Like many of you, our business has shifted over the last few months. Wellness clinics such as ours have pivoted to virtual appointments to serve our community and provide relief to frontline services.
There is an interesting aspect to doing virtual assessments that I hadn’t anticipated…I can see inside your home! I had expected to see many of the same injuries that we treat in person but what has emerged is a staggering number of postural and overuse injuries stemming from working at home. Now that I am privy to your dining room table set-ups, I can see why.
The home office set-ups I’ve seen over the last few weeks have been creative, innovative but in some cases terrible. I’ve seen lawyers making virtual court appearances from bed, consultants perched on bar stools and writers vying for space amid lego forts.
While I celebrate the spirit to embrace our current situation, the poor ergonomics of makeshift offices can lead to injury, absenteeism and decreased productivity. In our new reality, many of us will be required to socially distance for the unforeseeable future while others may permanently find their offices moved to home as employers decrease their overhead by eliminating large brick and mortar office spaces. It is important we start to consider how we can improve our space and work organization to reflect these shifts.
When someone breaks their arm, the effects of the immobilization of the cast become as much of the problem as the break itself. I suspect the same will be true of self isolation. Our failure to prepare ourselves mechanically, support our health through movement and the mental toll of working from home are poised to have a significant impact on how we return to work.
However, when properly addressed, that does not need to be the case.
The Ergonomics of Your Home Office
One size does not fit all. That has always been the driving force behind workplace ergonomic assessments. We generally understand someone who has minimized their physical stress through individualized set up is better poised to perform well professionally.
So why have we forgotten this at home?
I suspect it is due to a lack of resources, or at least we think it is.
While you may not have your sit-stand desk in your living room, there are several easy DIY hacks you can do from home to customize your work space and relieve strain. If you need some suggestions, we recently wrote a blog detailing some of our favourite tips.
No adjustable chair (and yes we have heard they have become the new toilet paper and are sold out and back ordered everywhere)? No problem. A simple shoe box under your feet can improve the angle of your hips and back. A rolled up towel can create lumbar support or a cushion can elevate you to the height of your computer. You just need to know how to objectively look at your own body and employ creative solutions.
Movement as Medicine
While many of us have rejoiced in the elimination of the daily commute, the downside is that it has also eliminated a large portion of our daily physical activity. Think about it. You probably walked to the bus stop or from your parking lot to the office. You probably got up from your desk to meet a colleague or to step out from lunch. Several of us cycle to and from work.
The commute to your basement, while shorter, pales in terms of physical activity. In fact many of us have been sitting through isolation which puts considerable stress on our bodies. Not only does it impact our cardiovascular output, it puts strain on our joints and muscles that are not used to prolonged sitting. It shortens muscles with direct attachments to our back and pelvis which impact our posture and can contribute to pain.
If a home office is part of your long term plan, having a space to move nearby is also a good idea. Whether that means a yoga mat on the floor for a quick flow or a space to foam roll and stretch tight muscles, movement is key to reversing the negative impact of daily sitting.
The Logistics of Scheduling Work From Home
In addition to our commute, how we organize our days has also changed. Many clients faced with parenting and homeschooling children on top of an 8 hour work day are trying to fit as much as possible in with back to back meetings, conference calls and desk time. Many of us are forgetting to take the much needed breaks that maximize our productivity.
Studies have shown that individuals typically can’t focus on a task for more than 40-50 minutes. Longer continuous sessions not only contribute to physical deconditioning but decrease both our efficiency and effectiveness occupationally.
Regardless of time crunch, it is essential that you build breaks into your day. I’ve recently counselled clients to set an alarm on their computer or only fill their water bottles only a third as triggers to get up and move. If you do need to be at your desk a certain number of hours per day consider breaking it into chunks to maximize your job performance and avoid wasting unfocused time sitting at your desk.
How Can Employers Help?
Making sure your team has appropriate wellness resources is important to bringing a happy and healthy workforce back into the office when social distancing eases. Assisting your employees to establish safe and biomechanically sound spaces at home will also help to move your business forward by ensuring the best environments for productivity and injury prevention.
At Body Co we have recently introduced virtual home office assessments. Driven by requests from our clients, these sessions focus on objective assessment of home office set-up, patient body scans and movement analysis to make informed and individualized recommendations to improve the ergonomics that would otherwise contribute to stress and strain. Every session is accompanied by tailored movement suggestions, organizational strategy and an itemized checklist of recommended changes.
Offering this service not only exemplifies your commitment to the health and well being of your staff, it is also extremely cost effective. Major insurance companies have recently introduced coverage for virtual services and ergonomic assessments can be included under normal physiotherapy benefits. More importantly, despite coverage, the investment to make sure your employees are properly set-up is significantly less than the cost of absenteeism, poor performance or WSIB claims.
We are currently offering this service at a reduced rate to support business and economic recovery. Bulk packages are also available for companies with 20 or more employees.
If you would like to book an appointment for yourself, you can schedule your appointment here. If you would like to discuss a customized package you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss the specific needs of your company.
Stay safe at home.
Melanie Stevens Sutherland, Clinic Director & Senior Orthopaedic and Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist
Melanie is a graduate of McMaster University and brings 17 years of experience as a senior physiotherapist to Body Co. She has enjoyed a long tenure working with active populations at prestigious sport medicine clinics. Past clients include Provincial, National and Olympic level athletes as well as members of the National Football League, the Canadian Football League, the Ontario Hockey League, the American Hockey League, the National Lacrosse League and Major League Soccer.
Following the birth of her own children, Melanie developed a strong interest in women’s health. She has taken specialized courses in pelvic floor physiotherapy and women’s nutrition. She is passionate about helping women find strength and confidence in their post-natal bodies following pregnancy and delivery.
If you would like to work with me directly, you can book an appointment in my schedule online.