July 2, 2020  |  Purdue Global

When you work from home—as an online student or remote employee—a number of environmental factors can affect your well-being. Prolonged screen exposure and lack of natural light, for example, may have negative effects on your physical and mental health. This article explores five environmental factors affecting your well-being and ways to adjust your workspace to benefit your overall health.

1. Lighting

One downside of working inside all day is that your exposure to natural light may be limited. Natural light has many benefits, including improving your vitamin D levels and mood. You can increase your natural light exposure when working or studying from home by finding time to go outside every day, whether you work outside or go for a 15-minute walk in the morning.

Another downside of working inside is you’re usually exposed to a lot of artificial lighting. Excessive exposure to artificial light can contribute to eyestrain and headaches. A report published by ScienceDirect notes that electric lighting and lack of natural light exposure can impact your circadian rhythm, or your internal clock. This can make it difficult to go to bed and wake up at a reasonable time. Avoid too much exposure to artificial light by studying near a window for natural light.

2. Air Quality

Outdoor air quality, in the form of pollution, can have negative effects on health. But what about indoor air quality?

Poor air quality indoors can lead to everything from headaches, dizziness, and fatigue in the short term to respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer in the long-term, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Joseph Allen, director of Harvard’s Healthy Buildings program, conducted a study finding that better air quality (lower levels of carbon dioxide, improved ventilation, and lower volatile organic compound concentrations) improved individuals’ decision-making abilities.

You can improve the air quality in your home by adding plants, regularly replacing your air filters, purchasing an air purifier, or opening a window. The EPA offers ideas to protect and improve your air quality at home.

3. Screen Exposure

If you’re working from home, you’re probably staring at a screen all day. Managing screen time is crucial to your well-being. Computer monitors, tablet screens, and smartphone screens are common sources of blue light. Prevent Blindness, a national organization committed to eye health and safety, reports that too much screen time and exposure to blue light can have negative effects, such as eye strain and retina damage. Nighttime exposure to blue light can also disrupt your circadian rhythm, making it more difficult to fall asleep.

To control your screen exposure and limit its harmful effects:

  • Adjust the brightness and blue light levels on your laptop, tablet, and/or smartphone screens.
  • The American Optometric Association suggests adopting the “20/20/20 rule” when working on a computer for long periods of time; every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to stare at an object 20 feet away from you. This will help reduce digital eyestrain.
  • Limit your screen time before bed, so it doesn’t interfere with your sleeping schedule.

4. Temperature

Your home’s temperature could affect your productivity. For example, a study published in the National Library of Medicine analyzed indoor office environments and found that temperature had the greatest effect on performance. It measured the performance of call center workers in very hot and very cold indoor spaces and determined that performance decreased significantly in extreme temperate environments. Another study suggests that women may perform better in warmer environments. Regardless, temperature appears to affect performance.

Is your home temperature too hot, too cold, or constantly fluctuating? When working from home, consider what temperature is the most comfortable for you and adjust your thermostat accordingly.

5. Workspace Setup

Your home setup can significantly affect your workplace well-being. In its office ergonomics guide, the Mayo Clinic offers the following tips to make your workspace more comfortable:

  • Monitor: Your monitor should be roughly an arm’s length away, and the top of your screen should be at or a little below eye level.
  • Chair: Choose a supportive chair, and adjust its height so your thighs are parallel to the ground and your feet rest flatly on the floor.
  • Footrest: If your chair is too high off the ground, consider using a footrest so your feet lay flat.

Another way to improve your study space could be using a height adjustable, or sit-stand, desk. According to UCLA Health, standing burns 20% more calories, reduces lower back strain, and improves muscle activity compared to sitting. However, standing can also increase pressure on your joints. A setup that supports both sitting and standing while you study could improve your overall well-being.

Discover More Wellness Tips

For more student well-being and health tips, check out Purdue Global’s Student Life blog. If you’re interested in earning a degree from home, reach out today to learn about our online programs.

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