This text is part of the special Business Challenges section
Since the end of the pandemic, teleworking has become part of the routine of many companies. Presenting undeniable advantages, it can nevertheless cause significant physical problems.
“People who work from home can develop musculoskeletal disorders,” says Quan Nha Hong, occupational therapist and assistant professor at the School of Rehabilitation at the University of Montreal. Also a researcher at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Rehabilitation of Metropolitan Montreal, she was able to observe that these disorders included back pain, neck pain and discomfort in the lower limbs, to name only the most common.
This pain is largely caused by prolonged postures and a lack of activity. According to Quan Nha Hong, teleworking disrupts the rhythm of employees, who take fewer breaks and stay still and confined for longer. “Out of sight of your colleagues, you can quickly sit in a more relaxed and less natural way for the body,” she says.
The musculoskeletal disorders she observed may also be the consequence of other unknown factors. While the psychological health of teleworking employees has been the subject of much discussion since the pandemic, the researcher emphasizes that stress also has physical consequences. “People who work under pressure at home tense up more,” she explains.
In France, the National Institute of Research and Safety for the Prevention of Work Accidents and Occupational Diseases (INRS) also raises the cardiovascular and metabolic risks linked to prolonged postures adopted when teleworking. Thus, pathologies such as heart failure or high blood pressure can appear due to increased sedentary lifestyle due to working from home. Risks to which are added visual fatigue caused by time spent on screens. “At home, we often work on smaller computers and our phones which strain our eyes,” explains Quan Nha Hong.
“The problem is that many employees do not dare to talk to their manager about the problems they are facing,” emphasizes the occupational therapist. She explains that before the pandemic, teleworking often represented a luxury that employers were reluctant to grant, and that although it tends to be the norm, employees still perceive it as a privilege that could be ended.
Prevention rather than cure
“The key is communication,” says Quan Nha Hong. According to his research, raising awareness among employers is the best way to ensure that teleworking does not harm health. “If employers are concerned about the well-being of their employees, this is a good start,” she adds. She believes that businesses must adapt to this new reality by practicing prevention and offering resources.
This is already the case at Hydro-Québec, for example. “We have set up a toolbox for our 23,000 employees, which offers video clips produced by kinesiologists, training on mandatory disconnection, a guide to installing an ergonomic workstation at home, and other resources again,” explains spokesperson Louis-Olivier Batty. Although the effects of these tools have not been measured, Hydro-Québec employees perceive them positively, he says.
Other large companies have also taken the turn, such as Desjardins. Its Intranet platform allows employees to access health resources, including a self-assessment questionnaire for their workspace. A telephone line offers psychological support, and the costs of services related to well-being or ergonomic equipment are reimbursed.
If companies are increasingly concerned about the health of their teleworking employees, “it is also up to them to take responsibility,” says Quan Nha Hong. According to the researcher, employers can give them the means to work remotely optimally, but it is also up to them to break bad habits which, in the long term, would harm their health.
This content was produced by the Special Publications team at Duty, relating to marketing. The writing of the Duty did not take part.