Umbrella study considers ways to improve homeworking

A study of working from home shows mixed results and recommends several ways to improve homeworking.

Home working on a video call waving to colleagues


A large-scale study and review of evidence finds that a one-size-fits-all approach to working from home is impractical, and that there are positive health and productivity benefits for many of a hybrid or homeworking model.

Experiences of working from home: umbrella review, a study by the Health Defence Agency and King’s College London involved a review of studies that were focused on working from home populations, used a systematic process and covered factors related to the personal experiences of homeworking (including barriers, facilitators, advantages and disadvantages). 1,930 records were screened and six review articles were included. Nineteen separate themes were considered, ranging from the working environment (for example workplace design) and personal issues such as career impact on health.

Published in the Journal of Occupational Health, the study had mixed findings for nearly all included themes. This only highlights the need to consider individual and contextual circumstances when researching working from home.

Impacts of working at home

When it comes to the workplace environment, the impact of working from home on things like back pain is unclear and the report highlighted the need for training in how to be a homeworker. Regarding career impact, one review examined the impact of homeworking on working relationships and concluded that teleworkers potentially experience social and professional exclusion alongside loneliness and disconnection as a result of working from home. Studies on health also had mixed findings when it comes to the impact of working from home on healthy eating, exercise and mental health.

The study makes several other key recommendations:

  • Employers have a duty to ensure that staff have the right equipment and training to work safely and comfortably from home, providing additional equipment if it is financially viable to do so. They could use online assessments of workplace ergonomics and, where problems are identified, suggest tips for rectifying them.
  • Employers and employees must recognise that taking regular breaks from work is helpful. Managers should be proactive in doing this, for example, sending regular reminders to staff to take breaks and describing the benefits of taking regular breaks to staff.
  • Managers should be setting examples and acting as role models for healthy behaviour, including taking time off when ill, booking and taking leave and only working within their scheduled hours unless otherwise arranged. This could be communicated through regular catch-ups with employees in which managers make clear that they themselves are making healthy choices.
  • Staff working at home should be provided with adequate resources and guidance about how to maintain good mental health and psychological resilience. Homeworkers would require guidance specifically about working from home, include information about the benefits and challenges associated with homeworking, and emphasising the need for healthy behaviours.
  • Line managers and employers should be proactive in encouraging team and organisation social activities as a non-mandatory activity. This could be by using regular team meetings, “water cooler” type online informal chats, or just regular catch-ups with all staff. Employers need to be proactive in establishing team-building social activities that can be carried out online to build team rapport and worker relationships.
  • Managers should encourage new team members to feel fully integrated and comfortable in their working role, through arranging online social engagement opportunities and group activities to build rapport and social connection. Additionally, employers should ensure that induction activities are adapted to the online context for new starters.
  • After a prolonged period of working from home, employers and line managers should explore the feasibility of continued homeworking for individual workers based on their circumstances, living situations or working preferences, to ensure that appropriate informed decisions can be made as to whether people go back to work, stay at home, or have a hybrid arrangement.
  • Managers should recognise the specific differences between home working and office working and take account of this when planning out roles with their teams. Organisations and managers should also proactively show support for employees.

Individual circumstances

The study concludes: “Working from home is a situation that differs greatly between individuals due to individual circumstances and contextual factors. Managers need to understand that they cannot simply give the same advice and guidance to all staff using a one-size-fits-all approach. There is a need for deeper understanding of the homeworking context on a case-by-case basis, as circumstances are different for each individual. Working from home requires more flexibility compared with office working, and requires forethought for making adaptations based on employees’ unique circumstances.”

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