Written by Paul Nicholls
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted our lives in many ways but one of the most pronounced personal changes is the amount of time, during lockdowns, that we are spending at home. What are the longer term physical and mental impacts on us of working from home?
Burpham Pages has spoken to local experts to get their views on what these impacts are and how we can best mitigate the negatives and take advantage of the positives. We asked The Eaves – Counselling & Psychology about the mental impact, Guildford Chiropractic Centre about the physical impact and Healthy Home & Office about how to best manage these physical issues with a suitable office set up.
Obviously, there are positives in that we are spending more ‘quality’ time with our families (although this can have its own frustrations, especially as parents can find home-schooling a challenge) and many people seem to be making the effort to get outdoors for exercise. Another aspect of this situation is the amount of people who are currently working from home. Perhaps these lockdowns have demonstrated, to employees and employers alike, how much effective work can actually be done whilst working remotely. In some cases it’s probably nearly impossible to work from home whereas others will find it a much more productive situation. So, although we now have a ‘roadmap’ out of this cycle of lockdowns, there is still some time to go before everyone can return to their normal mode of working. However, some businesses and individuals might have come to the conclusion that working from home, remotely, is the way forward for the future.
With this in mind we’ve been thinking about the mental and physical impact of working from home. Not everyone has a good home-office set up, which can lead to various levels of discomfort, and perhaps many of us are missing the interaction with work colleagues in a busier environment.
We asked The Eaves (Counselling & Psychology) on their perspective and observations of the mental impact of working from home.
The virus has affected numerous aspects of our wellbeing – financially, emotionally, socially and not least, mentally, so it’s been difficult to feel anything but pessimism towards the pandemic. Working from home has presented its own unique challenges that many of us have little, or no, experience with.
However, there are benefits that come with working from home. These include increased productivity, fewer office distractions and less commuting (which research has shown the average adult spends around an hour a day doing, and is often linked to high levels of stress and anxiety).
Additionally, the flexibility that comes with working from home creates an opportunity for a healthier work-life balance. To make the most out of the benefits of home working during the pandemic:
- Build self-care into part of your daily routine. Sometimes just taking 5 minutes can really help
- Share your workload if you live with others
- Speak to your employer about work flexibility if you haven’t already done so
- Establish a routine that allows a positive structure for both yourself and if you have children
- Make time for the things you enjoy. It’s easy to lose sight of positives when things feel overwhelming but focusing on a favourite hobby can provide you with a break
- Keep your mind active with activities such as reading, puzzles, drawing or painting when you’re able. This can help you to feel more in control
- Look after your physical wellbeing – sleep, exercise and nutrition
- Helping and supporting others increases emotional wellbeing
Working from home has presented its own unique challenges that many of us have little, or no, experience with.The Eaves – Counselling & Psychology
Remember that we all react differently to situations and it’s absolutely normal if you’re feeling an array of emotion right now. Finding coping strategies that work for you can help bring relief if you’re finding things difficult right now. Don’t hesitate in seeking further advice and support from loved ones or a professional organisation such as The Eaves in Guildford if you are struggling with your mental health.
There is a vast amount of evidence to suggest that poor ergonomics contributes not only to aches and pains associated with joints, muscles and nerves but also with poorer general health.Guildford Chiropractic Centre
If nothing else it can be comforting or reassuring to know that many people are experiencing the same issues as yourself and that help is out there if you need it. For others it can be less of a mental challenge and more of a physical one. We asked Philip Hehir at the Guildford Chiropractic Centre how working from home can create postural problems.
Since the Covid-crisis began, we have seen an increasing number of ailments relating to workers risking their back health by not working in posture-friendly environments. Not only are we seeing poor home-office setups, but many have opted to work from the sofa or even the bed. There is a vast amount of evidence to suggest that poor ergonomics contributes not only to aches and pains associated with joints, muscles and nerves but also with poorer general health. Failing to take action may result in long term consequences on individual spinal health increasing the risk of recurrent lower back and neck pain, sciatica and headaches. It is therefore vital that
we take the time to assess our work station setup to prevent such issues.
In line with advice given by the British Chiropractic Association, we would suggest the following:
- If possible, designate a specific areain your home for working and always work at a table, sitting on a chair, rather than on the sofa or in bed.
- The top of your screen should be level with your eyebrows and if you are working from a laptop, make sure you are not hunching over the screen. If you don’t want to invest in a computer stand, place sturdy books, for example shopping catalogues, under your laptop so that you can adjust the level of the screen to fit your eye line.
- Use a detachable keyboard and mouse whenever possible, as this will ensure that your movement is not restricted and you are not placing unnecessary strain on your back.
- Taking regular breaks is extremely important we recommend workers move around every 20-30 minutes. An easy way to ensure that you get away from your desk is to set a loud alarm in another room.
- When making phone calls, take the opportunity to get up from your desk and move around as you talk.
- Do regular stretches. Either sign up to an online yoga class, or get in touch with your Chiropractor to get specific advice.
- If you are experiencing pain for more than a few days, then you should seek professional help, as an undiagnosed problem could lead to longer-term problems if left untreated.
Guildford Chiropractic Centre refers to home-office setups and how your posture can be greatly impacted by how your computer is positioned, how high you chair is and what desk you use. We thought we’d find out a little more about how getting your office environment right can make a big difference. We spoke to local specialists Healthy Home & Office.
Since lockdown began in March millions of office workers found themselves working from home. Not many people have a home-office environment that is designed for working for eight hours a day, five days a week. Dining tables, breakfast bars, beds and even ironing boards have become replacement desks and chairs.
Phil Johns of Guildford-based Healthy Home & Office says “We have seen a large increase in customers coming to us with aches and pains, having either bought a ‘quick fix’ item or trying to make do with what they have.” Phil explained that internet searches for ‘Ergonomic Furniture’ can be very misleading whereby the product has very little or no real ergonomic functionality. “Back, neck and shoulder aches along with headaches have resulted in them seeking advice from us” he adds. “The importance of the correct furniture and an understanding of the overall workstation set-up can greatly reduce the risks of aches and pains and in the long run will enable you to work more comfortably”.
Typical examples that Phil gave included a customer who was 6’3” choosing a desk with a deep drawer going the full length of the top, so he needed to get his legs under the drawer (59cm) which is the recommended height for a school table for 6-7yr old children, another customer had a desk with a drawer and a chair with fixed arms so when she pulled herself into the desk the arms hit the drawer which resulted in her having to perch on the front edge of the chair resulting in no back support and after a few weeks the resulting pain just got too bad and she has had to review her complete set up.
We are also seeing many people using 4 legged dining chairs – you would not use a four legged chair in your office so why are we using them at home.
Our biggest piece of advice is to find a showroom that has a range of products and a specialist who can advise on the right equipment for you.Healthy Home & Office
Phil concludes “Our biggest piece of advice is to find a showroom that has a range of products and a specialist who can advise on the right equipment for you. It may be as simple as changing the height of your monitor or needing an upright ergonomic mouse”.
Unsuitable Home Office furniture: The most common mistakes:
- Choosing a generic chair without having it matching your needs. Tailor making the chair to fit you and the tasks you carry out are key. Working on a four-legged chair puts enormous strain on your back when you get up and sit down. Choose a chair with high levels of adjustability which ensures that you can set the chair up to your specific requirements. Remember one size does not fit all.
- Desks with fixed drawers running the length of the desktop or drawer/pedestal units to the sides can limit your leg room resulting in more static sedentary sitting, which is proven to cause various postural problems. Avoid desks that provide limited space for your legs, Check the height to the underside of the desk, ideally you want your knees slightly lower than your hips to create a more open angle at the hips to reduce pressure on the lower back.
- Desk height and depth also need to be considered. If your desk surface is too high then you will be lifting your arms/shoulders to work which results in added stress on your upper arms, upper back and neck (Current guideline for desk height is 74cm +/- 2cm). If your desk is too shallow or deep this may result in screen/monitors being closer than needed, which may result in eye strain and headaches. If the screen/monitors are too far away you will lean forward causing you to change your posture which will add stress to lower back, upper back and neck.
- Buying an item of furniture without consultation. The saying “Try before you buy” holds very true for home office furniture and accessories which will make your working life more comfortable and productive.
Healthy Home & Office can help with free expert advice either in their Covid-Secure showroom or remotely over the phone or email.
So, perhaps you’re thinking that working from home now doesn’t sound such a simple way forward but it doesn’t need to be complicated, you just need to take care of yourself, mentally & physically. Get properly comfortable, establish a routine, take some time out for yourself, don’t ignore the little aches and pains and, if needs be, make a phone call and talk to someone who can help.
Thank you to the experts who helped us with the writing of this article:
The Eaves – Counselling & Psychology
Telephone: 01483 917000
Guildford Chiropractic Centre
Telephone: 01483 562830
Healthy Home & Office
Telephone: 01483 600085