Jenna L. Scisco, PhD, Eastern Connecticut State University; Areli Angel, BS, Eastern Connecticut State University; Andrew S. Miceli, Eastern Connecticut State University; Jordyn H. Powell, Eastern Connecticut State University; Michel K. Valencia-Conde, BS, Eastern Connecticut State University; Bailey Tracy, BS, Eastern Connecticut State University
The purpose of this study was to examine possible changes in physical activity, barriers to physical activity, and sedentary behavior for full-time American office workers who experienced a period of mandatory work from home (WFH) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another objective of the study was to determine if the relationships between exercise motivation and physical activity depend on work location.
Work from home (WFH) has become common during the COVID-19 pandemic, with researchers predicting negative health implications, such as job-related burnout and employee addiction-risk (Kniffin et al., 2020). Conversely, WFH may enable some individuals to engage in more positive health behaviors, such as physical activity, due to the potential elimination of some physical activity barriers (e.g., commuting time). The benefits of increased physical activity are well-established, including decreased risk of chronic physical and mental health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, depression, and anxiety (2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee).
The present survey study examines changes in physical activity, barriers to physical activity, and sedentary behavior as individuals shift from working at workplace (WAW) to WFH, and vice versa. This is a vastly understudied area, with some past research suggesting that WFH is associated with increased walking and physical activity (Charkabarti, 2018; Henke et al., 2016) but one study suggesting that WFH is associated with increased sedentary behavior (Olsen et al., 2018).
Participants: Participants (N = 83) were recruited via Amazon Mechanical Turk and were compensated $0.20. All participants were over 18 years old (Md = 35, range = 24-65+), worked full-time in an office job (35+ hours per week), experienced a period of mandatory WFH due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and worked in the US. 55.4% were male, 43.4% were female, 90.4% were White/Caucasian, 4.8% were Black/African-American, 4.8% were Asian, 1.2% were Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 21.7% were Hispanic/Latinx. The three most common occupations were Information Technology (27.7%), Healthcare (13.3%), and Education (13.2%).
Measures: Physical activity was measured with the Concise Physical Activity Questionnaire (CPAQ; Sliter & Sliter, 2014). Barriers to physical activity were measured with a modified version of the Corporate Exercise Barriers Scale (CEBS; Schwetschenau et al., 2008). The Exercise Motivation Inventory-2 (EMI-2) was used to measure an individual’s motivation to engage in physical activity (Markland & Ingledew, 1997). Sedentary behavior was measured using two scales: (1) two items from the Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior Questionnaire (PASB-Q; Fowles et al., 2017) and (2) the Occupational Sitting and Physical Activity Questionnaire (OSPAQ; Jancey et al., 2014).
Procedure: First, participants consented to participate and completed the screening form. Participants then completed the CPAQ, CEBS, PASB-Q, and OSPAQ when thinking about (1) a one-month period before the COVID-19 pandemic when they were WAW, (2) a one-month period during the COVID-19 pandemic when they were WFH, and (3) a one-month period during the COVID-19 pandemic when they were WAW. Participants completed the EMI-2 and demographics form and were debriefed. Data were analyzed using SPSS v.25.
When examining barriers to physical activity, travel/commuting demands, being too tired, not feeling motivated enough to work out, and not having someone to exercise with significantly decreased from WAW to WFH (all p’s < 0.05). Despite this reduction in barriers to physical activity, there were no significant changes in physical activity or sedentary behavior between WAW and WFH (all p’s > 0.05). The exercise motivators of enjoyment, challenge, social recognition, affiliation, competition, strength, and endurance were all positively correlated with physical activity both when WAW and WFH (r’s = 0.25 – 0.50, p’s < 0.05). In contrast, the exercise motivators of stress management, revitalization, health pressures, and weight management were positively correlated with physical activity when WAW (r’s = 0.21 – 0.46, p’s < 0.05) but not during WFH (r’s = 0.16 – 0.21, p’s > 0.05).
The results of this study indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated mandatory WFH may not have changed physical activity or sedentary behavior levels, which is in contrast with previous research (Charkabarti, 2018; Henke et al., 2016; Olsen et al., 2018). A strength of this study was finding that WFH was associated with additional energy and motivation to exercise and having a workout partner. However, physical activity was associated with exercising for health or stress reduction only when WAW. Limitations of the current study include its retrospective, cross-sectional design and small sample size. As a practical implication, employees could capitalize on their energy and motivation to exercise when WFH.
In summary, WFH may provide employees with additional energy and motivation to exercise. A longitudinal study measuring physical activity as employees shift from WAW to WFH and vice versa should be conducted.