Special Overview: Working at Home

We pulled together the Cochrane Reviews that are identified as most directly relevant for employers and those working at home due the 2019 Coronavirus outbreak. The Cochrane Work Review Group composed this overview with other potentially relevant reviews from the Back and Neck Group and Public Health. Please note that the reviews in this Special Overview summarize evidence, and their inclusion does not mean that the interventions reviews have been shown to be an effective preventive measure. Reviews evaluate the effects of interventions on the following topics:

  • Staying active
  • Optimization of the work environment
  • Prevention of eye problems due to computer use
  • Actions for pain of the lower back, neck, shoulders, arms

Staying active

Workplace pedometer interventions for increasing physical activity

Pedometers provide immediate, specific feedback on levels of physical activity that is intended to motivate individuals to increase their activity over time. This reviews assessed the effects of the unique monitoring and motivational role of pedometers to increase physical activity in workplace settings.

Work‐break schedules for preventing musculoskeletal symptoms and disorders in healthy workers

In situations where work‐related musculoskeletal symptoms or disorders are prevalent, it may be advantageous to apply work breaks. It is generally assumed that work breaks may provide a recovery period for any musculoskeletal structure that is stressed during the working process. This review evaluated the effectiveness of different work‐break interventions for preventing work‐related musculoskeletal symptoms and disorders in healthy workers, when compared to conventional or alternate work‐break schedules.

Workplace interventions for increasing standing or walking for decreasing musculoskeletal symptoms in sedentary workers

This review examined workplace interventions that specifically aim to reduce or break up sedentary behaviour by increasing standing or walking, which may fall into the following categories.

  • Interventions such as the provision of an activity permissive workstation such as a treadmill or a sit‐stand workstation.
  • Interventions targeted at the individual – including tailored walking programmes during work breaks or ‘incidental’ walking programmes, promoting the use of stairs during work hours, providing break‐reminding software, and providing individual counselling programmes.
  • Interventions targeted at the organisation – such as workplace policy modifications to encourage workplace activity, for example, standing meetings and ‘active/walking’ emails.

Workplace interventions for reducing sitting at work

This review evaluated the effectiveness of workplace interventions to reduce sitting at work compared to no intervention or alternative interventions. Workers can be encouraged to be more physically active in different ways. In this review the following strategies are evaluated:

  • Physical changes in the workplace design and environment, such as new types of work desks or chairs.
  • Policies to change the organisation of work, such as the provision of purposive short breaks (with the aim of reducing sitting).
  • Provision of information and counselling, for example provision of information about health risks and the benefits of reducing time spent sitting and replacing it with time spent in a more physically demanding behavior.

Optimization of the work environment

Workplace lighting for improving alertness and mood in daytime workers

Exposure to light plays a crucial role in biological processes, influencing mood and alertness. Workers may be exposed to insufficient or inappropriate light during daytime, leading to mood disturbances and decreases in levels of alertness. This review investigated the effects of any type of lighting on alertness and mood in daytime workers performing work indoors. Different types of lighting include cool white light compared to warm light, different levels of light intensity, individually applied light or exposure to daylight.

Prevention of eye problems due to computer use

Optical correction of refractive error for preventing and treating eye symptoms in computer users

Computer users frequently complain about problems with seeing and functioning of the eyes, such as eyestrain, eye ache, headache, double vision and blur, burning, irritation, ocular dryness and tearing. This review examined the evidence on the effectiveness, safety and applicability of optical correction of refractive error for reducing and preventing eye symptoms in computer users.

Actions for pain in the lower back, neck, shoulders or arms

Lumbar supports for prevention and treatment of low back pain

Lumbar supports (also called braces or corsets) are used in the prevention and treatment of low‐back pain (LBP). The objectives of this systematic review were to determine whether lumbar supports, flexible or rigid, are effective for prevention and treatment of non‐specific LBP. Several comparisons were investigated, including lumbar support as primary intervention or as supplement to another type of intervention or treatment.

Exercises for prevention of recurrences of LBP

LBP is a common disorder that has a tendency to recur. This review aimed to see if exercises, either as part of treatment or as a post‐treatment programme could reduce LBP recurrences. Different types of exercises were assessed, such as strengthening exercises, endurance training and aerobic exercises.

Behavioural treatment for chronic LBP

Current management of chronic LBP includes a range of different intervention strategies such as medication, exercise, and behavioural therapy. The main assumption underlying a behavioural therapy approach is that pain and its resulting disability are not only influenced by somatic pathology, but by psychological and social factors as well. In this way, chronic LBP is not only a physical problem, but may also be influenced by the patient's attitudes and beliefs, psychologic distress, and illness behaviour. In this review three behavioural therapies for chronic low‐back pain were evaluated:

  • operant (which acknowledges that external factors associated with pain can reinforce it)
  • cognitive (dealing with thoughts, feelings, beliefs, or a combination of the three, that trigger the pain)
  • respondent (interrupts muscle tension with progressive relaxation techniques or biofeedback of muscle activity).

Ergonomic interventions for preventing work‐related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) of the upper limb and neck among office workers

Work‐related upper limb and neck MSDs are musculoskeletal disorders of the neck and upper limbs, which include the shoulders, upper arms, elbows, forearms, wrists, and hands. This review assessed the effects of physical, cognitive and organisational ergonomic interventions, or combinations of those interventions for the prevention of work‐related upper limb and neck MSDs among office workers.

Related to working at home

Flexible working conditions and their effects on employee health and wellbeing

Flexible working arrangements are for example flexitime and teleworking. In this review flexible working conditions are characterised by three working principles: contractual flexibility (employer or employee fluidity regarding employment contracts), spatial flexibility (employer or worker control and choice regarding place of work) and temporal flexibility (employer and worker choice regarding the distribution of worked hours). The main review objective was to evaluate the effects (benefits and harms) of flexible working interventions on the physical and mental health and wellbeing of employees working in formal labour.