Dr Zoe Wainer
As the nation grapples with the spread of COVID-19, many Australians are being instructed to work from home by their employers or are having to do so of their own accord in order to look after children who are home from school.
While these practices are being recommended to limit the spread of germs via social interactions, enforced working from home presents its own health issues for individuals and families who don’t have proper home office set-ups. This is because prolonged working on inappropriate furniture can cause strain on muscles.
In addition, the physical activity associated with daily commutes or walking around a workplace to meet with colleagues is significantly diminished which presents other health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
To keep yourself healthy in your new work setting, there are a few simple adjustments you can make to enjoy a productive work day.
Ergonomics are important: Invest in an appropriate desk and chair set up for your home office which promotes good posture and is appropriate for your height. When setting up a computer make sure the monitor is at the correct height with the top of the screen at eye level.
Virtualise your meetings: Social interactions are important for maintaining a positive mood and reducing stress, depression and anxiety caused by social isolation. By using a webcam for work meetings, you can see familiar faces and engage with colleagues on a more meaningful level.
Enforce break time from work: Sitting for hours on end working from home can place you at risk of developing stiff muscles, gaining weight and negatively affect your mood. Taking regular breaks to stretch and exercise muscles, spending time outside (where appropriate) or even working standing up for short periods can help reduce these risks. For some, installing a treadmill in the home office to utilise when making calls is a great way to keep active in a sedentary setting.
Unplug and unwind: Where possible, avoid working while hunched over a couch or sitting on a bed which not only encourages bad posture but also interrupts essential downtime which is essential for your mental health. In addition, spending bedtime glued to smartphones and other devices can interrupt your sleep and increase stress levels. Enforcing ‘no-work’ times and zones can help you maintain a healthy balance between work, rest and play.
Look for signs of strain: If you notice yourself squinting or in any distress, consult your local GP for advice on managing these issues. Something as simple as a new optical prescription or a physiotherapist referral to improve posture can make a big difference to your work habits and overall quality of life.
While it may not be convenient to work from home, you can set yourself up for success in a challenging situation.
–Dr Wainer is Head of Public Health at Bupa.