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Sunday, March 26, 2023
MADRID, Feb 4 2022 (IPS) - Now it comes to teleworking, the double-edged, relatively recent phenomenon imposed by COVID-19 lockdowns. On the one hand, it improves work-life balance, opportunities for flexible working hours and physical activity, reduced traffic and commuting time, and a decrease in air pollution. So far so good, but…
… But, on the other hand, teleworking has also heavy negative impacts: it can lead to isolation, burnout, depression, domestic violence, musculoskeletal and other injuries, eye strain, an increase in smoking and alcohol consumption, prolonged sitting and screen time and unhealthy weight gain.
A new technical brief on healthy and safe teleworking, jointly released on 2 February 2022, by the World Health Organization (WHO), and the International Labour Organization (ILO) adds on this regard the changes needed to accommodate the shift towards different forms of remote work arrangements brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the digital transformation of work.
Among the benefits, the report says, teleworking can also lead to higher productivity and lower operational costs for many companies.
However, the report warns that without proper planning, organisation and health and safety support the impact of teleworking on the physical and mental health and social wellbeing of workers can be significant.
“The pandemic has led to a surge of teleworking, effectively changing the nature of work practically overnight for many workers”, said Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, WHO.
Pros and cons
In the nearly two years since the start of the pandemic, it’s become very clear that teleworking can easily bring health benefits and it can also have a dire impact, she said.
“Which way the pendulum swings depends entirely on whether governments, employers and workers work together and whether there are agile and inventive occupational health services to put in place policies and practices that benefit both workers and the work.”
For her part, Vera Paquete-Perdigão, Director of the ILO’s Governance and Tripartism Department, said that teleworking and particularly hybrid working are here to stay and are likely to increase after the pandemic, as both companies and individuals have experienced its feasibility and benefits.
What to do?
“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 that millions of teleworkers have healthy, happy, productive and decent work.”
Measures that should be put in place by employers include ensuring that workers receive adequate equipment to complete the tasks of the job; providing relevant information, guidelines and training to reduce the psychosocial and mental health impact of teleworking; training managers in effective risk management, distance leadership and workplace health promotion; and establishing the “right to disconnect” and sufficient rest days.
According to the joint report, occupational health services should be enabled to provide “ergonomic, mental health and psychosocial support to teleworkers using digital telehealth technologies, the report says and offers practical recommendations for the organisation of telework to meet the needs of both workers and organisations.”
These include discussing and developing individual teleworking work plans and clarifying priorities; being clear about timelines and expected results; agreeing on a common system to signal availability for work; and ensuring that managers and colleagues respect the system, explains the WHO/ILO study.
“Enterprises with teleworkers should develop special programmes for teleworking, combining measures for the management of work and performance with information and communication technologies and adequate equipment, and occupational health services for general health, ergonomic and psychosocial support.”
Already in September 2021, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the following key findings regarding teleworking:
In view of all the above, teleworking is a two-faced coin and, anyway, should be accompanied by the needed measures aiming at protecting the remote working environment, which is here to stay.
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