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  • Writer's pictureDr Lina Engelen

HEALTHY HOME-OFFICE

Hello, happy Tuesday!


In my last blog I spoke about how the COVID-19 crisis has forced us all to settle in to an ‘Interim normal’. A big part of the Interim normal is working or learning from home. Our working and learning environments have a profound impact on our health, influencing everything from our mental well-being to chronic disease risks. But, many of us are finding that our current ad hoc home offices leave much to be desired.


I have worked from home quite a lot during the last few years, thanks to the type of work I am doing. The space I had originally set up, turned out to be too cold in winter and too dark most of the year, so after some trial and error, I decided to have a flexible work space at home. I move from the dining table, to the armchair overlooking the escarpment, via the couch with the dog next to me, to our outdoor space, depending on mood, weather and light levels. This set-up works for me, while other members of my family are happy with their mostly fixed set-up and larger screens. I really like working from home, but particularly in times like these, it can be a bit isolating and stressful.


Even when there is no crisis, working remotely can be stressful. A United Nations report from 2017 found that remote workers feel more stressed than workers located in an office, with 41% of remote workers reporting high stress levels compared to only 25% of office workers. One of the reasons for this could be the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality that was common, which can lead to a lack of trust, and feelings of being an outsider. Perhaps now that many have experienced working from home, some of the issues, such as isolation or lack of belonging, will be improved and people (staff as well as managers) will feel less stressed about it.


Communities are beginning to gradually lift restrictions related to COVID-19, but it is expected that working from home will remain in place for months to come. Hence it is a good idea to set up spaces that support a holistic health while working from home. Below I have gathered 7 evidence-based strategies for a healthy home office from a range of trustworthy sources, including Fitwel.



1. Connect with Nature. Views of nature have a calming effect, which can contribute to reduced stress and enhanced mental health. Set up your workspace close to a window that offers views of greenery, such as trees or gardens. Add some biophilia indoors too, think pot plants, cut flowers, etc.


2. Cherish the daylight. Greater access to natural light during the day is associated with higher melatonin levels at night, which enhances sleep quality and reduces depressive symptoms. Sit close to a window while you are working or learning and take the opportunity to step outside a few times every day to soak up extra sunlight.


3. Get moving. Regular walks during work hours improve enthusiasm and relaxation, and reduce nervousness. Find ways to be physically active throughout your day, for example by setting up a standing desk, taking a stroll during phone calls, or using mini-breaks throughout the day to get moving—try workout apps, gardening, or a run in the bush, park, beach, or leafy street.


4. Break it up. ‘The best posture is the next posture’, according to physios and ergonomists around the world. Even if your chair is very comfortable and gives you support in all the right places (chances are, though, that you don’t have that sort of chair in your home office), it is important to take regular breaks from your computer. Decreasing sedentary time can enhance your well-being and mental health. Get up and take a break every 30 minutes, and have lunch away from your desk. Drink more water. Going to the water cooler and toilet will break up sitting time. Sitting for long periods in a workspace that probably wasn’t designed with work in mind can contribute to issues such as pain in your neck, back, wrists and fingers. Apart from the physical aspects, taking a break increases productivity and decision-making, and helps to sustain concentration and energy levels to process information better.


5. Get some Fresh Air. Bringing outdoor air in can enhance indoor air quality. Natural ventilation practices can be as simple as opening a window or door. Also try to get outside each day, because a bit of fresh air and a change of scenery helps fight off stress and anxiety, and improve overall mental health.


6. Feel thermally comfortable. Thermal comfort has positive effects on productivity, so make sure your workspace is comfortable in terms of temperature. A too warm work environment can make you feel sluggish and low on concentration. If it’s too cold on the other hand you may feel niggles in your neck, shoulders and wrists.


7. Eat healthy and stay hydrated. The environment where we eat can influence our dietary habits. When we work from home, we have the opportunity to prepare and eat healthy food. However, if you’re anything like me, you also spend a lot of time at home raiding the pantry (I need to work on that). Avoid eating at the computer, as it has been shown that eating while we are distracted can lead to greater food intake. So, I will strive for more mindful eating by stepping away from my computer at lunchtime, making sure the healthiest choices are the ones in easy reach, and keeping a glass or bottle of water next to me.


Even when restrictions ease, I think regularly working from home will become an important part of our post-Corona New Normal, so it can be a good investment for the longer term to look at some of these strategies. Perhaps your home office will be your favourite and more productive place to work.


Wishing you happy and healthy working from home! And remember to wash your hands!


Lina




References

Eurofound and the International Labour Office. (2017). Working anytime, anywhere: The effects on the world of work, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, and the International Labour Office, Geneva.

An, M., et al. (2016). Why we need more nature at work: Effects of natural elements and sunlight on employee mental health and work attitudes. PLOS One, 11(5).

Toyoda, M., et al. (2020). Potential of a Small Indoor Plant on the Desk for Reducing Office Workers’ Stress. HortTechnology, 30(1), 55-63.

Harb, F., Hidalgo, M. P., & Martau, B. (2015). Lack of exposure to natural light in the workspace is associated with physiological, sleep and depressive symptoms.

Hickie, I. B., & Rogers, N. L. (2011). Novel melatoninbased therapies: potential advances in the treatment of major depression. The Lancet, 378(9791), 621-631

ThøgersenNtoumani, C., et al. (2015). Changes in work affect in response to lunchtime walking in previously physically inactive employees: A randomized trial. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 25(6), 778-787.

Garland, E., et al. (2018). Stand Up to Work: assessing the health impact of adjustable workstations. International Journal of Workplace Health Management, 11(2), 895.

Kilpatrick, M., et al. (2013). Cross-sectional associations between sitting at work and psychological distress: Reducing sitting time may benefit mental health. Mental Health and Physical Activity, 6(2), 103-109.

Carrer, P., et al. (2015). What does the scientific literature tell us about the ventilation– health relationship in public and residential buildings? Building and Environment, 94, 273-286.

Beyer, K. M. M., Szabo, A., & Nattinger, A. B. (2016). Time Spent Outdoors, Depressive Symptoms, and Variation by Race and Ethnicity. 51(3), 281-290.

Robinson, E., et al. (2013). Eating attentively: a systematic review and metaanalysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 97(4), 728-42







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