by Amanda Harris

Statistics vary, but all the indications are that, where it is possible, most people are hoping to combine remote and office-based working after the pandemic. Unfortunately, there are health risks associated with this.  BUPA estimated that 11 million Brits suffered increased back problems as a result of working from home during the pandemic, and working part of the time from the office has additional risks to working there full time.  What are the risks and how can they be managed?  How can you avoid becoming my patient? 

  1. Will you be carrying your laptop to and from the office and meetings? If so, invest in a rucksack to ensure the weight is evenly distributed.  I treat many people with serious neck injuries caused by carrying laptops in handbags that have been flung over one shoulder.
  1. Will you be sharing your workstation in the office with someone else? If so, you need to set aside time every morning (or whenever you arrive in the office) to adjust the workstation to suit you (see below). You also need to make sure you clean the workstation after use to prevent infection. 
  1. Whether working from home or the office, you must use a fully adjustable chair.  Your employer is obliged to ensure your seating position is safe, so many will supply the chair if asked. 
  1. Laptops are not designed for full time work.  If that is what your employer has provided, they should also give you stands (for use at home and in the office) and separate keyboards so that the screen can be brought up to the correct height. 
  1. Your employer will take steps to ensure social distancing is easy to achieve, but you need to play your part too.  Don’t lean over someone or sit next to them, leave space.  Not everyone can have the vaccine so it is understandable that, even after we’re ‘back to normal’, some will want to maintain social distancing.  You should respect that.
  1. To reduce eye fatigue, try the 20 20 20 rule where every 20 minutes you look at something at least 20 feet away, that’s about 6 metres, for 20 seconds. This stops your eye muscles getting overworked. 
  1. Make sure you have regular movement breaks. That means getting up and moving for at least 10 minutes once an hour. Go and get yourself a drink of water or do some stretches. Place your hands on your bottom and lean back only as far as it comfortable and then return to neutral. Repeat six times. To release neck and shoulder tension try shrugging your shoulders as high as you can towards your ears and then let go.  Repeat six times.  

Workstation set up 

Your employer has a legal obligation to ensure your safety at work, wherever you carry out that work.  A key part of that is a workstation assessment, as it is very easy for important issues to be overlooked.  Poor posture very quickly leads to muscle and ligament tension, particularly in the neck, shoulder and back.  It is this tension that leads to pain and joint tightness. 

Step 1 

Raise the height of your chair so that your elbows are at right angles and your forearms are parallel with the desk or table. 

Step 2 

Check to see if your feet are now fully supported on the floor. If they aren’t, put them on a cushion so that your hips are slightly higher or level with your knees. This helps to put your back in a comfortable position. 

Step 3 

Sit back in the chair to support your spine.  If your lower back needs more support that the chair gives you, place a rolled-up towel in the small of your back. 

Step 4 

Adjust the height of your screen so that your eyes are level with the top of the display screen, ensuring the screen is roughly an arm’s length away from you.  If you’re using a laptop or tablet, you will need a stand and a separate keyboard and mouse.

More about Amanda Harris and The Physio Company

Amanda Harris is the founder of The Physio Company and one of the UK’s top physiotherapists specialising in work-related injuries. The Physio Company offers employers “The Desk Test” to ensure that workstation set up is not harmful and complies with Health and Safety Regulations.  

Amanda qualified from Guy’s Hospital and worked in several London teaching hospitals specialising in the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions. In 1990 she completed a Masters leading to a membership of the Manipulation Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (MACP). In addition to previous ergonomic training and extensive occupational health experience at The Royal Free Hospital and British Airways, Amanda completed her Nebosh Certificate in Occupational Safety and Health in 2004.