Working from home – is it a good or bad thing?

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A review of academic papers suggests the impact of homeworking on employees’ wellbeing, productivity and working relationships often depends on a variety of personal contextual factors, making it essential for managers to consult workers individually to identify how best to support them.

As of the 16 March 2020, the UK public was asked to ‘work from home if you can’ due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. The following month, nearly half of those in employment reported they were indeed working from home (WFH). Similar, rapid changes to WFH were also reported in half of the US workforce (in May 2020) and across Europe (in July 2020).

Photograph: iStock/triloks

Research done prior to the pandemic showed that WFH could be received both positively and negatively by workers. The positives were often reported as being related to providing more opportunities, including increased flexibility, or the elimination of commuting time. However, WFH also caused difficulties, such as problems setting boundaries between work and home life or having constant connectively to the workplace.

Unsurprisingly, the Covid pandemic sparked a substantial increase in interest in WFH and related constructs (for example, telework, telecommuting). As part of my PhD research, I, Charlotte Hall, collated current research findings on WFH with a focus on establishing advantages, and what made working from home easy, as well as disadvantages and what made homeworking more difficult. My aim was to collate evidence in order to generate a series of recommendations to aid WFH in the future.

I chose to carry out an umbrella review, which is essentially a review of review articles; this was the second step of my PhD project. Choosing this method allowed me to collate and summarise findings from a vast number of papers (i.e. all of those included in each review) in a succinct way. In total, I screened 1,930 records, and ended up including six review articles covering 19 different topics related to WFH, looking at working environments as well as personal and health impacts.

Review findings

Within the category of working environment, the review established that using inadequate or unergonomic furniture (for example, small desktop space, insufficient backrest support); working longer periods without taking breaks; and lack of training in homeworking were common negative factors associated with WFH.

Photograph: iStock/miniseries

Other physical health factors, such as pain and musculoskeletal issues, were presented mainly in a negative light. The review also indicated that those who work from home often did not prioritise their own health. It appears that one reason for this is that workers reported finding WFH being so beneficial that they perceive their health problems to be trivial in comparison with having to work in an office. For this reason, they continued to work despite being ill.

Within the mental health and wellbeing category, we found consistently mixed results. We therefore conclude that the relationship between mental health and homeworking is much more complex than media organisations often suggest, and there appear to be many personal contextual factors (for example, number of dependants at home, work demands) which influence the relationship between WFH and health.

For instance, reporting a feeling of isolation was viewed by some as positive and others as negative, depending on individual preference of working style (for example, individual characteristics, or attitude towards technology).

Within the personal impact category, one more consistent finding was that general working relationships were found to be negatively impacted by homeworking. Workers reported more superficial connections with colleagues and feelings of workplace exclusion. However, findings related to work–life balance were mixed depending on whether a worker felt they had developed a balance between work and home life. This appeared to be influenced by several factors, including feeling of control over how one’s work was done and the sort of institutional setting the person usually worked in (for example, open plan or single office, always on the road etc).

Often WFH was thought to impede career progression. While it was sometimes viewed as having an impact on productivity, such as for those who were parents or carers, others felt considerably more productive at home.

Charlotte Hall is a PhD student working with the Emergency Preparedness and Response Health Protection Research Unit.

Our results show that there are winners and losers when it comes to WFH. It is vital not to draw any single conclusion about WFH. What’s important is that managers take account of our results and speak to individual workers to identify how best to support them should they be WFH or not. Many of the suggestions we make about homeworking are also highly relevant for office working.

However, the context of remote working poses different challenges for managers who are used to working in an office environment; unsurprisingly this means that additional training and a period of ‘adjustment’ to new working practices are required. Successful employers will ensure that managers proactively engage with staff and establish their individual circumstances in order to provide a tailored approach.


  1. Equipment: Employers should ensure that staff have the right equipment and training to work safely and comfortably from home. Workplace safety and comfort is easily appraised in the office, but it is more difficult to assess employees’ homes.

How to: Online assessments of workplace ergonomics could be used. When problems are      identified, tips for rectifying these problems could be provided as part of the results of the assessment, and where necessary organisations should provide additional equipment if it is financially viable to do so.

  1. Taking breaks: Employers and employees should recognise that taking regular breaks from all work is helpful; however, ensuring workers take breaks is more difficult when WFH.

How to: Employers should be proactive in sending regular reminders (for example, using emails, staff newsletters, informal chats with managers) for employees to take regular breaks.

  1. Role models: Managers should set an example and act as role models for healthy behaviours. All employees should view homeworking just as they would office working and take regular breaks, taking leave, including sickness leave, when required, and avoiding extensive sedentary behaviour.

How to: Managers should be proactive in displaying good behaviour and finding ways to communicate such behaviours in the WFH context.

  1. Training: Employees asked to WFH should be provided with adequate resources and guidance about how to maintain their mental and physical health and psychological resilience.

How to: Homeworkers require tailored guidance specifically about WFH. This could include acknowledgment of benefits and challenges associated with homeworking and emphasising maintaining healthy behaviours while WFH.

  1. Working relationships: Line managers and employers should be proactive in encouraging and providing time for team and organisational social activities in a non-mandatory way.

How to: This can be done in many ways; for example, using regular team meetings, ‘water cooler’ type online informal chats, or just regular catchups.

  1. New starters: For new employees, managers should seek to allow new team members to feel fully integrated and comfortable in their working role.

How to: This could be through arranging online social engagement opportunities (for example, short one-to-one introductory meetings with team members), and group activities to build rapport and social connection. Ensuring induction activities are adapted to the online context for new starters is important.

  1. Accepting challenges: Managers need to recognise the differences between WFH and office working and take account of this when role planning how to connect with their staff.

How to: In the context of a pandemic invoking a transition to working from home in the future, a first step would be to ensure employees have suitable and designated time to discuss career progression, future goals, and opportunities with managers to aid employee progression.

  1. Respecting choices: After a prolonged period of WFH, employers and line managers should explore the feasibility of ongoing WFH for individual workers and their circumstances. For example, in terms of living situations, or working preferences, a personalised discussion between a supervisor and a worker can ensure that appropriately informed decisions are made about working arrangements.

Charlotte Hall is a PhD student with the Emergency Preparedness and Response Health Protection Research Unit⃰  and Neil Greenberg is professor of Defence Mental Health at King’s College London.

Experiences of working from home: umbrella review can be found at:


Contact Charlotte Hall at:

[email protected]

Contact Neil Greenberg at:

[email protected]

Please note: This research was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Emergency Preparedness and Response, a partnership between the UK Health Security Agency, King’s College London and the University of East Anglia. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR, UKHSA or the Department of Health and Social Care.

* The Emergency Preparedness and Response Health Protection Research Unit is a collaboration between the UK Health Security Agency and King’s College London.


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