The potential impact of hybrid working on our physical and mental health

It’s not just about your chair

Thomas and Penny Power OBE  interview top experts from the BIP100 community to introduce them to you. Finding experts that you can trust is a challenge. By sharing their clients with you, they hope they can reduce your search for great people that can help you build your business.

In this interview they spoke with Nichola Adams who is an ergonomist working with companies and individuals to improve their physical working conditions. She was joined by Juliet Raine, physiotherapist and ergonomist.

The rise of the home office

At the outset of the pandemic there was a huge and sudden rise in people working from home. As restrictions ease, more people are heading back into the office, but for many of them it is on a hybrid model still working partially from home.

While many businesses had been paying attention to providing the right kind of equipment in their offices to look after the wellbeing of their staff, the sudden shift to being at home meant many employees having to make do without proper space or equipment.

This has included working at the dining room table, balancing a laptop on their knees while seated on a sofa or trying to work on their bed.

From chairs that offer no proper support and are the wrong height, to no chair at all, the long-term implications for muscular-skeletal issues are massive. 

Hunching over a laptop that is on your lap or raising it to eye height and then trying to type on a keyboard that is at shoulder height has significant implications for physical health.

Combined with the physical issues is the impact on mental health. If it’s physically difficult or painful to carry out daily tasks such as sending emails, writing reports, or entering data, then work becomes more stressful.

Solving problems

The first and easiest change to make is to ensure that you move frequently during the day. Nichola and Juliet have a saying “Motion is lotion”. 

In other words, it is soothing, reducing pain and inflammation. Just standing up and walking, zombie-like, to the kitchen isn’t going to be enough. 

They recommend vigorous movement, what they term a “crazy break”—with the proviso that you don’t have any serious underlying problems. This is thirty seconds of shimmying and shaking, punching and wriggling to really get your blood flowing.

Everyone can find thirty seconds while they’re waiting for a zoom meeting to start, or a file to load. Do it as frequently as possible during the day. If you’re starting to feel uncomfortable or fidgety, then a thirty second crazy break will make you more comfortable as well as more alert.

You also need to pay attention to your posture. Ensure that you are not putting unnecessary strain on your body by having your screen or keyboard at the wrong height so that you’re contorting your body for hours every day.

With the rise in home working came a rise in the use of video meetings. As people no longer have to physically move from one location to another between meetings, they are going directly into their next meeting. 

Ideally no meeting should last for more than fifty or fifty-five minutes, giving people a chance to move around and refresh themselves in between.

Support from businesses

Employees working from home are entitled to the same support as they would receive if they were working on company premises.

This means they should be able to get a full ergonomic assessment and financial support to enable them to have the right chair or desk. They may benefit from a different style of mouse or keyboard. If they are working on a laptop computer a separate mouse and keyboard are essential to allow the screen to be raised to eye level.

At the moment only an estimated 9% of business are providing these assessments for employees working from home.

If a member of staff has a disability or chronic medical condition, employers are legally obliged to make suitable adjustments for them. This still applies whether the individual is working in company premises or their own home.

It has become clear that there is an ongoing preference for home or hybrid working, so employers are going to have to improve the way they support their staff. 

But employees working from home can benefit themselves greatly by educating themselves around the issues of posture and movement and taking responsibility for some self-care.

Employer and employee working together, and using specialist knowledge and services from an experienced ergonomist, means that home working does not have to be seen as ‘making do’ with poor equipment and conditions that will result in long-term physical issues for the individual.

Share this article: