Love it or loathe it, working from home is a growing trend that looks set to stay. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home has risen drastically, but it’s brought with it some major health concerns.
From back ache from poor posture to eye strain from inadequate lighting, there are some serious health risks you need to be aware of if you work from home.
In this post, experts reveal the seven main health risks of working from home and show you how to avoid them with some simple home office upgrades and habit fixes.
You’ve no doubt found yourself hunched over your keyboard, back arched, face too close to the computer screen when working from home. When we get lost in a project, our posture begins to suffer, especially if we don’t have a supportive chair.
Dining tables aren’t designed ergonomically or for long periods of sitting, so if you’re working from a table or even on the sofa, you’re going to end up suffering from back pain, neck aches, and eventual spinal problems.
If you’ve started noticing back, neck, shoulder, knee, hip, or even foot pain, it’s time to reassess your WFH setup. Slumping and slouching aren’t always bad, but prolonged sitting and slumping will lead to long-term problems.
The Solution: Move regularly
It’s essential to take regular breaks from your desk to get up and stretch. You don’t need to do a heavy workout, just take a walk around the room and do some gentle stretches to give your muscles and joints a break.
If you forget to take breaks or find yourself sitting for hours on end, set a timer to go off every hour as a reminder to get up and move. Regular breaks have also been shown to aid productivity, so your work will improve as a side effect.
Even if you weren’t a fitness bunny before the lockdown, you still had to leave the house every morning, commute to work, and walk around the office every day. All of that goes away when you start working from home, which has led to a steep increase in sedentary behavior.
Lack of movement or physical activity leads to severe problems for our bodies, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, and anxiety.
If you’ve started working from home recently, think about your daily routine. Have you become more sedentary since the switch?
It’s easy to spend hours at a desk working and then switch to the sofa as soon as you’re finished. Without realizing it, you may have cut out a lot of movement since working from home.
The solution: Schedule work breaks
On your lunch break or between meetings, schedule ten to fifteen minutes to take a stroll around your home or take a walk around the block. Try to avoid screen time during this time and make an effort to add more movement to your day.
“The main thing to think about when scheduling in movement to help improve your health is focusing on things you love to do. If you treat this part of your day as a chore, you won’t stick to it. I love taking a short walk in the park while listening to an audiobook – it’s something I enjoy, so it’s quickly become a daily habit for me.” – Jennifer Kropf from Healthy Happy Impactful
If you’re looking for ways to add even more movement into your work-from-home lifestyle, think about upgrading to a walking desk – just don’t let it replace regular exercise.
Did you know that you blink 66% less often when you’re staring at a computer screen? It’s called Computer Vision Syndrome. Your brain is so focused on concentrating that blinking gets a little forgotten about. The issue is that this quickly leads to dry eyes, which can be extremely uncomfortable.
But it doesn’t matter how much you concentrate on blinking; you simply can’t blink as often when you’re looking at a computer screen, phone, or TV.
The Solution: The 20-20-20 Rule
The only real way to help give your eyes a break and reduce eye strain is to adopt the 20-20-20 rules. This means that every 20 minutes, you take a break from your screen and look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
It sounds a little annoying, but all you have to do is look out of a window for 20 seconds to give your eyes the time they need to relax and lubricate properly before getting back to work.
If you’re really busy and trying to hit deadlines, it’s hard to schedule regular breaks like this. But repetitive eye strain and dry eyes will decrease concentration, so you’ll be more focused and produce better work with more breaks.
At the office, it’s more difficult to snack throughout the day. You probably pack yourself a lunch or plan your meals in advance. Plus, it’s harder to pop to the shared kitchen to grab a snack under the watchful eye of your boss and colleagues.
Working from home is a different story. You have a fridge and pantry stocked with food within a short walk, making it more likely you’ll start an unhealthy snacking habit.
If you’re struggling to reign in your snacking habit or you’ve noticed you’re eating more than you should during your work day, there are two solutions.
The Solution: Buy Less, Prep More
If you don’t have unhealthy snacks in your house, you can’t eat them. This is a harsher way to reduce your snacking, but if you struggle with temptation, try to have less of it in the house.
If you have kids and a partner who need snacks in the house, it’s much more difficult to remove them completely. This is where snack prep comes in.
On the weekend, plan some healthy snack foods you know you’ll enjoy and keep them ready to go in your refrigerator. For example, if you have a sweet tooth, make yourself some healthy sweet snacks you can grab when the cravings hit.
Don’t fall into the trap of only having veggie sticks and hummus in the house if it’s not something you enjoy. Forcing yourself to conform to other people’s version of healthy will only make you fall off the healthy wagon that much harder.
“We tend to do a lot more cooking when we work from home, so it’s also important to think about how we prepare our snacks. Ceramic cookware is non-toxic, non-reactive, and free from harmful chemicals, so it’s the perfect option for preparing healthy, delicious snacks ready for your work week.” – Casey Bumpsteed from Ceramic Cookware Review
Studies have shown that people who work from home are more productive than their in-office counterparts. But is this a natural process that comes with working from home, or are we overworking ourselves in the name of productivity?
Many people feel the need to prove they are productive when working from home and so put in more hours than they would at the office. But this can quickly lead to burnout and the boundaries of work and personal life blurring.
This is even more difficult for parents who work at home with their children. They are already more likely to be working earlier and staying late to catch up, which can drastically affect mental health.
The solution: Get strict with boundaries
If you were working in the office, you’d happily leave at 5 pm and leave your work at your desk until the next day. Because there is a clear distinction between the office and home, it’s easy to create those work/life boundaries.
Now that you’re working from home, you need to be as strict with making those boundaries for yourself.
Create a workspace and commit to only working in that area. This will help you make the distinction between working and being with your family.
Also, set work hours and stick to them. If you’re supposed to finish at 5 pm, have an autoresponder that lets any late emailers know you’re unavailable and will get back to them the next day when you’re on the clock.
This is especially important if you have little ones at home. Don’t let work take away from the time you have with them in the morning and evenings – block that time out for family and commit to protecting your free time.
Mental Health Issues
Research by RSPH has found some key disparities between people working from home as a result of COVID-19 and those who remained in the office. Overall, around 45% of workers found that working from home was better for their mental health, compared to around 25% who said it was worse.
However, a staggering 67% said they felt less connected to their colleagues, and 56% found it difficult to switch off. Even though well over half of respondents had mental health concerns, only 34% had been offered support from their employer regarding their mental health while working from home.
Although working from home can help many people create a better work/life balance, it has led to a massive increase in anxiety, depression, and loneliness in many workers, so it’s a major concern that needs to be addressed.
The Solution: Spend Dedicated Time on Your Social Life
If you’re suffering from mental health issues because of working from home, you should seek help from a qualified counselor or therapist. A professional will be able to give you tailored coping strategies and lessen the burden of feeling alone.
A key part of working from home is spending dedicated time taking care of your emotional well-being. For many, the solitude is welcoming, but if you’re finding it tough, it’s time to dedicate some time to your social life.
“Socializing can drastically improve our mental health, which is why it’s so important to schedule gatherings, coffee dates, parties, and get-togethers. If you have some events in your calendar, there’s something to look forward to, and you can work on keeping those connections with friends and colleagues strong, even if you don’t get to see them every day anymore.” – Jaye Harrison from Parties Made Personal
This one often gets overlooked, but have you ever thought about how much natural light most offices get? Those big windows flood sunshine into the space, meaning you probably never had to worry about squinting or headaches due to inadequate lighting.
When we work from home, though, lighting can become an issue. If your home or office is naturally dark, your lights might not be good enough to support prolonged work.
The more you squint and struggle to see your keyboard and papers, the more you’ll suffer from eye strain, headaches, and tiredness. Quality of lighting has also been shown to affect productivity levels, so getting it right is important.
The Solution: Layered Lighting
Take a look around your office to see what light you currently have. Expose windows where possible to allow natural light into the room. But if this isn’t enough to give you good work lighting, it’s time to start layering.
- The base light: the base is ambient lighting that is uniformly distributed across a room. This usually comes from a ceiling light, so make sure you have a good amount of light coming from the base light source.
- Functional lights: this is task lighting you can switch on and off as the natural light ebbs and flows throughout the day. This could be a quality desk light you can adjust and move as needed. Opt for cool lighting, which is best for working.
- Accent lights: these are the softer lights that give visual appeal. They’re not as useful as task lighting, but they make a room feel much more comfortable. This might be sconce lighting or a pendant over your desk that gives a nice glow while you work.
Having multiple light sources gives you the freedom to lower and brighten lights as needed. This is the easiest way to reduce eye strain and will help you work more productively throughout the day.
Do You Suffer From Any of These WFH Health Risks?
Whether you’re new to working from home or you’ve been doing it for some time, it’s easy to neglect your well-being and fall into unhealthy habits while working.
The first step is becoming aware of the major health concerns you’re at risk of; you can then think about implementing habits and steps to minimize the risk and improve your workspace.
The healthier we are, both mind and body, the happier we are when working from home. And since we spend most of our lives behind the desk, we should make it as pleasurable as possible!