Working from home without headaches – this is how it’s done

Before 2020, working from home was not especially common. Only very few professional groups, in areas such as insurance, marketing, or IT, carried out their work at home. With the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, this suddenly changed. For many jobs, in which employees being physically present was not strictly necessary, working from home was introduced. Initially, this happened somewhat clumsily, as so many employees were affected at once and the transition had to be carried out very suddenly.

Often, the foundations for the change of work location still needed to be established and the workplace setup also needed to be adjusted. Training was carried out for online formats and meeting platforms and, over time, many people adjusted well to the situation and started managing it better and better. As a result, a large proportion of working professionals wanted to continue working from home, at least some of the time, after the end of the pandemic. Today, this has become normal to an extent. In many sectors, a considerable amount of the work is carried out at home.

The advantages are clear for many workers: it allows for a high degree of flexibility when organising your work routine. The often onerous and time-consuming commute to work is no longer needed. You can focus on work while feeling comfortable and relaxed, and without having to keep to a strict dress code. What is more, domestic needs can be easily integrated into your working day and your work environment can be organised according to your own preferences.

Studies confirm the advantages

In an American study, working from home is associated with increased productivity. Furthermore, the group of researchers discovered that employees who predominantly work from home report consistently good emotional wellbeing (“affective wellbeing”). There is also clear evidence for increased motivation among people working from home.

For businesses, introducing working from home has the long-term advantage of requiring less office space, allowing the available space to be used more flexibly. However, employers are also facing new challenges: the allocation of tasks and jobs needs to be reorganised. Coordination between people involved in projects is also potentially more complex. Yet ultimately, after a certain period of adjustment, the advantages outweigh the challenges for both sides in most cases.

The risks for people with headaches

For many working professionals, who had to change over to working from home at very short notice due to the pandemic, this required considerable adjustments. They needed to familiarise themselves with technologies, without which the transition would not have been possible, in record time. On top of this, there were different programs through which meetings and conferences between employees were now taking place. Even this new way of communicating, particularly with microphones and screens, was unfamiliar and very demanding for many workers.

For some employees, this led to high levels of stress. This significant exertion therefore meant that tension headaches were inevitable for many affected people, and migraine patients were also faced with new challenges.

Many people were also suddenly confronted with similar challenges in two areas: in their own workspace and in the workspaces of their children, who were also having to carry everything out online due to school closures. Even when technological equipment was available in the form of computers, this often led to a digital dual burden, because workers were being stretched, and in many cases even overstretched, through the demands both from their own work and from schools.

Working on your own authority means taking breaks seriously

Through working from home, many working professionals encountered hitherto unfamiliar, new challenges. This included independently planning their working day and upcoming goals as well as handling the topic of breaks and relaxation while surrounded by paper, computers, and screens. Often, the boundaries between work and personal life became blurred, making it difficult to separate the two and to maintain clear boundaries. In this way, some professionals started to feel like they were “always at work”, both mentally and in practice. And yet, countless research findings state that it is incredibly important to make the transition from work to your own personal space in order to actually allow yourself to relax and recharge, and in particular to ensure that tension headaches do not have the chance to develop.

Self-determination is important

As scientific studies have shown, it is essential that working professionals are able to decide for themselves when they want to take breaks. This, it was discovered, significantly enhances the restorative effect. It is therefore unsurprising that a different set of research findings suggests that regular breaks from work, chosen by the individual, are crucial for maintaining productivity. Moreover, breaks reduce the risk of adverse effects in several areas. The most significant of these were problems with the musculoskeletal system, and headaches. The reasons given for this were employees’ prolonged bad posture – in general this occurred particularly when working while seated – and the development of stress. The latter frequently becomes a permanent state.

The research is clear

Even before the pandemic ended, many employees were already considering continuing their work from home, because this manner of working offered them many advantages. This also prompted a great deal of new scientific studies, focusing on the positive effects of this new working method, but also on the difficulties associated with it.

A British-Norwegian research group wanted to explore the link between breaks and wellbeing while working from home. The survey recorded how many breaks the participants took per day and how this affected their rest. For example, they examined their sleeping habits, their own perception s of their physical and mental exertion, pain perception, and feelings of stress.

In the evaluation, it was clear that, among the negative effects of taking too few breaks, headaches were by far the most commonly mentioned. There was also a “dose dependence”, meaning that the fewer the breaks taken by the participants, the more often and more severely they were affected by headaches. Comparable results arose in the areas of exhaustion and good/bad sleep. The people taking fewer breaks also reported significant difficulties here.

The authors summarised the essence of the results as follows: people who work from home should be careful to take regular breaks and to organise these, based on their personal experiences and needs, so that they feel consistently relaxing. For their part, companies should be clear on the value of these kinds of breaks. After all, regular breaks do not only prevent the occurrence of headaches. They also contribute to employee wellbeing and to maintaining high levels of motivation, and therefore productivity. If this is also accompanied by a strong foundation of trust between senior and junior staff, then working from home can provide all its advantages.

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