The Definitive Answer On Whether Remote Work Or Office Work Is Better For Your Health
In 2016, 43 percent of employed Americans said that they spent at least some time working remotely. Given this increase in the number of people who are choosing to work from home and the fact that experts are suggesting the typical office environment contributes to our unhealthy habits, we decided to compare the two work styles to see which one is more conducive to a healthy lifestyle.
We evaluated the two working styles based on five different criteria that have been shown to impact worker’s health: the commute, access to social interactions, access to healthy food, work-life balance and schedule flexibility. Here’s how both remote work and time in the office fared.
According to the United States Census Bureau, it takes the average U.S. worker 26 minutes to travel to and from work every day. Although this is the national average, it is far less than the 60+ minutes that many Americans have to spend commuting each day, especially when they live in the suburbs.
It is news to no one that a long commute is a major bummer, but did you know that it can also negatively affect your health? Whether you commute to work by bus, train or car, these extra hours spent in transit can contribute to increased anxiety and weight gain. In a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, researchers found that the longer participants traveled to work every day, the more likely they were to be overweight. The study also found that participants with longer commute times also had lower cardiovascular fitness levels than those with a shorter commute.
A long commute time can also have negative effects on your mental health. A 2014 report by the U.K.’s Office of National Statistics found that people who commute by private car, or those who commute more than 30 minutes one way by public transportation or by foot, have higher anxiety levels than non-commuters. A remote worker’s ability to skip the commute altogether and opt to work from home or at a neighborhood coffee shop instead is definitely a plus when it comes to weight management and mental well-being.
Remote Work: 1
In-Office Work: 0
When you’re working in an office, it’s hard to avoid other people. For better or for worse, you’re going to have to engage in some form of social interaction on a daily basis. When you work remotely, you could go an entire day without seeing a soul, especially if you live alone. If you’re an introvert, the ability to immerse yourself in your work all day without having to speak to or see anyone else might sound like a dream come true. But researchers are finding that this social isolation might be detrimental to your health — both mental and physical.
According to experts, participating in frequent social interactions can boost your immune system, help fight off depression and even get you a better night’s sleep. (Explain this to the coworker who calls you the office chatterbox.) Researchers have also found a direct link between the number of social interactions that we have per day and our feelings of long-term happiness. In essence, experts think that the more we interact with others on a daily basis, the happier we will be in the long run
To be fair, just because you work remotely doesn’t mean you have to live like a hermit. There are ways to combat loneliness when you work from home, including working in a public place (like a coffee shop), making a point to meet with a friend for coffee or a workout class at least once a day, or even by joining one of the many shared workspaces that are increasingly available to remote workers. Regardless of these remedies, we still think that in-office work wins when it comes to the benefits of daily social interactions.
Remote Work: 1
In-Office Work: 1
Access To Healthy Food
At this point, the media and our doctors have ingrained in us that having a healthy, balanced diet at least 80 percent of the time is crucial to maintaining optimal health. When it comes to weight management, a healthy diet and portion control are even more important than regular exercise for people to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
Office environments can present serious challenges to maintaining a healthy diet. Let’s face it — when your co-worker decides to bring a batch of fresh-out-of-the-oven Krispy Kreme donuts to the office, it’s hard to resist. We’re salivating just thinking about it. Even the snack foods stored in the office kitchen are typically not the most nutritious options. A recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at 5,222 employees across the U.S. and found that typical office snack foods and catered meals are high in calories, sodium and refined grains. And since stress can trigger hunger, you’re even more likely to reach for that office donut when you’re under deadline.
Working remotely gives you more power to control what foods surround you. If you work from home and make a point to stock your fridge with fresh groceries and healthy snacks (like nuts, apples and baby carrots), you’ll be more likely to stick to a healthy diet. The key here is to keep the hard-to-resist stuff like Double-Stuffed Oreos out of your home.
Remote Work: 2
In-Office Work: 1
When we talk about work-life balance, we’re referring to a healthy separation between work and home life. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that those who lingered on stressful work events at home reported more frequent insomnia than those who were able to leave their work at work. Not having a designated workspace has been shown to create stress by allowing work to seep into play during off-hours.
Those who work from home could have a harder time drawing a clear line between their work and home lives, which makes it more difficult to fully disconnect from work when it is time to rest. If you’re an in-office worker, separating work from home life might be easier because you do have a clearly designated work area. This can work to your advantage, provided that you commit to disconnecting from work once you leave the office. (No checking emails after hours!)
Remote Work: 2
In-Office Work: 2
In-office work typically requires a 9-to-5 (read: 9-to-8) schedule. Although this structure can be nice, having the flexibility to choose your own hours can be helpful if you don’t function well on a typical work schedule. A 2010 scientific review published in Cochrane found that workers who had the ability to control their own schedules had better mental health, healthier blood pressure levels and better sleep habits than those on fixed or involuntary schedules. Being able to pick when you work and when you rest can make you happier by making you feel like you’re more in control of your life.
Working remotely gives you the ability to schedule your work during hours of the day when you’re most productive. Studies have shown that everyone experiences peak productivity at different times of the day depending on your chronotype (early bird versus night owl). You might be more productive as the sun rises and, therefore, want to get work on things that require the most critical thinking first. Or you might be a night owl, so your productivity peaks around 4 p.m. In either case, working remotely allows you to schedule your work day based on the hours that are most productive for you.
Remote Work: 3
In-Office Work: 2
Although remote work scored slightly higher in terms of facilitating habits that promote a healthy lifestyle, we need to take into account productivity levels as well before we reach a final verdict here. Some people are able to maintain a high level of productivity when working from home, while others require a more structured work environment. At the end of the day, what’s most important is to find the mode of work that allows you to be your most productive self while also providing time to take care of your mental and physical health.