The Side-Effects of Working From Home

Updated: 3 days ago

Almost a year later and we are still working from home. As the third UK lockdown was announced last week, we are advised to work from home once again. But, have you thought about what the side-effects could be? Here’s how it could be negatively affecting your body and what to do about it.

OneWelbeck Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon Simon Owen-Johnstone highlights the strain put on our bodies due to reduced movement and poor posture. Along with leading Occupational Therapist David Baker, they are offering solutions to help you avoid long-term damage.

OneWelbeck is a specialist facility for minimally-invasive day surgery and outpatient diagnostics. OneWelbeck was founded by doctor and healthcare leaders who believe there is a better way to deliver care. The centre is driving excellence and improving patient outcomes by breaking down the barriers that exist in today’s healthcare system.

Since the pandemic began back in March, the percentage of people working from home in the UK has risen from 5% to 71% and many working from kitchen tables or even sofas, resulting in 1/5 of home workers now reporting musculoskeletal disorders as a result.

Simon Owen-Johnstone says “Even nine months in, many people are still making do with sub-standard desk-screen equipment, working for hours on end on a laptop or finding the lure of the sofa too strong to resist. When combined with the fact that we no longer have the commute to encourage us to move our bodies between waking and working, our posture is suffering as a result.”

Other factors such as increased screen time, through computer screens and our phones due to the inability to properly socialise or partake in usual hobbies. Closed gyms forcing more high-impact bodyweight exercise can also lead to greater strains on our physical health, as well as the lack of natural breaks and work intensity, says Simon:

“The start of the day for many used to involve a personal hygiene and grooming routine, a walk to the station, some personal time for reading or listening, another walk and some social interaction all before logging on. Working from home, it is possible to go from bed to the boardroom in seconds, making for a real shock start.

“The usual office day also has brief natural pauses as a response to the surroundings. Someone asks something; phones ring, toilet breaks are further away and take longer. We now lack all of this which makes it far more intense.”

In turn, all of these seemingly subtle lifestyle changes can have an effect on our posture, the Institute of Employment Studies reported that survey respondents noticed a significant decline in musculoskeletal health with backs (55%), necks (58%) and shoulders (56%) taking the most strain.

What can we do about it?

According to OneWelbeck’s Occupational Therapist David Baker, “motion is lotion” and there are several ways you can keep your musculoskeletal system in top condition.

Whilst working:

• Sit right back in your chair with your back supported, try not to slouch

• Aim for Knees slightly lower than hips, feet flat and supported

• Elbow, shoulder and ear in a vertical line, with at least a 90 angle at the elbow

• Eyes in line with the top of the screen, at arms distance away

• Keyboard and mouse close to the body, try to avoid wide-reaching for them

• Aim to keep your wrist straight when using the mouse

• Try to avoid awkward postures eg constant head twisting to see a monitor or stretching fingers to press a key

• Minimise lean on elbows or wrists

• When using the mouse and keyboard, move from the elbow and shoulder and minimise movement from the wrist

In your lifestyle:

• Even when working from home, take a walk around the block to start your day – reincorporate your daily commute!

• Try not to eat lunch at your desk, get a change of position and environment

• Try to reduce the use of tablets and phones, transfer work to a computer where possible

• For your eyes, look away from the screen at least every 20 minutes, a distance of 20 feet away, for 20 seconds

• Consider mindfulness and other activities to reduce stress such as cardiovascular exercise

• Aim to get up from your chair every 45-60 minutes, aim to avoid static postures

Small changes in your day are all it takes to prevent serious damage to your physical health, so be more observant of how you are sat whilst working from home, and try to alter your lifestyle slightly to keep up with your new way of living. Through the pandemic your health is more important than ever, so look after your body in any way that you can.

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