The pathologies of working from home
Until recently, working from home simply wasn’t an option for many people. Dreamed of by some, viewed with suspicion by others, remote working generally didn’t feature in most people’s lives. The extent to which this has changed in the Covid era need hardly be explained. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably logged dozens of hours of Zoom, Skype or any other video conferencing software. Like it or not, it has become part of the new work routine.
Most people agree that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. The freedom to organise your own schedule around life admin, chose your own breaks, dress as you please (if only from the waist down!), have more family time, and save on travel and other expenses while helping the environment are all major advantages that can have a positive impact on your stress levels. Multiple studies have shown that productivity also increases while working remotely. Research carried out by the universities of Stanford and Harvard in the United States on over 250 employees of a well-known travel agency showed an increase in sales of up to 13%.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? But let’s take a look at the downsides. You have to be pretty resilient to avoid feeling isolated or lonely at times, and separating family and work life can be a challenge. Then there are the constant distractions offered by your mobile, kettle or biscuit tin, that thing you were bidding on, or the new post you just wanted to check, not to mention hyper-availability in the eyes of your manager, difficulty getting down to work, or not knowing when to finish. It’s already 5 o’clock, and you’re not entirely sure what you’ve achieved today. Sounds familiar?
In a more immediate, physical way, let’s add injuries to the list. Often the prospect of getting comfortable leads us to the sofa or chairs designed only for the duration of a meal, leading to back pain and knee problems. Typing, for example, leads to extensions, flexions, rapid rotations and other movements of the wrist, all of which can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. Prolonged static posture of the neck, shoulder and arm leads to cervical tension syndrome. Because our homes were designed primarily as living spaces, they typically lack an optimal working space. It is just as important to monitor the layout, comfort and ergonomics of our remote workstations as it is to have clear working hours.
It is important to be aware of the most common physical conditions facing remote workers, in order to avoid them with the correct furniture and appropriate posture
According to the study Workstation design from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, one of the most common complaints is tendinitis, an inflammation of the tendon caused by repetitive compression or friction. It can occur in tendon sheaths and the surrounding tissue or where bone meets muscle, limiting movement. Another is tenosynovitis, an inflammation of the tendon sheaths. A lack of lubrication in the tendon extensors creates friction of the tendon on the sheath and can cause De Quervain’s syndrome.
Carpal tunnel syndrome happens when we repeatedly use a tool with the wrist in an extreme position. It can cause inflammation and dilation of the tissue through the narrow bony canal of the median nerve from the forearm to the hand. Epicondylitis (a type of tendonitis known as ‘tennis elbow’) is the painful inflammation of the elbow caused by repetitive work with objects or by repeated movements of heavy loads associated with flexion and extension of the wrist, in particular wrist hyperextension and prono supination (rotation) under load.
As irritating as it is to pick up injuries related to everyday habits such as sitting at our desks and typing on our computers, they can be avoided by paying attention to ergonomics. Wherever you are, consider a minimum width of 70cm to move your legs under your desk. Have an adjustable chair with a seat and backrest suitable for your back — mainly in the lumbar and thoracic area — ideally swivelable, with armrests, and a non-slip footrest with an adjustable tilt of between 5° and 15°. Don’t forget that the upper edge of your computer monitor should be at eye level to avoid any uncomfortable neck movement. To determine the recommended distance between the screen and the eye, stretch your arm out in front of you, so that the fingertips touch the monitor.