Optimal Work Environment: Examining The Correlation Between Workplace and Employee Health

Thunderfoot Team

We spend a significant proportion of our lives at work, so it’s unsurprising that our working space can impact our health profoundly. With this in mind, every set-up has its own advantages and drawbacks to consider.

A person working a 40 hour week spends nearly a quarter of their lives in their workspace, whether that’s their home, an office or a coworking space. This means that substandard working conditions can quickly become more than just an irritation: they can impact our productivity, work enjoyment, and more importantly, our health.

The Rise Of Home Working

Traditionally work and home were generally separated: home workers were predominantly women who took in extra domestic work like laundry and sewing. This has changed in the modern age as increasingly many of us have the option of working from home, and are exercising it.

To drive this point home, according to the United States Census Bureau, “in 2010, 13.4 million people in the USA worked at least one day at home per week, an increase of over 4 million people (35 percent) in the last decade.”


The internet has shrunk the world: employers can now cast their net worldwide and populate their staff with global telecommuters. As well as broadening the available talent pool, employers also benefit financially, as they effectively cover their own office rent. Given this, it seems likely that the shift away from the traditional office seems set to continue.

Home working is particularly tempting for people who travel significant distances to their workplace. Commuting represents a considerable investment of time and money for many workers, and has numerous negative effects on health. Working from home also benefits the environment, as it reduces traffic pollution, but these benefits can come at considerable cost.

How Our Work Environment Can Affect Our Health

It’s not new or niche knowledge that our working environment dictates our health, but knowing about a problem isn’t the same as taking action. Investing in better office design just isn’t a priority for employers with a constant eye on overheads and suspicion towards spending money on anything which doesn’t yield immediate, tangible benefits. But ignoring the effects of common issues like non-ergonomic work stations or a lack of natural light, can take a toll on employees’ physical and mental health.

Though the damage to employee health by repetitive strain injuries and mental health issues is considerable, their invisible nature means organizations can be ignorant to the damage they’re causing, particularly if the prevailing culture is intolerant to disability. Often, people with such disabilities choose not to disclose them to their employers, judging that the risk of discrimination isn’t worth ameliorating their situation. The possibility of developing or exacerbating such illness might seem like another push factor towards home working — but this option comes with its own problems.


We live increasingly isolated lives: though it’s abundantly clear that social interaction is essential for health. Working from home can seem like a no-brainer, considering it eliminates the need to commute, eat out, interact with unlikable colleagues or even get dressed. But unless a teleworker makes an effort to stay in touch with the human race, it can end up tantamount to solitary confinement. While some telecommuters report increased job satisfaction, a little goes a long way: those who work 15.1 or more hours from their homes find their jobs less enjoyable.

Decreased enjoyment is a tell-tale symptom of depression. It’s well understood by psychologists that not spending enough time with other people can quickly lead to severe, even catastrophic mental illness. This correlation is so strong that solitary confinement in prison is considered by many to be a form of torture, as demonstrated by a Norwegian court partially upholding mass murderer Anders Brevik’s complaint about his incarceration conditions. Human contact is essential to health, but in spite of this, many workers voluntarily choose to self-impose conditions which amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

Coworking: A Possible Solution

Even if we manage to stay in contact with our fellow humans, getting work done at home can still be a tall order. Our surroundings cue our brains and tell us how to feel, making it difficult to get our head in the game in the same place we eat, relax and spend time with family.

Tammy Allen, a psychology researcher who contributed to a recent study on workplace efficiency, advises home workers should choose “a specific place at home where you work that has a door, and that door may even be closed during the day if there are others in the house.” It also helps to observe work hours and resist the temptation to check emails after the figurative whistle blows.

Coworking is an increasingly popular solution to the problem of telecommuter isolation. While this can present a considerable expense (often footed by the employee themself) many workers consider this investment more than worthwhile.

A coworking space immediately solves the isolation and blurring of the line between work and home, but has many other potential benefits besides. With the popularity of coworking on the increase, tempting a diverse selection of providers into the market, there are many different options available, catering to different needs, preferences and industries. Sharing a space with like-minded people can help boost productivity, and catalyze networking.

Work isn’t just a means of obtaining resources for survival: it’s a huge part of how we self-define, and for full-time workers, chiefly how we socialize. If we’re the average of the five people we spend most time with, choosing a coworking space and networking with positive and ambitious could end up having a transformative effect.

The question of whether a person should work from home, commute or rent coworking space doesn’t have a simple answer: all three options have both advantages and drawbacks. But since workspaces are powerful arbiters of health, happiness and how well we perform, it’s a question worth giving due consideration.