be socially isolating. So it is really important to take time out to keep in touch with friends and family.

When working remotely there is a lack of opportunity for teleworkers to chat informally“on the fly” with colleagues about problems as may have occurred at a central office while they were standing in an elevator at the water cooler or photocopier. So it is important professionally for teleworkers to stay in contact with work colleagues, to network, attend workshops, training sessions and group meetings so as to build trusting relationships with others and to stay up to date with changes going on in their profession or industry.

Support Systems

It is important to have a mentor. Not only professionally to ensure that the business stays on track but also personally to have someone to confide in if the balance between home and business becomes blurred and there is a need for a“different perspective” on work or home issues to offer backup and support.

Exercise is important

Working remotely can involve hours sitting at a computer which can lead to increased risk of obesity, diabetes, muscular problems and heart disease. Getting into an exercise routine each day that can fit around work and home commitments is important . E.g. going to the gym before breakfast or a walk through the park for coffee each morning,can provide some structure and relief from a busy working day.

Keep setting goals

Studies of those who work remotely have found that many teleworkers have times when they find it hard to begin working, to keep working once started and to avoid procrastination. Maintaining motivation can be difficult.

This may be overcome with promotion, if given more autonomy and better training in problem solving, decision making, time management and goal setting.

Just as managers might set goals in an office and work targets it is also important for teleworkers to set health and fitness goals for themselves. This might involve training for a bike ride or half marathon on in fact anything that takes them out of their normal comfort zone and reminds them that they are still “alive”.

If you work online for yourself or a company and would like to assess your current nutritional health for better mental and physical performance then contact us today.

For more ideas read other articles by Lea on similar topics:

Break free from procrastination for better health
Is stress making us fat?
Tips to move you off the couch
Accept responsibility for your own success
Are you a sneaky snacker?
Find optimism for goal success

References

Navigating choppy waters. CBI/Harvey Nash Employment Trends Survey 2011 http://www.cbi.org.uk/media/955608/2011.06-navigating_choppy_waters_-_employment_trends_survey.pdf

Golden T.D, Altering the effects of work and family conflict on exhaustion:telework during traditional and non-traditional work hours Journal Business Psychology Nov 2011.
http://www.ts-si.org/files/doi101007s1086901192470.pdf

Huuhtanen P. The health and safety issues for Teleworkers in the European Union. A consolidated report. European foundation for the improvement of living and working conditions http://pendientedemigracion.ucm.es/info/seas/estres_lab/informes/Informe%20europeo%20Health%20&%20Safety%20Issues%20for%20Teleworkers.pdf

Hardimen N. Ten good reasons why working remotely makes sense. TechRepubllic http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/10-things/10-good-reasons-why-working-remotely-makes-sense/

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »

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