Remote working and the unseen health implications

Richard Guy from Ergotron explains why it is important for businesses to help employees maintain their physical wellbeing when working remotely.

It seems like a lifetime ago that the UK government first imposed national lockdown in March. However, no one could have predicted what impact these dramatic changes in working habits and conditions for employees would have. The long-term implications of both physical and mental health were entirely unprecedented, and are still making their mark now.  

Even now, in wake of the start of the ‘flu season and the second spike of the virus, people are being encouraged to work from home wherever possible – reverting to the remote-working models that organisations implemented in such a rush, back in the spring. 

The question is just how productive these truly are. Although the changing nature of how we work has meant many of us have been forced to work flexibly for the foreseeable future, research over the past few months has already depicted a toll on the physical wellbeing of UK workers, due to the ironic inflexibility of many home working environments.

Lazy bones – or achy bones?

The migration to remote working forced millions of office workers to make do with inadequate workspace setups, from dining-room tables to kitchen worktops and coffee tables. For younger people living in shared accommodation, often the only option was to retreat from housemates and head to their bedroom.

Spending eight hours – or more – a day in front of an electronic display at these inappropriate home workstations causes physical strain quite rapidly.  

The Institute for Employment Studies’ (IES) Working from Home Wellbeing Survey, which was conducted during the first two weeks of the initial lockdown, revealed how homeworkers quickly experienced a significant jump in musculo-skeletal complaints. In contrast with their normal physical condition, people reported suffering a number of new aches and pains, especially in the neck (58%), shoulder (56%) and back (55%).

These findings should be a major cause for concern for employers who take their health and safety obligations seriously. Without the appropriate seating, desks, and screen displays, employees who work long hours from home are putting their physical wellbeing – and ultimately their ability to work productively – at risk.

It is vitally important that staff are able to cope with whatever challenges the working day throws at them. Encouraging people to make some simple ergonomic changes to how they work is one way to do this.

An apple a day…

Flitting between working positions when in-front of a computer all day is really beneficial to general wellness. It can help alleviate the cumulative hazards of poor posture and remaining sedentary for too long, while improving circulation, calorie-burn, and insulin management.

By taking mini breaks at regular intervals to stretch and move away from a screen, workers can  relax their eyes, and wrists. Using the right monitor mount will give computer users much greater control over how and where they position screens, enabling them to align screens to their line of sight and minimise any risk of neck and eye strain.

On a similar note, it is easy to alternate throughout the working day between periods of standing and sitting using a sit-stand desk. By adding more variety to their working routines, workers will be engaging in the kind of low-intensity ergonomic and physical activity that has been shown to boost physical wellbeing and productivity. For homeworkers without access to this kind of desk, using books to set up an equivalent on a countertop that lifts their laptop into their line of sight is one way to mimic the work-standing experience. 

Another basic ergonomic step that can help boost posture is to find a firm cushion to sit on. This supports both good back posture and will help to raise wrists and arms in line with a keyboard. In a similar way, rolling up a towel and placing this behind the lumbar region will reduce the risk of slumping when seated. Finally, setting an alarm reminder to get up and move around every 30 minutes is another great way of giving the body a break from being stuck in one position for too long.

Spatial awareness

It can be challenging to find a way to create a comfortable and productive homeworking environment. Not everyone has a room that they can convert to a dedicated office; indeed, sometimes, a room must double as a bedroom at night, and an office by day. Many people also no longer have the luxury of a separate dining room. With the average British house size now 20% smaller than in the 1970s, finding smart and flexible solutions that enable people to make the most of the space they have and create an ergonomically safe working environment is a top priority.

One way of meeting this challenge is to invest in smart ergonomic working solutions that will enable the discrete creation of a designated work area, without sacrificing other furnishings.

Today’s sit-stand desks and monitor mounts are the ideal solution for homeworkers that need to be able to relocate their work environment out of sight at the end of the day. Space-saving fold-down wall desks are another ideal solution for space-constrained living quarters. 

Looking beyond 2020 vision

It seems that our working patterns are set to change for good. A recent employee survey conducted by Cardiff University and the University of Southampton in June reveals how more and more of us intend to continue working more flexibly. An impressive 88% of people who worked from home during lockdowns wanted the option to continue to work remotely, with 47% saying they wanted to do so often or all of the time.

It is now up to key decision makers in businesses to ride the wave of continued and more popular remote-working. This involves designing and carrying out procedures that enable staff to work safely and in a way that allows them to look after their mental and physical health. Requesting that employees complete a homeworking risk assessment is one way of getting the ball rolling with this, so that employers can check their staff have the correct workstations to function in an ergonomic manner.  

Fundamentally, encouraging staff to minimise the risks to their physical wellbeing by using ergonomic-friendly work habits will both benefit mental wellbeing and productivity. At the end of the day, no one feels motivated when they are trying to work in an awkward position, so it makes logical sense to address the hidden health impact of working from home and keep staff happy and well. 


Richard Guy is Country Sales Manager, UK & Ireland at Ergotron.

Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com

© Business Reporter 2020