It’s permanent. Any question that working life will go back to normal post the pandemic was answered in emphatic style this week by the announcement from the country’s largest building society, Nationwide, that it was going to let all 13,000 of its employees work from home permanently. The change in approach from such a major corporate shows the message has finally got home. The office is no longer the default place of work. Of course, this doesn’t mean that everybody will stay at home. Nationwide’s approach is flexible and voluntary. However, other companies won’t have the resources to be as generous. Across the UK, and perhaps the world, leases are not being renewed. Offices are being closed. Millions more of us will be working from home, permanently.
This means it will no longer be good enough to approach home working with a make do and mend approach. Most people can get away with perching on the end of the bed or sitting at the kitchen table hunched over a laptop for limited periods. But do that over longer periods and you risk serious health consequences. Reports started to emerge within weeks of the first lockdown of an increase in physical problems associated with the change from office to home working.
The issue isn’t just about posture, but about movement too. With many people working on their own, there is less distraction, fewer moments around the water cooler, or meetings to attend. Hours drift by in front of screens with our muscles and joints fixed in unnatural and ultimately damaging positions. This isn’t just an issue for employees. Companies are no less responsible for their workers’ health and safety if they are working from home rather than the office.
So, what can be done? Well, it’s not always easy. Not everyone has a spare room and the spare cash to create a dedicated office. However, with a bit of thought, and help from employers, it is possible to make a big difference with some small changes. First do your research. There are a number of articles and reports on the internet from Government agencies, companies and newspapers. Beyond that there are three main areas which can make the most impact, your furniture, your equipment and your routine.
The furniture is perhaps the most important. While it may be tricky for some people, using a proper desk and office chair is hugely important. If that really isn’t possible, the kitchen table will do, but beware the kitchen chair. A well-fitted office chair offers much more support and is far more adjustable than anything you will find around most kitchen tables. They can be expensive, but your employer may well - indeed arguably should - help.
Secondly, there is the equipment. This is an area where relatively limited investment can make a big difference. If you work on a laptop, as millions of us do, think about investing in a separate keyboard, mouse and screen. Correctly positioned, these three items can make a major difference to neck, back, shoulders and wrists.
Thirdly, don’t forget to move. It is simple, costs nothing, but very few of us do it enough. As we explored in a recent article, the advice is very uniform and very clear. Stand up and walk around your room regularly. Move your eyes away from the screen. Go for a walk, before you start work, during the day and at the end of the day. This is not more than most of us would do by commuting into the office every day and then going out to get your lunch.
Finally remember that getting the work / life balance right hasn’t been made any easier by the move to working from home. So, when the time comes to stop. Stop. (Just don’t tell the boss we told you that.)