In 2020, the world as we know it changed quite dramatically. Covid 19 wrapped its claws around us and left us locked up in a world that seemed so unfamiliar, but would soon become far too familiar. We became slaves to supermarket queues, social distancing and oddly enough baking. It all feels like a lifetime ago, and although life, for the most part, has returned to normality, there are still some things which haven’t.
In the past year, a number of companies have asked employees to return to the office either full – or part-time after pandemic-induced remote working. However, many believe the archaic practice of people marching like drones to the office should be consigned to the past. Whilst remote working is still being utilised, a hybrid system introduced by businesses has seemingly become more popular. This may signal that we are edging closer to a full-time return to offices, which could mean the end of working from home in our pyjamas, a devastating thought for many.
COMMUNITING MAY RESULT IN SLEEP PROBLEMS
The Atlantic Dispatch caught up with Jaana Halonen, Research Fellow in Public Health, Stockholm University, who has researched and written a study called ‘Home and Workplace – do their locations matter for health behaviours?’ It is a project that gives a fascinating insight into how commuting to work could potentially be harmful to your health. We spoke with Jaana to find out her thoughts on the variety of working practices being utilised and how Sweden has responded in the wake of the pandemic.
‘I think hybrid working is here to stay. It has many benefits.’ Jaana explains, ‘but only working remotely will affect the social working environment, possibly in a negative way, so meeting people is also very important. I would definitely not forget the office work.’ One of the many aspects that Jaana looks at in her study is how commuting to the office can affect our health. Her research shows that commutes of more than 3km increased the likelihood of being physically inactive and overweight, and can contribute to having a poor sleep pattern.
The early morning commute is one of many reasons why many employees are still favouring a remote or hybrid lifestyle. So, how can something such as commuting affect us? ‘It might be that people with longer commutes have less time and energy to exercise before or after the working day,’ Jaana says. For example, it can relate to inactivity and being overweight. Having to wake up early in the morning due to long commuting may result in sleep problems. All these can also be connected: less physical activity tends to affect one’s weight, and it can also lead to poorer sleep.’
SWEDEN SUPPORTS HAVING A GOOD WORK LIFE BALANCE
One of the buzzwords to come out of the pandemic is ‘work-life balance.’ It wouldn’t be unfair to suggest that pre-pandemic companies never gave a great deal of credence to this. You would simply clock in, do your work and go home. Employees are now waking up to more possibilities. The pandemic has shown that they don’t need to be strapped to their desk in the office from 9-5 to achieve an acceptable amount of work. ‘It seems that a lot of people are still working from home, at least part of the week,’ Jaana tells us, adding that, ‘some workplaces have suggested that there are certain days when people should come to the office, e.g., to important meetings and such. Overall, this can vary quite a lot between workplaces.
‘I think the work-life balance is extremely important; especially if one gets over-burdened by work and perhaps the long commute. Also, life at home becomes harder if you are more tired.’ There is also the flip side of that as Jaana points out. ‘On the other hand, if things at home are difficult, with kids catching the flu and cold and you’re trying to work at the same time, this may be hard. In Sweden, things are pretty good. For example, parents can stay home to take care of sick children and the general attitude supports having a good work-life balance.’
HYBRID WORKING MAY BE THE BEST OPTION
So, in terms of our health and well-being, what is best for us? ‘I think working partly from home and partly from the office is the best option for most who can do remote working, but we need more research on this,’ Jaana says, but as she alludes to, it’s not always a simple case of working from home or the office. There can be a number of things which make this complicated. ‘This might vary between individuals as some people have smaller homes and less optimal working conditions (e.g., ergonomics of the working station) and for them working at the office might be a better option. However, for those with long commutes remote working likely brings the most benefits as the commuting time can be used for something else, like sleeping longer or exercising.’
Thank you very much to Jaana Halonen for her time.
For more information on Stockholm University, please visit here.
If you would like more details on Jaana’s project then please visit here
Or click here to read Jaana’s news piece on how the location of your workplace might affect your health