Study outlines ways to improve WFH

A new umbrella study of working from home shows mixed results and recommends several ways to reduce homeworking.

woman working at home on the computer


A one-size-fits-all approach to homeworking is impractical as a large-scale study and review of evidence finds mixed results, with positive health and productivity benefits for many.

The study, Experiences of working from home: umbrella review, by the Health Defence Agency and King’s College London involved a large-scale umbrella review. Published reviews of studies that used a systematic process, were focused on working from home populations, and detailed factors that could be related to the personal experience of homeworking (including barriers, facilitators, advantages and disadvantages) were included. A total of 1,930 records were screened and six review articles were included. Nineteen themes were considered, ranging from working environment such as workplace design and personal impact such as career impact to health.

The study, published in the Journal of Occupational Health, found mixed findings for nearly all included themes, highlighting the need to consider individual and contextual circumstances when researching working from home.

When it comes to workplace environment, the jury is out on, for instance, WFH’s impact on back pain, but the report highlighted the need for training in homeworking. As for career impact, one review examined the impact of homeworking on working relationships and claimed that teleworkers potentially experience social and professional exclusion alongside loneliness and disconnection. Studies on health also showed mixed findings when it comes to healthy eating, exercise and mental health.

The study makes several recommendations including:

  • Employers should ensure that staff have the right equipment and training to work safely and comfortably from home. They could develop online assessments of workplace ergonomics and, where problems are identified, suggest tips for rectifying them. Where necessary organisations should provide additional equipment if it is financially viable to do so.
  • Employers and employees should recognise that taking regular breaks from work is helpful and should be proactive in doing this, for example, sending regular reminders to take break and providing information justifying the need for this and describing the benefits of taking regular breaks to staff.
  • Managers should be setting examples and acting as role models for healthy behaviour, including taking time off when ill. This could be communicated through regular catch-ups with employees in which managers make clear that they themselves are taking breaks, are booking and taking leave and only working within their scheduled hours unless otherwise arranged.
  • Staff asked to WFH should be provided with adequate resources and guidance about how to maintain their mental health and psychological resilience. To do this, homeworkers would require tailored guidance specifically about WFH. This could include acknowledgment of the benefits and challenges associated with homeworking, and emphasising maintaining healthy behaviours such as taking breaks whilst WFH.
  • Line managers and employers should be proactive in encouraging and providing time for team and organisation social activities as a non-mandatory activity. For example, using regular team meetings, “water cooler” type online informal chats, or just regular catch-ups. Employers should be proactive in establishing team-building social activities that can be carried out online to build team rapport.
  • For new starters specifically, managers should seek to allow new team members to feel fully integrated and comfortable in their working role. This could be through arranging online social engagement opportunities and group activities to build rapport and social connection. Additionally, ensuring induction activities are adapted to the online context for new starters is important.
  • After a prolonged period of WFH, employers and line managers should explore the feasibility of WFH for individual workers and their circumstances. For example, in terms of living situations or working preferences, to ensure that appropriate informed decisions can be made as to whether people go back to work, stay at home, or have a hybrid arrangement.
  • Managers should recognise the differences between WFH and office working and take account of this when role planning with their staff. Organisations and managers proactively showing support for employees is also recommended.

The study concludes: “[Our] findings indicate that WFH is a situation that differs greatly between individuals due to individual circumstances and contextual factors. This results in the need for a deeper understanding of the WFH context on a case-by-case basis, as managers need to understand they cannot simply give the same advice and guidance to all staff using a one-size-fits-all approach, as individual circumstances limit their application. Essentially, WFH requires more flexibility compared with office working, and requires forethought for making adaptations based on employees’ unique circumstances.”

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