Flexibility, autonomy and the promotion of a healthy work/life balance are also identified as positive impacts of home and agile working in a new report from Public Health Wales.
However, increased social isolation and loneliness, as well as challenges around digital skills and connectivity are flagged as potential negative effects.
The report, ‘A COVID-19 pandemic world and beyond: The public health impact of home and agile working in Wales’ highlights the positive and negative impacts that home and agile working can have on public health and well-being and, in particular, mental health.
It identifies that both working practices, which have become widely adopted by Wales’ workforce in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, have the potential to produce positive impacts as wide-ranging as increased employee efficiency and productivity, the reinvigoration of rural and local communities and economies, and the promotion of diversity and inclusion in the workforce.
It also highlights the possibility of positive environmental impacts, brought about by reduced car use for commuting.
However, this is set against a number of negative impacts including ‘burnout’, ‘homeworking fatigue’ and the potential for increasing negative health behaviours such as increased snacking.
The report brings together evidence from a range of sources and highlights how the continuing and evolving measures to protect us from Coronavirus are impacting on our economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being.
It considers a broad range of population groups including women, those who live on their own, those with caring responsibilities and those on low incomes.
Dr Sumina Azam, Consultant in Public Health, Policy and International Health, WHO Collaborating Centre on Investment for Health and Well-being Directorate, Public Health Wales, said:
“This report shows that home and agile working are having both positive and negative impacts on many aspects of our lives. Some of these negative impacts could last for the long-term and also increase health inequalities.
“The assessment helps to identify where we need to act to prevent such unintended consequences, as well as maximising the positive impacts for the population groups affected.”
The report builds on a previous publication in June 2020 ‘A Health Impact Assessment of the ‘Staying at Home and Social Distancing Policy’ in Wales in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’.
It highlights a number of opportunities and actions for consideration by stakeholders including policy-makers, health professionals, employers and their representative groups, trade unions, and organisations in the third sector.
Liz Green, Programme Director for Health Impact Assessment at Public Health Wales, commented:
“Predicting health outcomes is complex and difficult, even more so in the context of ongoing restrictions and a rapidly changing situation.
“Nevertheless, this Health Impact Assessment provides plenty to think about, including helping to inform decisions and ensuring that the least harms and most benefits to health occur through home and agile working as we learn to live and work with COVID-19.
“We recognise that home working cannot be carried out by everyone in the population and therefore a holistic, well-balanced approach needs to be taken.”
With many people continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future, the report also underlines several gaps in research and evidence, including around the impact on the environment and climate change.
The health impact assessment is presented in the below summary report, together with an infographic and supporting information document.