Telework & Well-being Integration: Physical Health

In a recent study, non-teleworkers were at greater risk for obesity, alcohol abuse, physical inactivity and tobacco use than teleworkers. Nonetheless, there are various implications of telework on physical health, and employers must understand the issues to mitigate potential risks.

January 09, 2020

This resource is intended for use by well-being practitioners, work-life and telework program managers, leaders at all levels, and other stakeholders interested in championing flexibility and shaping the future of work.

In a recent study, non-teleworkers were at greater risk for obesity, alcohol abuse, physical inactivity and tobacco use than teleworkers.12 Nonetheless, there are various implications of telework on physical health, and employers must understand the issues to mitigate potential risks.

ADVANTAGES

  • Improved physical and cardiorespiratory fitness
  • Reduced health risks associated with exposure to poor air quality
  • Slowed spread of communicable diseases
  • Fewer traffic accidents, saving lives and related costs

CHALLENGES

  • Lack of risk controls for ergonomic injuries
  • Potential for less movement than employees with an active commute or those who move around the office to engage with colleagues

Ergonomics

Because ergonomic injuries are widespread and costly, most large employers have a formal ergonomics program. Home offices may not be primed with the same risk controls provided in the office, such as ergonomically designed workstationsand proper lighting. Chairs without proper lumbar support, improper monitor and keyboard height or mouse position, no or hard armrests and a reliance on laptop keyboards can all contribute to musculoskeletal disorders.

Physical Activity

Commute distance is negatively associated with physical and cardiorespiratory fitness: “Lower the commute, increase the fitness.” On the other hand, employees with an active commute, such as those who walk or bike, and those who move around the office to engage with colleagues may find they move more overall during the day than when they’re teleworking.

Exposure to Poor Air Quality

When air quality conditions are poor, especially during periods of extreme heat, employees can telework to reduce health risks, while also doing their part to improve air quality by driving less.

Spread of Disease

Telework can be used to help slow the spread of disease by keeping face-to-face contact to a minimum. Telework may be particularly valuable during influenza season and/or a pandemic.

Traffic accidents

According to Global Workplace Analytics, if the 50 million Americans with compatible jobs and a desire to work from home teleworked for half of their time, it would save 1,500 lives and over $11 billion a year in costs related to traffic accidents.

Research shows longer commutes can have negative effects on well-being, including increased rates of obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, back and neck pain, divorce, depression and death.20

Learn More

Employer Practices for Integrating Physical Health and Telework: Well-being Benefits & Tech Solutions


Well-being Benefits & Tech Solutions

  • Offer a variety of digital lifestyle and condition management services based on workforce needs through vendors like Hello Heart, Livongo and Virta; learn about the latest solutions available through the Business Group’s Health Innovations Forum.
  • Offer a gym subsidy for employees without access to on-site fitness facilities, and/or negotiate a corporate discount to a national gym franchise.
  • Offer virtual ergonomic assessments of telework spaces; and if the results indicate a need, provide teleworkers with an ergonomic chair.
  • Provide teleworkers with equipment and/or a stipend to purchase equipment or furniture for their telework space.
  • Offer biometric screenings through a voucher program, at-home screening kit and/or technician screening at the teleworker’s home.
  • Provide virtual health coaching services for teleworkers.

New Policies & Practices

  • Recruit teleworkers to be wellness champions.
  • Tailor messaging and resources to teleworkers (e.g., information about how to be healthy at home, recognition for teleworker participation in physical health activities through photos, etc.).
  • Ensure policies or programs promote physical activity for frequent travelers (e.g., a policy permitting reimbursement for day passes to local gyms, national agreements with hotel chains with on-site fitness facilities).
  • Ensure on-site fitness activities, challenges and physical health events allow for virtual participation and/or have a virtual alternative; for example, if an employer is hosting a 5K, they should encourage teleworkers to walk/run a 5k in their local community.
  • Educate teleworkers about ergonomics through online trainings and resources, such as a safety checklist (U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Telework Safety Checklist, Telework!VA Office Safety Checklist).
  • Encourage teleworkers to be vaccinated in nontraditional settings, such as pharmacies.

New Employee Habits to Encourage

  • Take regular breaks to stand and move, and use calendar alarms, a wellness-related app and/or wearable fitness devices as reminders.
  • Use time saved by not commuting to engage in physical activity.

Next Steps

Recruit teleworkers as wellness champions and solicit their feedback on current and new benefits to promote physical health. Create an action plan to improve the engagement of teleworkers in physical health benefits and initiatives.

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