Skip to main content


What is the Reality of Home Working for Older People?

After the global pandemic there has been a general view that has gone largely unchallenged. It’s that the rise of flexible working has basically been good news for older professional workers. The argument goes that working from home has been a particular boon for healthy ageing because it reduces the damaging effects of commuting on personal well-being and makes it easier for people to administer care to themselves and others while holding down a job.

But what is the reality of home working, and does it really live up to the glossy prospectus as a godsend for older people? Experiences will vary not just according to age and gender but also according to different personal circumstances and income levels. Just as a one-size-fits-all approach to office work has long been acknowledged as not fit for purpose, so the same must surely be true for people working from home.

A new academic study by the UK Health Security Agency and King’s College London, published in the Journal of Occupational Health, confirms that the relationship between working from home and older people is indeed more complex and nuanced than might have previously been assumed.

A research team led by academic Charlotte Hall reviewed a total of 1,930 pieces of scholarly literature on the experience of homeworking, concluding that ‘essentially, a one-size-fits-all approach to working from home is impractical as individual circumstances limit application’ Hall et al. 2024: 1).

The general picture to emerge from this meta-analysis of published research in the field is mixed. The good news is that working from home reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and enables people to eat healthier food and have more creative ideas. The bad news is that home workers of all ages are more likely to snack, to put on weight, to smoke and drink more, and fear being overlooked for promotion. As for having an easier time of it at home, evidence suggests that home workers toil for longer hours, including evenings and weekends, and take less sick leave.   

Age isn’t the defining factor in healthy home working, it’s income. Higher earners tend to enjoy working from home more. They also tend to have more space, better home working set-ups, more control over what they do and fewer responsibilities such as childcare, administration and/or housework.

Employers are advised in the study to start considering home working with the same seriousness as they do office working, from providing the right training and equipment for staff to work safely and comfortably at home to encouraging home workers to take regular breaks, avoid a sedentary workstyle and go on sick leave when unwell. But many companies are reluctant to specify what a home working set-up should look like, and individual home workers of all ages are often uncertain as to how to optimise their domestic surroundings for work.

As a further indication that homeworking is not plain sailing for older workers, researchers from three UK universities have collaborated to set out some key design principles for working well from home. The Out of Office project is a guide which brings together the Design Age Institute at the Royal College of Art (in which the Oxford Institute or Population Ageing is a partner) with researchers from Northumbria University and Loughborough University.

Based on workshops with users, physiotherapists and occupational health professionals, its focus is specifically on the challenges faced by home workers as they age. Too frequently, this workforce is left to set up home workstations with little guidance or understanding on how to work healthily, especially in the context of managing different health conditions.

The guide tackles these issues head-on and has 20 top tips for adapting your own home office to support better health. Alongside advice on minimising disruptions, supporting a better posture and taking regular exercise, there are also recommendations on making work at home more pleasurable with plants, objects, pictures and views of nature.  

Clearly, while working from home is becoming a permanent fixture in the new world of work, it isn’t a given that it will automatically enhance healthy ageing. For older people to maintain their well-being, the home office needs careful design consideration. 


Charlotte E. Hall, Samantha K. Brooks, Freya Mills, Neil Greenberg, and Dale Weston, ‘Experiences of Working from Home: Umbrella Review’, Journal of Occupational Health, Volume 66, Issue 1, January-December 2024

About the Author

Jeremy Myerson is Professor Emeritus in the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Royal College of Art, Director of Worktech Academy and an Honorary Professorial Fellow at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing.

Opinions of the blogger is their own and not endorsed by the Institute

Comments Welcome: We welcome your comments on this or any of the Institute's blog posts. Please feel free to email comments to be posted on your behalf to or use the Disqus facility linked below.