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Making working from home work for you: your physical health

Behavioural Insights Adviser at Bupa UK
20 March 2020

In light of the coronavirus and social distancing, you may find yourself working from home over the coming weeks and months. It’s a difficult time for all of us, particularly if you’re juggling working and having the kids at home.

In this first instalment, we’re focusing on looking after your physical health: setting up your office space, keeping active and eating well. Then in part two we’ll look at being mentally prepared to work from home: keeping your motivation levels up, maintaining social connections and staying focused.

Kids at home

It goes without saying that trying to work and look after your kids is difficult and a worry for many right now. These aren’t normal times. Have a chat with your manager about ways you can be flexible. It might be that you’re able to alter your hours (for example working later in the day) so you can dedicate the time you need to looking after your children too.

Setting up

It’s important to look after your posture when you’re working from home. So, tempting as it may be, this means not sitting on the sofa with your laptop on your knees. Sit at the kitchen or dining table if you don’t have a designated office space.

It helps to have equipment such as a detachable keyboard and mouse and if you don’t have a monitor, make sure the top of your laptop screen is positioned at eye level and about an arm’s length away from you. You can get special equipment for this or you could stack some board games or books until it’s at the right level.

This diagram shows you what your office set up should look like. Your seat should be close to your desk or table and your feet fully on the floor. Keep your shoulders relaxed and your elbows at a 90-degree angle just above the tabletop.

An image of a person sitting at a desk

Take breaks

Lots of people find that when working from home there’s a tendency to sit for long periods of time and not take the short regular breaks you should to move around to help prevent aches, pains and eye strain. Without the natural stimulus of a busy office environment, it can help to set some reminders in your calendar to stretch, get up and move and make a drink. If it’s in the diary as a commitment, we are more likely to do it, as it helps us better stick to our intentions.

Do some regular stretching throughout the day – one way to remember to do this is to attach it to another activity that can serve as a trigger or cue (called habit stacking). For example, do some stretches while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, or stand up and move about when you make or take a phone call.

Also with a phone call, think about whether you can have the call as a walking meeting. For example, if it’s a catch up, perhaps you can agree with the other person that you both go for a walk while you talk on the phone.

Perhaps set a timer so that you work for 45 minutes undisturbed, and then take a 15-minute break. This is a good productivity hack too, it’s really hard to stay concentrated for hours at a time.

Make sure you take a lunch break – don’t work through it. Do something fun with your partner or kids if they are at home too. If you’re on your own, phone a friend for a chat if you’d like some company, or use the time to relax or do something active.

Keep active

A neat trick to make sure you do some exercise is to put your gym kit on as soon as you get out of bed. You’ll find that being ready to exercise will encourage you to do something active. You’ll be much more motivated to go for a jog on your lunch break when you’re already dressed to go as you have committed yourself to it.

Natalie agrees and says: “When I’m working from home, I do a couple of things. I either do a 10-minute HIIT workout as soon as I wake up. Or I take my yoga mat downstairs and roll it out in the living room so it’s ready and waiting for me at lunch time. I find doing this make me much more committed to doing some exercise rather than face the shame of rolling my mat up unused!”

Another tip is to make use of the commute time you had previously to do some exercise, whether that’s before work or afterwards.

Eat well

Working at home can make it harder to keep your head out of the fridge and biscuit tin, so how can you resist temptation?

If you have treats in the house, arrange them in the cupboard so that they are hard to reach or out of sight (better still, don’t buy them in the first place!). Instead, make it easy to eat the things that are good for you, such as having fresh fruit on the counter.

Try not to take snacks to your desk space as this might lead to mindless eating and eating more than you intended! It will also start to encourage bad habits such as eating lunch in front of your laptop too. When it is lunch time, take the time to prepare a healthy meal rather than just eating bits and pieces from the fridge or cupboard.

A final tip: use if – then implementation plans so that you have a back-up plan for when all you want to do is reach for the biscuits. For example, if I am craving a biscuit, then I will drink a glass of water.

Getting the basics right can really help making working from home a more comfortable and productive space to be.

Lauren Gordon
Behavioural Insights Adviser at Bupa UK

    • Work routine. Health and Safety Executive. www.hse.gov.uk, published 12 November 2019
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