Working from home may not be so great after all.

People who use smartphones, laptops and other devices to regularly work from home experience higher levels of stress, isolation and even insomnia, according to a United Nations study, which warns there is a dark side to the communication revolution.

The report, 'Working anytime, anywhere: The effects on the world of work', looked at the experiences of workers in 15 countries, including the US, UK, Japan, India, Brazil, Argentina, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.

It found 41 per cent of "highly mobile" employees reported high levels of stress, compared to just 25 per cent of those who always worked at their employer's premises.


And 42 per cent of both regular home-based workers and highly mobile employees reported waking up repeatedly during the night, compared with only 29 per cent of office workers.

"Regular home-based teleworkers tend to be more likely to report sleeping problems in general, when compared to those always work at the employer's premises," the report said.

For highly mobile and those who occasionally worked from home, sleep problems were related to higher levels of work intensity. "Both sleeping disorders and experiencing stress at work for long periods of time can have a negative effect on the health of employees," the report said.

But it warned the association between mobile work and occupational health was "ambiguous", because while highly mobile workers were more likely to report that their work negatively affected their health, "when controlling for job intensity this association disappears".

In other words, it seems that people who are most likely to work from home are in naturally stressful jobs anyway. The report found work from home done "occasionally" actually seemed to have a "rather positive influence on reported health".

Jon Messenger, co-author of the report, said the use of modern communication technology "facilitates a better overall work-life balance", but on the downside "blurs the boundaries between work and personal life, depending on the place of work and the characteristics of different occupations".

The positive effects of mobile work were also highlighted, including greater autonomy on working time and better workday organisation, and reduced commuting time resulting in a better overall work-life balance, and higher productivity.

According to the report, incidence of mobile working was most common in Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden and the US.


Global Workplace Analytics president Kate Lister, who participated in the US portion of the study, said working from home wasn't the problem - but instead it was not knowing when to stop.

"We love the ability to work everywhere and anywhere, but it has a dark side. Some employers are beginning to recognise this and enforce downtime," she told Fox News.

The report found distinct differences between home-based teleworkers, who seem to enjoy better work-life balance, and highly mobile workers who were more at risk of negative health and wellbeing outcomes.

Mr Messenger said isolation could lead to burnout for remote workers, and the survey found that there was a "sweet spot" of working two or three days a week from home.

"This type of 'partial' or 'part-time' teleworking appears to maximise the benefits of telework/ICT-mobile work for both employees and employers, in terms of work-life balance and productivity, while avoiding potential downsides such as isolation by helping workers to maintain ties with their co-workers and with the company," he said.

The report found people teleworking had a tendency to work longer hours and had higher levels of stress as a result of overlapping paid work and personal life.


It said the need to separate the two would become more pressing as mobile technologies improve. Earlier this year, France introduced legislation giving workers the "right to disconnect", with Germany exploring similar options.

In Australia, some companies have explored the 20-hour work week, where Mondays and Fridays are spent out of the office, while others have clamped down on email usage.