The Prime Minister set out an “ambitious” post-coronavirus recovery plan this week – but it remains likely that there will be a long-term impact of the pandemic on the nature of work and employee absence brought about by the widespread emergence of homeworking.
Boris Johnson said yesterday that now is the time to be “ambitious” about the UK’s future and said he would “use the moment” to fix longstanding economic problems, vowing a £5bn deal to build homes and infrastructures.
But the Prime Minister remains under no illusion that there will be major changes in the short, medium and long terms on British society, not least in the world of work.
While the benefits of homeworking are becoming more and more apparent to businesses and employees alike – including less time commuting, more time with family and reductions in office costs – research shows that there could be an “explosion” in health-related problems if employees and employers and underprepared.
A study of 2,000 people by Ascenti, the UK physiotherapy group, suggests that half of home workers are already experiencing physical pain due to a poor home office set-up, the report shows.
The lack of dedicated home office spaces in most houses mean that many workers are being forced to use sofas, beds and beanbags instead of desks, while workers are moving less” as they do not have to commute to work walk to see colleagues.
There is also a lack of ergonomic advice on offer from employers, mean that back, neck, shoulder and hand pain are now common among the half (49%) of home workers already experiencing discomfort since they stopped being office-based.
Kevin Doyle, Ascenti’s Commercial Director, said workplace-induced musculoskeletal pain affected half-a-million UK workers last year, costing businesses £15bn
Doyle said the sofa is the new “seat of choice” for office workers, with the research showing that seven out of 10 (72%) have worked from the couch since the outbreak, while more than half (56%) have used their bed, making them both more popular than the traditional desk (47%).
Younger employees are particularly likely to use alternative work set-ups, with nine out 10 (91%) 16-24 year olds having based their office out of bed, two thirds (65%) on the floor and half (52%) from a beanbag.
And he said the organisation’s ‘Are Home-Workers Sitting Comfortably?’ report suggests there has been a 10-fold rise in home working since the coronavirus outbreak and the number of injuries could increase dramatically due to makeshift “non-ergonomic” set-ups.
Doyle said the improvised set-ups are the result of half of home workers being unable to access a desk, adjustable chair or separate monitor and keyboard, and many others having to share. Women are “particularly” likely to miss out and are experiencing more signs of injury as a result, Doyle said.
The poll, though, said there is “good” news for employers that invest in support for staff when it comes to their home-working set-up.
Eight out of 10 (85%) would be more likely to want to work for a company that provides such support, the research shows.
It also shows that an employer’s reputation could also be improved if they recognise employees’ responsibilities at home (28%), provide a work computer/laptop (25%), invite questions about setting up a workspace (19%) would all improve an employer’s reputation, as would the promise of work-from-home options in the future (26%).
Ascenti CEO Stephanie Dobrikova added: “Organisations have had a really tough time having to quickly adapt their systems, services and communications to meet the unique needs of the current situation and we all know how incredibly hard people have been working to make that happen.
“However, the results of this report suggest that a majority of home-workers are carrying out their daily duties in a way that increases their chances of physical injury, which could add extra pressure to individuals, businesses and the health service at what is already an exceptionally challenging time – and that is a worry.
“Having a good ergonomic workspace can reduce pain, prevent injury and increase productivity, so it’s well worth supporting home workers with setting one up, especially as it looks likely that this situation could be with us for a while yet.”
Doyle and Dobrikova said that creating an ergonomic home office “doesn’t have to be expensive” and advising employees of “simple tricks” like using a rolled up towel to provide lumbar spine support and adjusting their seat height with a cushion can “really help” to protect the health of those who do not have access to an adjustable chair.
Movement and stretches are also important and home-workers should be advised to try to stand up every 20 minutes and move for 20 seconds, they said, with Acenti data showing that nearly one in four are now moving less than they used to.
Dobrikova said: “Many homeworkers told us that they’re feeling distant from their colleagues and struggling to switch off at the end of the day. Video conferencing can be a good way to stay connected to others, while rounding off the workday with a 30-60 minute walk can help them to stay fit and provides a great way to unwind and transition from worklife to homelife.
“From a company culture and employer brand point of view, it’s clear from this research that demonstrating an understanding of the pressures your employees are facing at this time and taking steps to make things easier for them – whether through providing equipment, advice or the offer of flexibility – will go a long way to supporting their health and wellbeing, and in turn improve both their productivity and your reputation as an employer.”
ASCENTI AT A GLANCE
Ascenti provides physiotherapy and selected clinical outsourcing services across the UK and are a partner to more than 20 NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups and 400 private businesses across Britain, serving NHS patients, pay as you go customers and private medical insurance members.
- Founded in 1995 as The Injury Care Clinics, providing medico-legal support to help employees and individuals to recover quickly and safely from accidents
- Joined forces with PhysioWorld in 2010, adding to physiotherapy services as delivered to elite sportsmen and women
- Rebranded from The Integrated Care Clinics in 2015 after its expansion to become the largest physiotherapy provider outside of the NHS and major hospitals
- Has treated more than 1.5 million people, from office workers to top athletes
- Workforce of 600+ employees
- Largest employer of physiotherapists outside of the NHS and major hospital groups in the UK
- Its 300 trained physiotherapists are all employed by the organisation – and not independent contractors – and are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council
- All physios undertake a minimum of 100 hours of protected training and CPD time annually
- Delivers upwards of 600,000 treatment sessions annually
- ISO-accredited workflow platform and app
- Dedicated in-house Governance and Quality Team made up of 13 employees
- Compliant with the National Data Guardian’s Data Security Standards
- 90% of the UK population lives within five miles of an Ascenti clinic
- Digital health services, including virtual consultation capabilities, also changing the way that people access physiotherapy
- Providing free virtual physiotherapy appointments to NHS workers and over-65s during the lockdown