Oh, the joys of working from home. No sweaty commute, no tedious small talk with colleagues and no boss lurking over your shoulder when you’re scrolling through Twitter. According to the Office of National Statistics, 50% of us will be doing it by this time next year. Remote working is well and truly on the rise. And while most of us love it, there is – but of course – a caveat. Pain.
Most of us have suffered from neck and back pain caused by bad ergonomics – and while many of today’s workplaces take it into consideration, it can be tempting to set up shop at your kitchen table when it comes to working from home. Big mistake.
Jordane Tamona, founder of Function360 Physiotherapy, has seen first-hand the damage that can be done from a bad home office setup. “Bad ergonomics is very often to blame for injuries and pain, especially relating to the neck, shoulders and back. It’s also a factor in headaches,” she explains. “Even when bad ergonomics isn’t the primary cause of injury, it often delays recovery from injury, and can even prevent full recovery.”
Every home office set up is different, making it tough to give blanket advice – but Tamona has some basic tips. “Slide your chair under your desk to prevent reaching to your keyboard or mouse,” she says. “Have your screen at eye height –and your elbows at right angles, rested on the arm rests of your chair.”
Speaking of chairs… it’s probably time you got a new one. Brands such a Humanscale and Herman Millar specialise in ergonomic (not to mention beautiful) designs that will do your back and neck big favours when it comes to long working days. But don’t get too comfortable. The British Chiropractic Association found that 32% of people spend 10 hours or more sitting down each day – and 50% don't even leave their desks at lunchtime. The health impacts of that are – unsurprisingly – not great.
Experts from Columbia University found in a major study that people need to get up and move at least every 30 minutes to reduce the chance of premature death. The good news is, we are likely to do more of that at home, where washing needs to be taken out, dogs need to be walked and there’s more freedom to go to the gym or pop to the shops during the day.
Maria Lewis, who has been working from home since going freelance three years ago, has found her habits have changed dramatically since she worked in an office. “I definitely get up from my desk far more than I ever did before,” she says. “It’s not necessarily a conscious decision, it’s more the fact that there are so many distractions.” Distractions might not be good for your deadlines, but they’ll work wonders for your spine.
To really commit to the cause, physio Tamona recommends investing in an adjustable desk. “Being in any position for lengthened periods of time isn’t optimal,” she says. “I always recommend an adjustable desk, so that you can sit and stand throughout the day. When we are in one position for prolonged periods our muscles fatigue, they tighten, and then weaken. This causes a vicious cycle of imbalance and discomfort. Not what we want, right?” Turns out, that solitary figure in the office with the stand-up desk might well be having the last laugh. Without pulling a muscle.
The rise of remote working has also lead to a boom in co-working spaces, which in many cases are leading the way when it comes to creating the best working environments. Uncommon, which just opened its fourth space in Liverpool Street has purposefully put their focus on health and wellbeing. ““We've applied the very latest thinking in sound design, aroma, ergonomics and the psychology of productivity,” says founder Tania Adir. “This isn't just about the occasional yoga class or desk massage – this is a completely different way of looking after your members.”
To prove their point, they recently craned in one of London’s largest living trees – a ficus benjamina – into their Liverpool Street branch. It will supplement the 500-plus plants that already sit in the space and form part of the company’s ‘living green’ ethos. It’s a smart move. A group of psychologists from Exeter University found in a recent study that employees were 15% more productive when their workplaces were filled with plants. The combination of better air quality and the psychological value of being in a nice environment seem to work wonders.
For home workers, plants are an easy fix. “All I asked for for my last birthday was plants,” says Lewis. “When I am sitting at home working all day, they seem to keep my spirits up.”