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South West Office Design Company Warns of Postural Damage after Survey Reveals Working from Home Habits

According to a study conducted by Engage Workplace, a leading South West office design, refurbishment and fit out company, 49% of respondents said they had suffered an increase in physical pain since working from home at the beginning of lockdown in March. In particular they were complaining of backache, headaches and shoulder ache.

Around the UK remote and home-working has become the new normal, forcing people to find a way of creating a makeshift workplace using existing furniture and re-purposing rooms in the house. In the survey conducted during the second lockdown, 48% said that they have created a dedicated office, 11% have been using the dining room table as their desk, 16% are using the spare bedroom and some confessed to sitting on the sofa or even in bed!

The seating position at work has always been considered of vital importance, ensuring not only good health and well-being, but also productivity. Employers are duty bound to assist and allow time for the setting up and using of workstations to achieve good posture which is one of the best ways of avoiding discomfort. But have they been doing their duty when it comes to working from home during the pandemic?

Vince Brooks, Director of Engage Workplace said: “Choosing the right furniture for an office (whether it is at home or in the workplace) cannot be underestimated and it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that this happens. I was shocked to learn that only 41% of respondents in our survey had received advice regarding their home office set-up from their employers and 30% were lacking the equipment they needed to fulfil their role and be fully productive.”

Marc Holl, Head of Physiotherapy & Clinical Development lead at Nuffield Health said: “People can only do the best that they can and accept it’s not going to be a perfect working environment. However, you want to try to mimic a typical office working environment. Working on the sofa or bed wouldn’t be highly recommended because you are going to naturally slouch into what I call ‘Netflix positions’.”

He added: “Moving down from having a dedicated office at home would be working at a dining room table or a breakfast bar in the kitchen where you can at least try to sit in a healthy, good sitting posture. However, I’m not a massive fan of telling people they must sit up straight and make sure that everything is at right angles. Instead, I recommend sitting in your natural position and going with your natural posture. Have a chair with a back rest and try to avoid those breakfast stools or chairs without a back rest. You want to have a back rest whether it’s an ergonomically designed one or it’s just a dining room chair.”

Kate Morris-Bates is a clinic owner and practical wellness expert. She said; “As a practicing Acupuncturist and Bodywork Therapist specialising in pain management, I have seen a noticeable increase in the number of people presenting with backache, headaches and shoulder pain in my clinic, which appears to be attributable to poor posture rather than injury (although, I have seen a few home exercise injuries too affecting the back in particular). Headaches are a common side effect of poor posture, in addition to the musculoskeletal tension and sensitivity. The body acts like a pulley system with posture alignment being affected immediately when any part of the body “behaves” sub-optimally.”

“When I discuss lifestyle arrangements with my patients, the common themes that are emerging are as follows: many are working at makeshift desks in their home – crouched over a laptop with rounded back, neck, shoulders. Many have sub-optimal ergonomic arrangements (desks, chairs, keyboards etc) with most people working at the kitchen table.”

“When working from home, we are not walking as much during the day in the same way they would if working in an external environment and are therefore, not stretching out their bodies as often. We are more prone to spending more time on the couch working on laptops, phones or simply passing the time by more screen time leading to “text neck. Even after work, we are all spending an excessive amount of time online or on a screen – for work and also personal reasons to chat to friends and family on zoom etc.”

Francine Brooks, Director of Engage Workplace said: “The key to getting it right is choosing ergonomically designed task chairs and desks and we are offering a range of home-working packages to employers, and facilitating distribution to their employees’ homes. But there are of course other factors such as lighting, ventilation, active breaks and exercise to consider.”

In the survey 26% admitted that they liked to ‘hop desk’ their way around the house for a change of scenery as well as to escape other household activities. Vince Brooks agrees: “Workspaces should not be restricted to a single space at home or in the office – and in fact we are seeing a far greater awareness of the need for collaborative and flexible working spaces. It is also very important to keep remote workers engaged with their teams to mitigate a feeling of isolation.”

Marc Holl added: “Stretching is important. Put your hands on your glutes and stretch backwards to look up to the ceiling, just to give a stretch in the opposite direction to where they’ve probably been sitting. I also recommend ‘deskercise’: Knees to chest, ankles over your opposite knee to stretch their hips, arms up to the ceiling, then out to the side, then behind their back. It’s often just about getting up and moving.”

In the survey 46% said they were more productive at home. It’s no surprise then, that 60% said they always made time for lunch away from their desk and 10% said they use their lunch break to take a walk or go for a run.

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