The Health Dilemma of the Work from Home Era

New research provides insight into the physical health toll resulting from more than a year of remote work and the potential health consequences at risk given a long-term remote workforce.

Fatigued woman sitting at her desk looking at her laptop and petting her dog

The ramifications of the extreme lifestyle shift in 2020 through early 2021 resulting from the pandemic are far-reaching, likely to have ripple effects for many years to come. While mental health has been an undisputed health consequence for many, physical health challenges given the significant decline in mobility for workers across the country is an issue which may have long term consequences of which we’ve only just scratched the surface.

To explore this topic further, the team at Upright Pose conducted a study of 2,000 remote and hybrid workers in the U.S. to glean insight into how mobility has changed during working hours and how these changes have impacted workers’ physical wellness.

Woman touching her shoulder which is in pain

Within the past year of remote working, 50% report an increase in lower back pain, 48% in shoulder pain, and 52% in eye strain

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A shocking 54% of remote/hybrid workers estimate they’ve reduced their mobility during work hours by 50% or more in the past year

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The average remote worker commutes just 16 steps from their bed to their workstation

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82% of workers under 35 report experiencing one or more physical health issues for the first time during the past year and 70% went as far as visiting a doctor or specialist to address it

Tired woman with hand on her head looking at a laptop

78% report that they feel concerned about the future health consequences that an increase in sedentary lifestyle could lead to long-term

Mobility During Work Hours Has Rapidly Declined

While in an office environment, people found many reasons to get up and move throughout the day. Walking to common rooms, co-workers offices and/or to/from a parking lot were a daily occurrence that encouraged mobility.

Woman standing at a co-workers desk smiling and pointing at his laptop

Top ways offices encouraged employees to stay mobile throughout the day:

Walking to co-workers offices
Walking to conference room(s)
Walking to common spaces (such as kitchen, break room)
Walking to/from a parking garage or lot
Standing and talking to colleagues

Yet, without an office environment, there are few reasons workers feel the need to move throughout the day. Many workers admit the only time they walk during working hours is to visit the restroom or the kitchen. More than 1 in 3 admit sitting in their work chair nearly the entire day.

Woman drinking coffee sitting back in office chair

Since working remote, employees estimate they’ve reduced their mobility by the following percentages:

76% or more
51 - 75%
26 - 50%
Under 25%
I have not reduced my mobility during work hours and/or it’s increased

On a typical remote work day...

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0 %

Of employees never step outside their home

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0 %

Only walk to go to the bathroom or the kitchen

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0 %

Sit in their work chair nearly the whole day

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Prolonged inactivity increases back pain as the back becomes stiff, weak, and deconditioned. As the pain increases, many reduce their activity and exercise levels, resulting in even more back pain and aggravating the cycle of inactivity and back pain recurrence.

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Physical Health Is Already Being Impacted By The Change

The effect of this decline in mobility is already starting to impact remote workers, even those in much younger age groups. People are experiencing increased frequency of pain, with many encountering physical health issues for the first time in the past year. With such a significant impact in the short term, there’s a significant cause for concern as to how remote work could impact physical health long-term as many companies shift to a permanent remote or hybrid-remote workforce post-pandemic. 

For younger generations who are remote, many experienced physical pains like back pain, hip pain and shoulder pain for the first time during the last year, demonstrating the potential impact that an increasingly sedentary work day may be having on people’s bodies. 

Dark skinned woman sitting at a desk hunched over with back pain

Estimated distance from remote workers bed to their workstation:

5 or less steps
6-10 steps
11-15 steps
16-20 steps
21-30 steps
31-40 steps
41-50 steps
51 or more steps

Based on the survey results, 1 in 3 remote workers report sitting for more than 7 hours per day and nearly half of all remote workers estimate they take fewer than 1,000 steps during work hours, despite the recommended 8,000 steps per day recommended by health experts.

Green car driving to work in front of a city silhouette

While the average commute time for workers in the U.S. was 27 minutes in early 2020, the new commute for the growing remote workforce looks much different when many workers are just steps away from their workstations. While the benefits of not sitting in traffic is a bonus, the downside is that mobility is being greatly reduced during large portions of the day.

Generational comparison of those experiencing one or more physical pains* for the first time in the past year:

0 %
0 %
0 %
0 %

Top physical health issues on the rise across all ages in the last year:

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0 %

Report an increase in lower back pain

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0 %

Report worse posture since working from home

Woman rubbing her shoulder which is in pain
0 %

Report an increase in shoulder pain

Back of woman, hand on her neck that is in pain
0 %

Report an increase in neck pain

Woman with hand over her right eye which is in pain from eye strain
0 %

Report an increase in eye strain

Woman stepping a stool to show her knee to a doctor

67% have found these physical health issues bothersome enough that they’ve sought out a doctor, specialist or physical therapist for one or more of the issues to get help.

Moving into the future of a long-term remote and/or hybrid workplace, 78% of workers report that they feel very or somewhat concerned about the long-term health consequences that a further increase in sedentary lifestyle could lead to.

*Physical pain and/or physical health issues refers to any increase in back pain, neck pain, joint pain, shoulder pain, hip pain, ear pain and/or eye strain.

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Taking Preventative Steps To Support Physical Health

Both employers and employees must be aware of the issues and risks at hand. It’s important that active steps are taken to address it before it potentially worsens and poses long-term health consequences.

While standing desks are a healthy option that’s been on the rise as of late, with 23% of respondents indicating that this is part of their home workstation, there are many more options that could support remote workers during their work day, ranging from treadmill desks, posture trainers, ergonomic chairs and more.

Employees are also looking for more support from their employers in providing them with the resources and encouragement needed to create a home work setup and routine that promotes physical health.

Man peddling on a bike while working from home
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0 %

Think they should provide a higher budget for ergonomic home office furniture and accessories

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0 %

Think they should encourage frequent breaks to keep employees moving throughout the workday

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0 %

Think they should provide virtual trainings and/or workshops to discuss best practices

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0 %

Think they should conduct regular assessments of employees workstations to gauge need

From investing in more ergonomic workstations to scheduling time for walks throughout the day, there’s much more that remote workers can do to prevent and address physical health issues. Ultimately, employees need to prioritize their health and employers should ensure their staff feel comfortable and motivated to take the steps needed for their overall health and well-being.

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