The physical side effect from working from home you didn’t see coming

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This rise in Zoom and Google Hangout video conferences may keep workers connected through the COVID-19 pandemic, but is the staples of remote-working actually harming us beyond screen fatigue?

A new study out of Dublin argues that people’s voices are changing due to work-from-home situations due to the way in which workers are now communicating via technology rather than in-person.

Essentially, speaking through laptops or other devices allow workers to get face-to-face interaction with coworkers digitally, but delivery and pitch of voices differs compared to in-person communication.

The study, published in Journal of Voice, found that one third of people working remote have a hoarse voice, but in 85% of those cases, it started only after they started working remotely due to the pandemic. Additionally, some 70% of respondents said they’ve developed some discomfort in their throat, which researchers pegged to persistent dry throat, a development that started as people shifted to home.

Dr. Ciaran Kenny, assistant professor in clinical speech and language studies at Trinity College Dublin, said this change in workers’ voices should be something companies pay attention to.

“One over-looked aspect of work is how much we use our voice for our jobs. Like any other part of our body, our voice can become damaged through overuse or misuse, which can lead to long-term hoarseness or loss of voice,” Kenny said in a press release. “This research has shown that home working is associated with a higher risk of voice problems. It is therefore in the employer’s best interests to ensure that their workers have the equipment and training needed to protect their voice.”

The initial experiment included more than 380 responses from individuals who were working from home during the lockdown. Respondents were asked about their experience working remotely and about their health, where researchers ask questions like “Do you think you have a problem with how your voice sounds on a day-to-day basis right now?” And followed up with questions that focused on life before lockdown.

Researchers also paid attention to telephone and video calling use both before and after lockdown. Respondents were asked about how frequently they used such tools that have become the drivers of the work-from-home revolution. Researchers also focused on at-home work conditions, specifically air quality, asking respondents if their home had conditions such as dry air, dusty, and damp or moldy.

It’s interesting to consider these measures because offices are designed to be equipped with the best air-filtration in order to be productive. In the wake of the coronavirus, better air circulation has been put at the forefront by health officials especially for those welcoming employees back into the office.

The study warned that long-lasting hoarseness and throat problems can pose issues for people, especially affecting the ability to communicate.