Telecommuting facilitates a better overall work-life balance but it can blur the boundaries between work and personal life, according to a new report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound).

Entitled ‘Working anytime, anywhere: The effects on the world of work’, it reviews the impact on workers’ health of digital technologies used from home for work purposes in 15 countries, including 10 European Union (EU) member states.

Boundaries get blurred

The report shows that the use of modern communication technologies facilitates a better overall work-life balance but, at the same time, also leads to a blurring of the boundaries between work and personal life, depending on the place of work and the characteristics of different occupations.

Co-author Oscar Vargas says telework can have both positive and negative effects.

‘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,’ he said.

Stress, insomnia

The report also identifies several disadvantages, such as a tendency to work longer hours and an overlap between paid work and personal life — which can lead to high levels of stress. Nearly half (42%) of the work-from-home employees surveyed suffer from insomnia, compared to 29% of those who report to an office setting. The study found that 20% of people in Europe who work in an office report high levels of stress compared to 40% of people engaged in high intensity ICT-mobile work at home.

Isolation can also lead to burnout for remote workers. The report recommends disconnecting from paid work and finding more time for personal life. This may result in measures to make working life less pervasive, such as shutting down access to computer servers outside working hours to prevent emails during rest periods and holidays, which is already happening in some companies.

OIT/Eurofound : Working anytime, anywhere:The effects on the world of work, 17 février 2017 (pdf - 1.58 Mb)