Health challenges in pandemic associated home office conditions

As home office working became more widespread in a number of countries and types of companies, health challenges increased. One of the challenges that arose with the abrupt change was that the boundaries between work and private life became blurred (so-called blurred lines) [1]. In a survey conducted by Routley (2020), respondents stated that the main difficulties of working from home were not being able to switch off after work, difficulty collaborating and/or communicating with colleagues, and lack of motivation. In the absence of designated home offices, many people had to set up improvised work environments in living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms. In addition, the closure of school facilities forced working parents to struggle to be productive while at the same time supervising children [2]. As a result of all these changes, according to experts, many employees experienced lower work productivity, lower motivation, increased stress and reduced mental health [3].

The correlation of the pandemic period and mental stress is the subject of several other study projects [4]. On the other hand, the results of a holistic study [5] on the impact on physical activity, dietary habits and sleep patterns of students and staff at a Swiss institute during the COVID 19 crisis are currently awaiting publication. Furthermore, those who work from home face other novel hurdles such as so-called zoom fatigue [6]. This is a phenomenon of emotional and physical exhaustion caused in particular by video conferencing. It is therefore crucial that employers find ways to support their employees in dealing with the challenges of the COVID 19 pandemic. Maintaining mental health and well-being is given equal weight to increasing productivity [7]. In the long term, there are benefits to both employers and employees from employee wellbeing, in terms of reduced absenteeism and fluctuation [8].

A special feature of health in the workplace is the ergonomically correct design, which is of great importance and responsibility of companies towards their employees, not least due to legislation for instance in Germany. Specific requirements for ergonomics at VDU workplaces are also anchored in law. In practice, many employees work under ergonomically incorrect conditions. Evaluations of a German health insurance (Techniker Krankenkasse) on incapacity to work showed that the illness group “Diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue”, in short “Diseases of the musculoskeletal system”, with an average of 270 days of absence per 100 years of insurance across all genders and a share of 17.9 % of total absences in 2020, is the second-ranking illness group in terms of absences [10]. Statistically, almost every fourth sick leave is due to musculoskeletal problems. All measures of ergonomic workplace design that are enshrined in law refer to work in on-site office facilities and logically not to activities in the home office. In view of the increasing working time at home, not least due to the Corona pandemic, consideration of the topic of ergonomics in the home office is becoming more relevant. According to Gerding et al. (2021), for millions of workers who have switched to working in a home office, special ergonomics precautions will be needed to ensure the health of the workforce. In the study by the same authors, a survey on home office ergonomics and discomfort [11] was emailed to faculty, staff and administrators and completed by 843 people. The survey found that over 40% of participants reported moderate to severe discomfort. Ergonomic measures are also related to the use of laptops, as described above. Laptops were frequently used by the study participants (85%), with most of the respondents using the laptop monitor (55%). In addition, less than 45% of the seating conditions have adjustable armrests.

As so-called teleworking becomes more common, the risk of significant discomfort and potentially more serious musculoskeletal disorders can result from poor static postures [12].

In sum, according to Müller et al. (2020), the circumscribed effects urgently require new prevention approaches that take into account the above-mentioned lifestyle changes. A physically and socially active lifestyle is thus an important factor for brain health over the entire lifespan and the authors further assume that the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on physical activity will also have negative consequences for dementia risk in the long term.

The various stakeholders, i.e. the employees themselves as well as the companies providing work, are therefore called upon to intervene on the basis of the health reasons and should be supported as far as possible by findings from research.


[1] Toniolo-Barrios, M., Pitt, L. (2021). Mindfulness and the challenges of working from home in times of crisis. Business horizons, 64(2), 189–197.

[2] Gorlick A. The productivity pitfalls of working from home in the age of COVID-19. 2020, March 30.

[3] American Psychiatric Association (n.d.); Giurge & Bohns (2020); Gorlick (2020); Querstret & Cropley (2012); Van Buggenhout et al. (2020) quoted from Toniolo-Barrios & Pitt (2021)

[4] A study conducted in Austria by the authors Traunmüller et al. (2020), for example, concluded that 37.7% of the Austrian study population reported severe psychological effects of the event and one in ten suffered from severe depression, anxiety or stress.

[5] Rogan S., Luijckx E., Taeymans J., Haas K., Baur H. (2020) Physical Activity, Nutritional Habits, and Sleep Behavior Among Health Profession Students and Employees of a Swiss University During and After COVID-19 Confinement: Protocol for a Longitudinal Observational Study. JMIR Res Protoc. 2020 Dec 22;9(12):e25051. doi: 10.2196/25051. PMID: 33296868; PMCID: PMC7758080.

[6] Fosslien L., Duffy M.W. (2020) How to combat Zoom fatigue. Harvard Business Review.

[7] American Psychiatric Association (o.J.); Giurge & Bohns (2020); Van Buggenhout et al. (2020) quoted from Toniolo-Barrios & Pitt (2021)

[8] Danna K., Griffin R.W. (1999) Health and well-being in the workplace: A review and synthesis of the literature. Journal of Management. 1999;25(3):357–384.

[10] Techniker Krankenkasse (2021) Gesundheitsreport – Arbeitsunfähigkeit. Online available at:

[11] These refer to severe lower/middle back pain, moderate eye/neck/head discomfort and upper back/shoulder discomfort.   

[12] ibidem

Gerding T., Syck M., Daniel D., Naylor J., Kotowski SE, Gillespie GL, Freeman AM, Huston TR, Davis KG. An assessment of ergonomic issues in the home offices of university employees sent home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Work. 2021;68(4):981-992. doi: 10.3233/WOR-205294. PMID: 33867366.

Müller P., Achraf A., Zou L., Apfelbacher C., Erickson KI., Müller NG. (2020) COVID-19, physical (in-)activity, and dementia prevention. Alzheimers Dement (N Y). 2020 Oct 12;6(1):e12091. doi: 10.1002/trc2.12091. PMID: 33083514; PMCID: PMC7550554.

Routley N. World Economic Forum; 2020, June 3. 6 charts that show what employers and employees really think about remote working.

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