Working from home took on new meaning in 2020, as millions of office-based employees and contractors traded hours-long commutes for short walks between the bedroom and kitchen table — or, in the best cases, a dedicated home office.

Upsides to this COVID-induced necessity were plentiful: working from home enabled many individuals to spend more time with their families, take care of personal errands during business hours and pursue their outside interests. While the transition to work-at-home life was stressful for many workers — like parents, who struggled to balance the demands of childrearing with work deadlines and to-do lists — many came to prefer life at home, clocking into the “office” in the most convenient way possible.

But research suggests there may also be some downsides to remote working, especially when it comes to worker health. A survey of more than 10,000 working individuals identified significant health problems resulting from telework during the pandemic. Respondents reported:

  • Feeling less connected to colleagues (67%)
  • Taking less exercise (46%)
  • Developing musculoskeletal problems (39%)
  • Poor sleep (37%)
  • Difficulties feeling motivated to work (36%)

These are important data to consider, as the emergence of the Delta variant has curtailed organizations’ “back to work” plans, and employers must now address how remote workers can continue telecommuting full time or on a hybrid basis without compromising their health. Because of remote work’s popularity, employers may be surprised by the health problems connected to working from home. As studies suggest, these range from the physical, such as lower back pain, to the mental, such as depression and anxiety.

Staying connected, productive and engaged
Here are three practices employers can leverage to optimize health and wellness for their remote workforce:

  1. Keep regular virtual meetings on the calendar. Zoom calls flourished during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Considering so many previously office-based workers are now opting to stay home, they should stay on the calendar. Regular face time between home-based workers and managerial staff provide much-needed interactions that can offset feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  2. Address ergonomic barriers to optimal working conditions. A recent survey showed that 45% of respondents reported experiencing back and joint pain since they started working from home, while 71% said the pain has either gotten worse or it’s a new pain they’re experiencing since working from home. This suggests that workers could use a little help in selecting physically supportive chairs and desks.
  3. Promote sleep health and regular exercise. A well-rested and fit remote worker is more productive and satisfied than an exhausted one. Consider new ways of encouraging workers to improve both their sleep quality and their fitness. The right rewards programs, too, can also incentivize workers to partake in fitness challenges and health assessments.