An Occupational Health Handbook for Working from Home

Steve Canning
on
June 25, 2020

Introduction

The events of 2020 have led to a new direction for many workers. The office commute and 9-5 routine are a distant memory. The home has turned into the office, classroom, gym and coffee shop. For some, working from home is a completely new concept, while others will have adapted previously. Either way, this rapid change has created many challenges, from setting up the home workspace effectively, to managing your schedule and routine while at home.

Research has revealed that only 25% of home workers are using a dedicated home office, with a further 25% reporting that their workspace was ‘not appropriate’ for remote working. The most common issues are insufficient space, inappropriate office equipment and small desk sizes.

We will be discussing considerations for you when working from home, from the perspective of a Physiotherapist with a special interest in Occupational Health.


What you need to consider

Workspace

The main priority is having a suitable room and environment to work from. This is ideally a designated space for work, that is free from distractions and has a comfortable sitting / desk setup. You might have to make some adaptations of what you have available, but you should be able to create a decent position to work from. If you are usually office-based think back to the seating, desk and equipment you have when at work, and try to mimic this as closely as you can. You should not end up sitting on the bed or sofa for long periods of time. It is not good for your posture, circulation and ultimately your health.


Chair + Standing

Ideally you should have a chair with soft support and for your bottom and back, rather than a hard dining chair. Consider whether you can set your computer up so that you can use it in standing for some parts of the day.  Consider printing some documents out so that you can read them away from the screen.


Laptop screen position

Just because you are working from home, it doesn’t mean the previous advice about where your laptop screen is positioned isn’t still relevant. Your screen should ideally be at arms reach from you, but this distance is often reduced when you work from a smaller laptop screen compared to a desktop PC. The screen shouldn’t be too close to you – as this can lead you to hunch up too much and it isn’t good for your eyes either.

You might well have adapted to a certain working set up by now, but don’t ignore any issues you may be having with it, and always consider whether improvements can be made. You may also be able to discuss your set up with your employer and arrange for any equipment to be ordered that may assist you.  


Posture

There is not one single ideal posture that we should all strive to achieve. It is better to try to vary your position and posture, so you are not constantly in the same place. If you are on the phone, it could be a good idea to walk around the room as you talk. Don’t lie down to work – you wouldn’t do it at work, and it’s not recommended at home either as it is not good for your spine, joints or circulation.

As part of varying your posture you should incorporate regular short breaks throughout the day. This is an important part of looking after your body and reducing the cumulatitve build-up of joint and muscle stress.


Avoiding injury

To avoid injury it is recommended that you build regular rest breaks (these can be quite short) into your day, have a good home workstation set up and ensure you find ways to change your posture regularly.

You may find that equipment is available to you that can help reduce any problems. This can be as simple as a laptop docking station, ergonomic chair, or a new mouse or keyboard.  Specialist ergonomic companies can advise you on the wealth of products available. A good place to start would be www.posturite.co.uk

It is recommended to try a few exercises during your working day. The aim would be to allow your joints and muscles a full range of motion, to boost your circulation and to give your body a good stretch. A physiotherapist can advise on the best exercise that are suited to you, but you can try a few of the simple ideas below as well. Keep them interesting and varied. Also consider going out for a walk or run in the middle of the day, rather than at the beginning or end. This can help split your working hours up nicely into two blocks.


Identifying symptoms

The most common type of injury seen in the office working environment are overuse injuries. These are also known as repetitive strain injuries and develop from doing the same task for a long period of time. They can be common from excessive keyboard and mouse use. Conditions that can develop from this type of scenario are carpal tunnel syndrome (in the hand), tennis or golfer’s elbow, wrist tendinopathy or shoulder impingement. If left untreated these can develop into more serious and long-term problems.

Tension can often develop in the neck, shoulder and upper back from regular computer work, and this is more likely with a home setup which is not as good for your posture as the office workstation.

If you feel that you are starting to develop any problems these should be discussed with your manager at work. Your employer has a responsibility for your health and well-being at work, and this applies even if you are working from home.

The best advice is to act early if you feel that you are starting to suffer with any kind of symptoms. There is usually a simple solution, and the quicker you seek remedy the easier the recovery usually is. Physiotherapists are ideally positioned to discuss any issues or concerns that you might have. They can provide advice, exercises and education which can help, or direct you on to your GP or other medical professionals if further treatment or investigation is necessary.


Exercises

Exercise is important to do throughout the day and can take on many forms. It is better to do a mixture of simple exercises through each day rather than cram it all in to one half hour slot. You don’t want to go 23.5 hours without any beneficial exercise for your body.

Think about incorporating a variety of different exercises into your daily routine; consider stretching to get going in the morning, aerobic exercise in the middle of the day (a walk or some step ups), and some deep breathing to release tension when the need arises.

Keep your exercise varied, as different forms each bring varied benefits. Try to cover as much of these as possible: stretching, strength, balance, neural mobility, core, balance, breathing and circulation. Your body will benefit from the variety, so keep trying new ideas throughout the weeks. Here are a few ideas to get things started today (link to office-based exercises).

For your aerobic fitness and to get a fix of nature, aim to include walking, running and cycling as part of your daily routine. And consider learning a new skill – hula hooping and skipping should make a comeback as they are amazing exercises!

If you need some guidance for a quick stress fix try this guided routine from the world renowned Yoga tutor Adriene:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOfshreyu4w&list=PLui6EynyUzwiUzvhM2BjxThodiRWZ2JR&index=14


Summary

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), from back pain to complex, long term conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, are the main reason for people being off work. These conditions can also link to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, which are associated with stress and are responsible for the most working days lost in the UK.

Physiotherapist’s are highly skilled and ideally placed to help you maintain a healthy workforce. The White House Physiotherapy clinic have been providing a range of musculoskeletal services and support to Yorkshire and Derbyshire based businesses for many years now. Physiotherapist’s can help in many ways, including physiotherapy appointments in our clinic, workstation assessments, exercise classes and on-site physiotherapy & massage.

Do you need to see one of our specialists?

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