GENEVA - Many people find they cannot live without their smartphones, tablets, laptops and other digital devices for play, and increasingly for work at home or when they are on the move.
The use of modern communication technologies is rapidly transforming the traditional mode of working in a fixed location in favor of working at home.
While this new system has undeniable advantages, a new report warns the blurring of boundaries between work and personal life ushered in by Information and Communication Technologies can have a negative impact on the health and well-being of teleworkers.
“Working Anytime, Anywhere,” a joint report by the International Labor Organization and the research institute, Eurofound analyzes the benefits and drawbacks of teleworking from home in 15 countries including 10 European Union States, as well as Argentina, Brazil, India, Japan and the United States.
The study finds ambiguous and contradictory effects of this way of working. According to Oscar Vargas, co-author of the report for Eurofound, both positive and negative effects result from telework and ICT-mobile work.
“Among the positive effects, we find the reduction of commuting time, greater working time autonomy leading to more flexibility, better overall work-life balance and higher productivity.”
Vargas said there also were disadvantages in that people who work at home “tend to work longer” and this tends to “create an overlap between paid work and personal life,” which can lead to health problems, such as high levels of stress and sleep disorders.
He noted studies found that 20 percent of people in Europe who worked in an office reported high levels of stress compared to 40 percent of people engaged in high intensity ICT-mobile work at home. He said the findings were similar for those who complained of sleep disorders.
Part time telework
But he said there were positive outcomes for those who engaged in telework on a part-time basis or occasionally.
He said this was beneficial not only for workers, but also for employers and companies “because we found that doing it this way, this type of work, can increase also productivity.”
A sampling of data from national studies has found that teleworkers averaged about two to four hours more work a week than non-teleworkers.
“These are not profound increases, but, they are nonetheless substantial,” said Jon Messenger, ILO’s Co-Author of the report.
The report also dealt with the problem of isolation from colleagues and the work environment that comes with being too frequently absent from the office.
Messenger told VOA, “This constant work outside the employer’s premises seems to be more negative. One of the downsides is specifically what you said, this isolation, this disconnect from co-workers and, of course, from the organization as well and its values.”
To overcome this problem, he said many organizations have developed policies that set maximum numbers of days per week during which people can work outside the employer’s premises.
”And, it seems to be that you usually are able to do it two or three days a week ... It is very rare that they allow more than that."
“Two or three days seems to be the sweet spot. So, half your time in the office and half your time outside the office,” he said. “And, that helps to avoid these isolation and disconnect issues.”
Authors of the report urge policy makers to enact legislation that addresses issues, such as supplemental work, which is often viewed as “unpaid overtime.”
They said teleworkers should be paid for the extra work they do at home and minimum rest periods should be respected to avoid negative effects on workers’ health and well-being.
The report also called for the “right to be disconnected” to separate paid work and personal life. It recommended measures, such as shutting down computer servers outside working hours and not badgering employees with e-mails when they are on holiday.