Loneliness and a lack of face-to-face contact are key psychological issues facing people working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, research by Nottingham Trent University shows.
A study led by Professor Amin Al-Habaibeh found that office workers miss having informal meetings with colleagues, such as quick conversations by the water cooler, while they continue to work from home.
A survey of UK workers aged 25 to 65 showed that a lack of physical exercise was also seen as a key issue for people while they continued to use their homes as makeshift workspaces.
Advantages of working from home, though, included reduced travel time and costs, a perceived reduction in CO2 emissions and the ability to continue working while looking after children that are unable to attend school or nursery.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to examine the potential for enhanced remote working, as well as distance learning and teaching,” said Professor Al-Habaibeh, of the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment.
“It also shows us that there is a far greater potential for international collaboration and cross-border employment in the future, in ways which we might not have envisaged before.
“But as human beings we are social animals, and it will be difficult for people to continue working from home without an in-person social element during or after working hours.
“Many people were able to quickly adapt to online tools, such as video conferencing and collaboration platforms software, and have combined their working hours with daily routines and family commitments.
“But our results show that nearly half of our respondents – 43 per cent – thought that the main challenges of working from home were the lack of offline face-to-face meetings and reduced eye contact with their colleagues.”
The survey – which received more than 200 responses – showed that 31 per cent of people felt isolated working from home either ‘often’ or ‘all of the time’, with a further 31 per cent feeling isolated ‘sometimes’. More than 10 per cent of people felt concerned about redundancy. However, 83 per cent of respondents felt that working from home achieved the same working outcomes as being in the office.
Professor Al-Habaibeh added: “Many employers are giving serious consideration to allowing employees to continue working from home on a permanent basis, or as mixture of part-home, part-office working, in order to reduce operating costs and improve efficiencies.
“This study shows that serious consideration should be given to the overall wellbeing of an employee’s mental health, and the potential implications of many people feeling isolated during their working hours, and how this might affect them in the medium to longer-term.”
Dr Kafel Waried, a visiting scholar at Nottingham Trent University who worked on the project, stated: “It was an important project in order to understand the challenges people are facing in the COVID-19 pandemic to raise the awareness level of the factors that will help enhancing the efficiency and productivity of people working from home.”
Professor Al-Habaibeh added: “By understanding the challenges and factors that influence people during their daily work from home, we will have a better-informed research to support the design and innovation of enhanced products and technologies that would help people to effectively overcome some of the challenges.”
The study was published yesterday (23 November) by Global Transitions.