People who worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic were more likely to have physical complaints than people working on location (location workers). Examples included upper back pain, lower back pain, and pain in arms, neck and/or shoulders. These findings are from RIVM research. The symptoms can be explained in part by the fact that people working from home spent more time sitting. Measures aimed at increasing physical activity and reducing the time spent time can help prevent or reduce these problems.

Hybrid workers (people who worked at home and on location) also had lower levels of physical activity and sat more than location workers. However, they experienced fewer differences in health problems compared to people working from home. 

Increase and decrease in exercise

One striking observation is that some people working from home reported an increase in muscle and joint strengthening activities, like vigorous intensity sports. At the same time, others showed a decrease in those activities. These results indicate two sub-groups, for which an explanation cannot be established based on this study.

Social isolation as a consequence of working from home 

The researchers also looked at the consequences of working from home and how it affected mental health (in Dutch only). The results showed that people working from home scored 56% higher on the social isolation scale (0–6) than location workers. Hybrid workers scored 17% higher on the scale. This means that working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic was associated  with an increased risk of feeling alone and isolated from others.

Important to put extra attention on working from home

The results of this study show that it is important for people working from home to be aware their physical activity and sitting behaviour. Employers should also put extra attention on physical activity and sedentary behaviour among employees working from home. For example, it can be useful to schedule breaks between online or hybrid meetings to interrupt extended time spent sitting behind the desk. Also, an ergonomic workplace at home is important, and can help to prevent health problems. This is particularly relevant since many workers continued to work at least part-time from home after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

About the study

This study relied on data from Lifelines, a cohort study that represents thousands of people in the northern part of the Netherlands taking part in longitudinal research. For the Lifelines COVID-19 study, participants were asked to take regular surveys on various topics, including their work, lifestyle and health, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.