Is SmartWorking Good for Your Health?
The world of work is changing. It’s not too long ago that a mandatory requirement for an office based role was a bum on a seat at a designated desk in a designated office between the hours of 9 to 5, Monday to Friday with very few exceptions.
There are still some businesses that operate this way. I would be surprised if they survive on this model much longer though. The modern worker is demanding more flexibility in their work schedule. The old school model that insists on 8 hours a day at a desk will not be able to compete with forward thinking businesses where the emphasis is on results, not the physical presence at a desk and the number of hours worked.
Research carried out by Deloitte in their Millennial Survey suggests that flexibility in the workplace is now the main reason for choosing an employer. Companies that wish to attract and retain talent will need to embrace a more flexible and SmartWorking model. The work itself should adapt to the life of the employee and not the other way around.
So, SmartWorking makes good business sense and it’s certainly a more flexible option for employees. How does it rate from a health perspective?
I believe there are 5 building blocks to a healthy and productive day at work, so let’s examine the role SmartWorking plays in relation to each of these building blocks:
Building Block #1 Get Sleep
Workers who have control over their working hours enjoy better health because they are less stressed and get more rest, according to a review conducted by researchers at the Wolfson Research Institute based at Durham University.
Another well-known study looked deeper into the health impact of a flexible working environment by following 608 employees at the headquarters of Best Buy in the US before and after a flexible “Results Only Work Environment” policy was implemented. The research showed that, on average, employees got an additional hour of sleep per work night after flexible hours were introduced (plus they were more likely to exercise).
Verdict: Absolutely no question that SmartWorking is good for your sleep patterns.
Building Block #2 Move More
This is an interesting one. Working from home or a local hub does not in itself generate more physical movement throughout the day. The motivation to move more and be more physically active still needs to come from the individual, regardless of where they are working from.
What SmartWorking can provide is more time. The commute is reduced or eliminated and therefore that time can be used instead for more positive activities i.e. exercise.
Those working from home perhaps need to be even more aware of their sedentary behavior. They should stand up and take a break from their desk at least every 30 to 40 minutes, get outside for some fresh air where possible and take a proper lunch break. Colleagues and meetings often provide interruptions in the office that lead to movement. However, that is not the case at home, so it is important to be conscious of this and take regular breaks throughout the day.
Verdict: More time means more scope for physical activity. However, the onus is still on the individual to incorporate exercise and movement into their routine.
Building Block #3 Eat Well
Similar to the above, SmartWorking doesn’t automatically lend itself to healthy eating. The individual still has to choose what to eat.
There are benefits though. Smart and flexible working can allow more time to make healthier choices. Often when we are busy and rushed it’s a lot easier to choose the quick and dirty option. Coffee shops and restaurants love to tease with the pastries and muffins within easy reach of the till.
If you’re working from home then you have access to your own fridge and cupboards, which are (hopefully) stocked with a balanced mix of nutritious foods. That little bit of extra time should allow you prepare some home cooked meals and healthy snacks throughout the day.
It’s great to see more and more healthy food options springing up, but it’s still hard to beat home cooked food. Plus you can save in your pocket as well by eating from home, so it’s win-win!
Verdict: Discipline still required to make healthy choices. However, the likelihood of eating well is increased thanks to SmartWorking.
Building Block #4 Stay Hydrated
This is a building block that is not impacted by your work location. Adults typically get about 20% of daily fluid intake from food (such as water rich vegetables and fruits). Therefore we should target roughly 70% of our daily fluid intake to come from water (that works out at a little over 2 litres for men and around 1.5 litres for women). The remaining 10% can be made up from other fluids taken in moderation such as coffee, teas, juices, milk, etc.
Staying hydrated, no matter where you are working from, will help you be more alert, focused and concentrated at your daily tasks.
Verdict: This building block doesn’t care about your work location!
Building Block #5 Stress Less
From hours of traffic jams to packed buses and trains, it’s no wonder commuting is one of the most stressful events in people’s lives.
Not only is stress not much fun, it’s also pretty bad for your health, so working from home or a hub can play a big part in reducing your overall stress levels simply by eliminating or reducing your daily commute.
Being in control of how you manage your time also reduces the need to cram in work between strict office hours, which only increases stress.
Let’s look at a few studies in this area:
A Canada Life survey of 1,000 adult employees in the UK found that only 17% of those who work from home are regularly affected by workplace stress compared to 37% of those working in cubicles and 32% of those who work in open plan offices. The report also found that 77% of employees felt flexible working promoted productivity.
In the same report nearly half (46%) of employees working from home said they were not anxious or stressed about work compared to less than a fifth (18%) of those who work in a cubicle and 27% who work in an open plan office.
Another study by US company Best Buy looked at employees that were given a greater capacity to organise their time versus those that were not. From a mental health standpoint, the study found that subjects reported they felt “greater mastery” of their time, had fewer work-life conflicts and, as a result, felt increased energy, less stress and a self-reported sense of well-being when they were given more freedom and autonomy in their working hours.
Verdict: There can be no argument that SmartWorking plays a significant role in combating stress.
The results speak for themselves. SmartWorking is good for your health!
Brian Crooke is a wellness consultant specialising in the auditing, development and delivery of wellness initiatives for Irish companies through his Office Worker Health business. He also founded the Workplace Wellness Ireland community, the inaugural meet up for which takes place on September 4th in Dublin. Contact Brian to find out more: firstname.lastname@example.org