WHO Warns Against Teleworking Dangers Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned against the negative effects and dangers of teleworking or working from home amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The public health agency also called for crucial changes to protect the overall health of employees engaging in distance working. 

Dangers Of Teleworking

Although working from home has opened the doors to more flexible working hours and lower operational costs for many companies, it is not free from drawbacks. The setup can lead to isolation, burnout, depression and even trigger home violence, the WHO stated in a new report published on its website Wednesday. 

The agency also listed some physical problems that are likely to emerge after long hours of working on desks, including musculoskeletal and other injuries, eye strain and certain body pains due to prolonged sitting. Working from home was also found to increase smoking and alcohol consumption and cause unhealthy weight gain. 

“The pandemic has led to a surge of teleworking, effectively changing the nature of work practically overnight for many workers. In the nearly two years since the start of the pandemic, it’s become very clear that teleworking can as easily bring health benefits, and it can also have dire impact,” said Dr. Maria Neira, the director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at the WHO.  

Distance Working In The Pandemic

In the early months of the global health crisis, companies and employers turned to telework to resume their operations amid the threats posed by the novel coronavirus. In an article written by Laura Vanderkam for Fortune in August 2020, she discussed the dangers that came with the sudden transition of the work setup for most companies. 

Remote work has been around way before the pandemic happened. But it was implemented rapidly and adopted by more employers during the lockdowns. As a result, many employees found it hard to set boundaries between their work and non-working time. 

“The real danger is that without a physical separation between work and the rest of life, people won’t ever stop working—risking burnout, which has huge costs for employees and their organizations,” Vanderkam wrote. 

In March 2021, The Guardian published a letter discussing the dangers of homeworking and isolation as more and more people have become used to the setup and have slowly accepted that teleworking would be the new normal for as long as the pandemic is around. 

The British publication noted that social isolation was the major factor affecting the mental health of many people amid the global health crisis and the lockdowns. However, research showed that many people still liked the remote working setup because it gave the impression that employees can decide “when and how to work.”

Crucial Changes Needed

Since it remains uncertain when the pandemic will end, the WHO has called for changes to the teleworking landscape to ensure the health of workers and employers alike. Citing a new technical brief published by two UN agencies, the WHO said some changes should be put in place to accommodate different forms of remote work arrangements. 

Neira pointed out that policies and practices that “benefit both workers and the work” should be applied. Some of the measures singled out in the report include providing guidelines and training to reduce the mental, emotional and physical strain of distance working, ensuring that workers have the right equipment to carry out tasks, and establishing the “right to disconnect” on rest days. 

“Teleworking and particularly hybrid working are here to stay and will likely increase after the pandemic, as both companies and individuals alike have experienced its feasibility and benefits. 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,” said Vera Paquete-Perdigão, the director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Governance and Tripartism Department. 

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