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Expert assessment
3 min

Continuing research to better assess the potential health effects of teleworking

The widespread adoption of teleworking and related technologies has had major consequences for the organisation of work. ANSES has examined the potential effects of teleworking on the health of workers, based on a study undertaken at its request by the Environmental and Occupational Health Research Institute (IRSET) that reviewed the available knowledge on the topic. The Agency has identified some potential health effects associated with the development of this form of work organisation and is reiterating the need for further research in this area, to be able to identify and assess risks in order to better prevent them.

Insufficient data on a now widespread form of work organisation

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a large-scale transition to teleworking, so that certain professional activities could continue, in line with the growth of information and communication technologies. This form of work is now widespread.

After receiving a request from the French Confederation of Christian Workers (CFTC), ANSES asked the IRSET to review the current state of knowledge based on the scientific studies in the literature. This work showed that there are still not enough available scientific data to be able to precisely characterise the effects on health. Indeed, it is complicated to study the consequences of teleworking for health, well-being, and social and family life, because these effects are closely related to the context and to how this form of work is implemented by companies. Furthermore, the data produced before and during the COVID period are not representative of the current situation, as the rapid growth of teleworking has been mainly due to changes in the associated legal framework.

The potential effects on health and work activity need to be considered immediately

Despite data that are not representative of the current situation, the study highlighted a number of adverse effects and aggravating factors. These relate to the following in particular:

  • health: musculoskeletal disorders, impact on eyesight, disruption of circadian rhythms such as the sleep-wake cycle, effects on eating habits and addiction, accidents, impact on mental health;
  • social life: changes in linkages between work and the social-family sphere;
  • work activity: increased demands in terms of responsiveness and availability, development of atypical working hours, changes in interpersonal dynamics between colleagues and with superiors, changes in job satisfaction and engagement, etc.

ANSES emphasises that teleworking is a form of work organisation in its own right. It is not simply the practice of working in a different location. Identifying the risks associated with teleworking for prevention purposes requires the mobilisation of all stakeholders – employers, occupational risk prevention specialists, workers, and worker representatives – to develop knowledge and solutions that take account of the reality of teleworkers' work situations and activities. This mobilisation should also factor in the various physiological, mental and social components of health.

Moreover, ANSES points out that not all workers are able to telework, which can create situations of real or perceived injustice.

Stepping up research to precisely characterise the health effects of teleworking

Given the many forms of teleworking and the multiple ways in which it can be implemented, it seems essential to provide a clear definition of this practice to serve as a reference point for research work. Moreover, to have a better knowledge base with regard to the effects of teleworking on physical, mental and social health, ANSES recommends carrying out further research in the form of quantitative and qualitative studies, which should focus on documenting actual teleworking activity. The inclusion of teleworking in major national surveys of all workers – whether private-sector employees, civil servants, or self-employed individuals – will help to improve knowledge in this area.

ANSES also recommends supporting research aimed at identifying the potential indirect effects of teleworking, whether positive or negative, on families, social networks, and the introduction of new physical arrangements such as flexible working spaces.

Lastly, the consequences of teleworking – particularly as a remediation solution or as an aggravating factor – should be investigated in the broader context of climate change.