How can we adapt to flexible working environments?

Ergonomist at Bupa UK
21 November 2016

The work environment has gone through a number of changes over recent years. Much of it can be put down to advances in technology, meaning we no longer need to be in the office every day. Many companies have introduced different ways of working as a result of this. Usually packaged up under terms such as agile or flexible working, home working and hot desking, many of us now have a lot of flexibility when it comes to where and how we work.

Desk with laptop and phone

Of course, not everyone works in an office – you might have been working ‘mobile’ for years. If you work in sales or account management for example, you might often spend lots of time on the road, either driving or on the train.

What are the benefits?

There are some real benefits to having a more flexible work environment. If you’re able to work from home and be productive, it gives you the ability to work even when you can’t get into the office. This work-life balance can be extremely good for both you and your employer.

What about the downsides?

One of the downsides to this is that you may find yourself often working longer hours, or working until later in the day. It’s really important to have a work routine, even if you are working from home; this will benefit both your physical and mental wellbeing.

One of the biggest concerns from an ergonomic perspective is that working mobile can often mean working in unconventional environments at makeshift workstations that are not adjustable or designed for work. How many times have you gone into a coffee shop and seen someone hunched over a cup of coffee and a laptop, usually working away until that next meeting? Perhaps you recognise that you do this too. This type of posture can result in neck, shoulder and back discomfort.

Getting the most out of working mobile

To improve your posture, support your body and reduce the risk of discomfort while you’re working on the go, here are a few points to think about:

  • Due to the awkward posture you are likely to be in, try to break more regularly than you would in the office. Aim for a rest break every 15 minutes – this could help to reduce discomfort associated with poor posture.
  • If you’re using a tablet computer, avoid typing on the screen while it’s flat, or angled. This may hurt your neck and wrist. Use a stand and bluetooth keyboard to keep your hands in a more comfortable position, this will also raise the screen and help reduce neck strain.
  • Using a laptop? An external mouse will improve your comfort, rather than using the track pad. You may not be able to raise the screen height so will most likely be flexing your neck to look down. Over time this could lead to discomfort, so make sure you regularly look up.
  • If you’re carrying your laptop around, use a backpack style bag and wear this on both shoulders. This will help to distribute the weight. Try not to carry unnecessary items which could add more weight to your bag.
  • If you’re using your mobile phone for email, try to limit this to just reading them. If you need to reply, keep it short – you can type out a longer response when you have access to a larger keyboard. Also avoid using your thumb to type. Hold the phone in one hand and type with a finger on the opposite hand – your thumb will thank you!
  • If you spend a lot of time driving, make sure you take time to adjust your driving posture. Plan rest breaks on journeys of two hours or more.
  • If you need to work from the car between appointments, sit in the passenger seat; push the seat back to give yourself lots of leg space. Limit the time you work in your car to 10-15 minutes without a rest break.

If you’re at your desk or working from home, try this chair yoga sequence for a bit of fun and flexibility.

Roy Cochran-Patel
Ergonomist at Bupa UK

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