WORDS: Jane Murphy 1 ore than four million people – that’s around 13 per cent of the UK workforce now work primarily from home, according to the Office of National Statistics. And that number is growing all the time, largely due to technological advances and our desire for a better work-life balance. The obvious benefits? You can avoid the commute, wear pyjamas all day and take a break to stick the washing on or call a friend when it suits you. But research shows there are potential downsides to being a home-worker. Chances are your workstation won’t have been designed to suit your personal needs. You can’t just call IT when your computer crashes. It’s also all too easy to fall into unhealthy habits, such as poor posture and mindless snacking.
Working Remotely May Sound Appealing But it’s All too Easy to Fall into Unhealthy Habits Here’s How to Get The Balance Right Photo Gallery
The boundary between work and home can become blurred at the edges, so you never quite switch off. And being home alone can make you feel isolated and demoralised. According to a survey by Aldermore, nearly 40 per cent of self employed people say they’ve felt lonely since becoming their own boss. WORK health.
CREATE A HEALTHY ROUTINE
If you dream of working in your pyjamas, you’re not going to like this – but it’s actually important to get dressed so your brain and body know you’re ready for the working day, says psychologist Dr Meg Arroll. ‘A regular routine is vital for overall health and wellbeing. Set yourself strict working hours and stick to them – that means clocking off even if a task is pending. It helps to define your time and prioritise so you’re not wasting hours on unimportant tasks, such as responding to every email that arrives.’
PAIN-PROOF YOUR WORKSTATION
Around a quarter of Brits who have experienced back or neck pain blame their computer, according to the British Chiropractic Association (chiropractic- uk.co.uk). ‘Set up your workstation to ensure you’re sitting comfortably,’ says chiropractor Tim Button. ‘The top of the screen should be at eye-level. Try a laptop stand or use sturdy books to adjust the height. Use a detachable mouse and keyboard so your movement isn’t restricted and you don’t hunch over the screen. Ensuring your chair is positioned correctly is key, too. Place your feet flat on the ground, and sit right back into the chair to support your neck and spine. Adjust the arm rests so they’re in line with your desk or table.’
Our bodies aren’t designed for long periods of inactivity, so stand up and move around as much as possible.
Take a break every 20 to 25 minutes – even if it’s just to stand and stretch for a few seconds. Even better, invest in a sit-stand desk. Office workers often feel self-conscious about using a standing desk, say researchers at King’s College London. But that’s not an issue you’ll have when you’re home alone, so now could be the time to try. A study at the University of Sydney found that workers who stood up at their desks for 60-90 minutes felt more energised and were more active than those who used traditional desks. In Scandinavia, around 90 per cent of workers use sit-stand desks, compared to just one per cent in Health & Fitness.
YOUR HOME-OFFICE SHOPPING LIST
Wellness Ball Active Sitting, £260; technogym.com. This alternative to a chair helps strengthen muscles, boost balance and improve flexibility, coordination and posture. Humanscale Float Desk, £1,399; johnlewis.com. This desk can be quickly raised or lowered so you can sit or stand while you work. Humanscale Horizon Task Lamp, £308; amara.com. This energy-efficient lamp has an eye-friendly wide, glare-free glow and create a calming effect. Rabbit Timer, £12; cathkidston.com. Try the Pomodoro Technique (a time-management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s) to improve focus: set the timer for 25 minutes; get to work; take a short break when the time’s up; repeat. Awair 2nd Edition Indoor Pollution Tracker, £179; getawair.co.uk. Poor air quality can have a profound effect on our ability to focus, as well as overall health. This tracker detects pollutants, then offers personalised recommendations on how to address them. the UK. Try VARIDESK (from £150; uk.varidesk.com), which offers a range of adjustable standing desks so you can alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day, or try BakkerElkhuizen’s IQ Sit-Stand Desk, £1,499; bakkerelkhuizen.co.uk. When you’re at home, you can also walk around when you’re on the phone, without annoying anyone.
Around 20 per cent of UK workers say they’re more productive when working from home, according to a recent survey by Furniture Choice. But with so many distractions and no boss looking over your shoulder, it’s very easy to fall into the other 80 per cent. So how to stay focused? Ensure you have a dedicated work area, ideally close to a window: natural light boosts productivity, say researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago. Plants can help, too: studies have shown they boost concentration by eliminating harmful toxins from the air. You can also use those brief standing-and-stretching breaks to attend to any domestic distractions, such as a hungry cat or messy kitchen.
‘Social connectedness is crucial for mental and physical health,’ says Dr Arroll. ‘Avoid feeling isolated and out-of-touch by making an effort to schedule in calls and catch ups: meet friends and colleagues for lunch, attend industry seminars and talks and, if you’re self-employed, look for freelance TIME OUT Regular screen breaks, coupled with good lighting, are key to avoiding eye strain. Look away from your screen every 20 minutes and focus on something out of the Lwindow that’s at least 20m j away to allow your J l eyes to readjust. groups and shared workspaces in your area.’ It’s important to get out of the house and be around other people every day: a regular early-morning run or gym class will set you up nicely for the working day (and ensure you’re out of your pyjamas). No freelance groups near you? Set up a new one through facebook or meetup.com, an online platform for organising gatherings around different interests and communities.
AVOID THE TEMPTATION
Regular mealtimes are all part of a healthy routine, of course. By thinking ahead and planning what you’re going to eat when, you’re less likely to be tempted by the leftovers from Saturday night’s dessert. Keep a supply of healthy snacks, such as fruit and nuts, on hand. ‘And if you tend to reward yourself for a job well done with food, try scheduling some alternatives,’ suggests clinical psychologist Dr Jen Bateman. ‘Phone a friend, watch a funny clip on YouTube or dance around the living room. When you take a few minutes to reward yourself in another way, the desire for food will diminish.’
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