COVID-19 has catalyzed an unprecedented storm of change in every aspect of our lives and in every industry imaginable. Some of these have crippled and stunted the way we lead our lives- but we humans are resourceful, and adaptability is what has kept us existing and constantly evolving for hundreds of thousands of years. We have taken the pandemic in our stride and every industry is finding a way to stay afloat and innovate. An excellent example is the entertainment industry which banked so much upon physical presence before 2020. Due to travel restrictions and the lockdown imposition that occurred all across the world, entertainers were forced to work from home. A shift happened. They started breaking into the world of vlogging and streaming. The work culture itself has evolved post-COVID. Though telecommuting is not a recent phenomenon, it has had its biggest spike quite recently.
Simply put, telecommuting is the practice of working an office job, just not in the office space- making use of the many modern tools at our disposal such as video calls, cloud storage, online collaboration tools, and so on. The average commute time in India is around 2 hours- that is a lot of stress for anyone to handle. Whether you are working from a coffee shop or your home; telecommuting removes the bothersome obstacle of commuting to the office. 88% of India’s workforce says they prefer working from home, with the youth making up a huge chunk of this population. In the US, there is overwhelming popular support for telecommuting. 75% of the total number of respondents to a survey reported that the main reason behind their support for telecommuting is the fact that it allows them to be more productive. 52% of the respondents said they felt more comfortable working from home.
The picture we have in front of us is one that foretells only growth. But this growth isn’t just related to saving time; telecommuting is the definitive answer to burn-outs and excessive exhaustion that ultimately can cause major health risks.
The Health Question in the Office Space
When it comes to your health, the office space is a Trojan horse- there’s never a guarantee that your desk is devoid of germs or other microbes, given the number of people in the office daily. More than that, you spend hours in front of a computer screen, typing away to no seeming end, enough to cause some serious health issues; some of which, are listed below:
1. Computer Vision Syndrome & Eyesight
Prolonged exposure to a computer screen has led to a rapid increase in an unusual visual-based disorder known as Computer Vision Syndrome or CVS. It is a complicated condition that manifests itself in the form of blurred vision, double vision, acute headaches and severe eye-irritation owing to dryness. That exposure has also led to the rapid deterioration of eyesight and visual clarity.
2. Chronic Body Pain
The human body was never built to stay immobile for long stretches of time. Slouching in front of a screen for over 40 hours a week is invariably going to take its toll. Spending that amount of time in a single place with improper lumbar support & sitting posture is the perfect recipe that leads to chronic pain issues in your neck and across your back.
3. Obesity & Weight Issues
Staying ‘idle’ (in terms of burning calories) for long periods of time is never a good sign for your health. Your metabolism deteriorates as you grow old, but the fact that you spend hours sitting in an office chair blows it out of the water. Staying idle annihilates your metabolism, making you gain weight fast and lose muscles easily. A big reason that office workers often turn out to be obese is that they never get enough exercise and end up consuming carb-heavy, fatty foods more often than not, in order to survive the incredibly fast-paced and deadline-driven lifestyle.
4. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Repeating the same motion over and over again can lead to some obvious wear and tear; more so if it is concentrated in a small area of your body, such as your hands. Continuous typing can lead to a tingling, numb sensation in your hands due to some damage to your nerves. Known in the medical world as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, this seemingly minor disorder has been haunting office workers for years.
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8 Health Benefits of Telecommuting
Telecommuting developed as a way to challenge the mainstream practice of working out of physical office spaces provided by employers. There are many benefits to this alternative lifestyle.
Physical Health Benefits of Telecommuting
Luckily, there are some key health benefits of telecommuting, as elaborated below, which can mitigate the harm caused by office culture.
1. Lowers Risk of Respiratory Issues
Spending hours in closed or heavily-polluted spaces is a ticket to respiratory and breathing difficulties like asthma and bronchitis owing to vehicular emission, closed workspace and so on. One of the health benefits of telecommuting is that you breathe in cleaner air which can positively affect pre-existing or predicted respiratory issues.
2. Increased Physical Activity
Telecommuting makes it much easier for you to balance out your schedule and create time to engage in physical activities such as working out, doing yoga or even going for a run or stroll to refresh your mind. Increased physical activity creates a defensive layer against disorders like CVS and CTS, making it one of the primary health benefits of telecommuting.
3. Improved Sleeping Pattern
Working a standard 9-to-5 can exhaust you to the point where you become sleep-deprived. Waking up early to commute to the office and finishing up an endless task list leaves no room for rest. One of the health benefits of telecommuting is that it saves enough time for us to be able to correct our sleep pattern and get the appropriate amount of rest and relaxation- a crucial factor in physical wellbeing.
4. Healthier Eating Habits
Perhaps one of the most significant health benefits of telecommuting is the effect it has on our diet. Most office-goers tend to bring heavy meals in their lunchboxes or order takeout, both of which are extremely harmful to your health. Telecommuting allows you to follow a proper diet, taking in the correct amount of nutrients instead of snacking on junk food to get through the day.
Mental Health Benefits of Telecommuting
The health benefits of telecommuting are not just limited to our physical well-being. It has a tangible and positive impact on our mental health as well, as illustrated below:
1. Reduced Levels of Stress
One of the key health benefits of telecommuting is the effect it has on stress. A normal day at work would see the average Indian spend 2 hours in commute and 8 hours in office, therefore spending almost half of their day under some form of stress. Telecommuting allows you to eliminate the stress of commute completely. It also makes the workload seem significantly less cumbersome and much more manageable as you have the freedom to work at your own pace.
2. Personalized Work Environment
Perhaps one of the underrated health benefits of telecommuting is the fact that it allows you to create your own work environment. Not everyone loves chatting in the office. Not everyone can handle the pressures associated with the office space. A personalized work environment makes an employee feel more comfortable with his work, therefore increasing productivity and happiness.
3. Freedom & Autonomy
Any office setup is a team- the needs of the team come before the needs of the individual. But oftentimes, the environment of the office is such that people end up losing their sense of identity and personal growth. One of the unquestionable health benefits of telecommuting is that it gives you the freedom to take out time for personal growth. Focusing on your own goals and taking a goal-oriented approach is deeply satisfying.
4. Work-Life Balance
Between getting ready for office, getting to office, and getting out of office, your life can feel like a blur. One of the key mental health benefits of telecommuting is the fact that it allows us to find that crucial work-life balance which we often lack. Not having to constantly be in an office environment allows us to separate our personal life from our professional life and avoid consequent issues like depression and anxiety.
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Is Telecommuting a Foolproof Alternative to Office Culture?
While the health benefits of telecommuting are varied and important, so are its negative health implications. A disconnected workforce can create chaos while working alone from your own workspace can foster feelings of loneliness, irritability, worry, guilt and anxiety. Not having to go to the office also means that now you can control more of your life.
You can control your diet choices, your sleeping patterns and what you do through the day when you are not working. Some people aren’t as goal-oriented as others might be; they might end up procrastinating, oversleeping, overeating and leading themselves towards a pit of health issues.
How to Overcome the Negative Health Implications of Telecommuting?
These issues can be tackled with two simple steps- following a daily schedule and increasing virtual communication.
The shift in work culture has really allowed the health benefits of telecommuting to shine through. What was previously represented by a very small group of people advocating for better work-life, has now opened an important conversation into the health of an office-going employee and the steps that can be taken to keep them hale and hearty. With the pandemic exposing the myriad health benefits of telecommuting, it is only a matter of time that this former trend becomes the contemporary norm.