During the pandemic, tens of millions of workers, mostly office workers, were suddenly forced to work from home (WFH). In the beginning, there were many difficulties to address, especially when children were attending school online, houses were unorganized and families were unaccustomed to working in the same, often tight, spaces. In fact, after a few months, and even more when schools restarted in person, many people came to love working from home for at least part of the week.
In this post, I want to briefly explore the pros and cons of WFH concerning the Circular Health model. In other words, I want to address how our work location can foster the health of people (starting from ours), the animals, and the environment.
The main advantage identified by people working from home is the lack of commuting. Especially in the United States, this can save more than one hour every day. Having extra time reduces the stress from
doing house chores and the associated tensions between partners, it allows parents to spend more time with their children, and, in general, increases the amount of disposable time. When we add the fact that not commuting erases the stress of being late for work, this provides a great boost to mental and physical health. Reducing commuting has also a positive impact on the environment, it decreases pollution levels, and through it, everyone’s health: mitigating climate change and reducing the incidence of respiratory illnesses. It also reduces the risk and number of car accidents with the associated physical and psychological burden.
At the same time, commuting could have its advantages. On one hand, commuting using public transit and walking or, even better, commuting by bike provides much-needed opportunities for physical exercise while still protecting the health of the environment. On the other hand, especially when commuting by public transit, commuting creates the opportunity for some alone time, to read, listen to music, or watch videos. Busy people, especially parents, might be unable or unwilling to engage in such relaxing activities at home when higher priority activities require their attention.
Some supporters of WFH claim that spending more time home allows for stronger social bonds to be created at the neighborhood’s level, transforming “dormitory suburbs” into vibrant communities. At the same time, some WFH skeptics worry that people working from home all the time will have fewer and fewer incentives to leave their house increasing isolation and loneliness. Moreover, considering how
residential neighborhoods tend to be more demographically homogeneous, WFH could result in reduced interactions across socio-economics and demographic groups. WFH could also make it more difficult for young people to network and get to be known outside their company’s department.
As many people experienced during the pandemic, working from home is difficult when the right space is not available and it is definitely easier and more enjoyable when a dedicated space, or even room, is dedicated to working. Even better, the opportunity to breathe some fresh air between tasks (i.e. yard, balcony) is often appreciated by people working from home. This prompted many people suddenly working from home to look for different housing arrangements with more space, resulting in more people moving outside of cities. Despite all the issues associated with
cities, they tend to be more efficient from an ecological point of view: people need to drive less because stores and schools are closer by, apartment buildings require less energy to heat and cool with respect to single-family homes, yards, especially when covered only with grass, use tons of water and, often, chemicals that impact the environment. At the same time, office buildings need to be heated, cooled, and powered as well, so reducing the amount of office space could reduce the energy expenditure. Also, working from home, people have more control over their environment: they can set the thermostat to their preferred temperature, they can open windows to let fresh air in, etc.
Given the amount of time spent working, the question of WFH is extremely relevant. For this reason, I think that it is very important that all the parties involved think about the pros and cons, some of which I described above, and also about other ways of organizing the work effort (i.e. hybrid, flexible time, task-based). This is a time of great transformation, and it is during times like this that the world of tomorrow is shaped. Hopefully, we can all work together to make it better than today.
If you have comments or questions about this topic, I will be happy to hear them in the comments section below!