Working remotely has many advantages and benefits, such as the flexibility and lower costs incurred in commuting to work, or paying for high-priced food at the workplace (which rarely meets quality standards or offers nutritional value). And as someone who has completed part of their studies online, students have the advantage of taking lessons on a flexible schedule and at their own pace, and professors and teachers can grade and teach at any time of the day without hindrance.
The Covid-19 pandemic has not only affected our lifestyles, but also the way we work and study, and currently over 16% of businesses globally are fully remote and the number of global enrollments online learning more than doubled in 2020, growing 32% to 189 million online students, per World Economic Forum.
However, to speculate that because Covid-19 is on the decline remote working or learning will disappear is far from true. A report by Owl Labs published in Forbes indicates that 90% of full-time workers who worked from home said they were more productive working remotely, and 74% said it was better for their mental health. Additionally, employers have also benefited (in my opinion, more than employees) from remote work as they outsource tasks to cheaper labor, experience less turnover, and incur fewer costs. associated with office expenses.
The Forbes article further indicates that remote work will increase in 2023, and the aforementioned statistics explain why – but, at what cost?
Physical activity and obesity
Remote work can be detrimental, especially to your health, if not managed properly. In fact, the World Health Organization has published a report that working from home poses many health problems, such as obesity, overweight and physical inactivity, which pose a risk of diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, depression and anxiety. (WHO, 2021). Physical inactivity and obesity, in addition to lack of vitamin D due to staying indoors, pose critical health problems in people. The main causes of obesity in remote workers include:
• Working long hours: Recently, I read an article from Harvard Business explaining how remote workers work longer hours than those who work in physical premises, and it was unfortunately relevant and true. Working from home is like having an office “everywhere you go”, because there are no limits to access to work tools and their use.
• Indulging in unhealthy foods and overeating throughout the day: As a working-from-home employee or employer, you have plenty of food, snacks, and supply chain systems like maids or children or acquaintances at your disposal, ready to go to the nearest supermarket or restaurant, without forgetting the fast service that Vuba Vuba offers by delivering fast food. Any money you would have spent on fuel or transportation is readily available to deter you from yawning out of small hunger, as you are not even aware of the recent rise in fuel prices and inflation at the global scale that have affected employers working locally.
• Lack of physical exercise: Since there is no transportation to get to work or school, most remote workers and students who do not exercise are more prone to to the harmful effects of physical inactivity than physically inactive workers on site. This poses a big threat to most and is more likely to cause health problems that can affect their children as well.
• Lack of motivation due to stress and anxiety: online work is not child’s play as most people assume: the tasks are complex, new technologies are invented every day and it takes stay up to date by mastering this skill so that they are not excluded from the job market.
How to stay healthy as a remote worker
• Get enough sleep: Getting enough sleep is important for everyone, regardless of occupation or level of physical activity. The benefits of adequate sleep include brain health and muscle growth. The Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC) recommends that Rwandans get at least 7-9 hours of sleep per day (RBC, 2019). Getting enough sleep improves our health and increases our productivity at work.
• Exercise: Exercise, especially for remote workers, is vital and less expensive than many guesses. You can decide to do push-ups, jog, walk in the morning or evening, or jump rope before and/or after work – and if you have access to it, swimming is part of the sports the healthiest. When done regularly, these physical activities tend to be more beneficial to health than lifting 100 kilogram weights.
• Drink enough water: Water is essential to prevent kidney disease, high blood pressure and prevent dehydration which causes confused thoughts and reduced productivity at work or school. Drinking 3.7 and 2.7 liters for men and women, respectively, is scientifically proven to be the adequate amount of fluid to consume per day.
• Eat a regular balanced diet: Regularly eating foods that contain all the dietary values like protein, carbohydrates and vitamins, in reasonable amounts, has been shown to have a lot of benefits for you like preventing disease by increasing body immunity.
• Rest and take regular breaks: Taking breaks from work, school, and daily chores also has health benefits.
So, should telework or telework be avoided? No way! Remote work has many benefits, both health and financial, and the adverse health effects that come with it are the result of poor health habits. Some of the health benefits of working remotely include work-life balance, as one has time to spend with family, friends, and loved ones; healthier eating habits like eating fresh cooked foods and vegetables, and more.
If you are considering starting or applying for a remote or school job, don’t worry, but you will benefit more if you prioritize your physical, mental, emotional, social and environmental health in addition to to meet or exceed performance.
The author is in healthcare management, with a concentration in global health perspectives.