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Are we working (too) comfortably?

Dr Sarah Morton from the Physical Activity for Health Research Centre at The University of Edinburgh suggests ways to help you break up desk-time while working at home.

Published: 14/11/2022

Illustration of a woman walking wearing headphones with text, Move Your Way During the Work at Home Day

Cast your mind back to early 2020, the world went into a global lockdown, and we were told ‘if you can work from home, you should work from home’. Bring yourself back to the present day, two and a half years later, in late 2022, and many of us are still working from home.  We may be at home for all of the working week, or in a hybrid situation where we spend some of the week working in the office, and some of it at home. 

Working at home is great! So, what’s the problem?! 

Working at home can be great, there are lots of benefits of doing so! If you work from home, you’ll most certainly have your own personal things you enjoy about being able to work from home. But unfortunately, there are also some negatives. Our research team has been focusing on how working at home can lead to an increase in desk-time. Accumulating time at our desks isn’t good for our health, and there are well evidenced negative effects on both short and long term physical and mental health and wellbeing. So, a solution is needed! 

Our research and what we found out

A graphic showing information about feedback given from participants in a research projectWe spoke to employees and line managers who are working from home, and they told us they are mostly aware that spending too much time at our desks isn’t the best thing for our health. However, even in knowing this, most agreed they are moving less at home in comparison to when they are working in the office. The research participants told us about a number of reasons for this reduced movement. They recognised they had lost incidental movement throughout the day, think those short walks to the printer, nipping to the coffee shop, or having a quick chat with a colleague to get their advice. Another concern was the loss of their daily commute, especially since that was a defined start and end point to the day, something that was often more blurred when working at home. Lots of people recognised that back-to-back meetings were considered a real restrictor in feeling able to take time away from the desk. Another big influence talked about was feeling the need to be present, which resulted in feeling ‘tied to the desk’. 

Graphic with flowchart showing a behaviour change theory

Drawing from what the participants told us, what we already know from existing research, and our understanding of behaviour change, we identified how we can best overcome these issues and support those working at home to move more. We think four elements are key.  Firstly, there is a need for education, about accumulating desk-time, and the benefits of reducing desk-time. By providing this information, we hope those working at home may form the intention to reduce their desk time. In order to help support this intention to become action, we recognise it is important to provide guidance for how to reduce this, and tools for doing so; and also a supportive culture that encourages movement away from the desk using tools such as action planning, prompts, and social support from colleagues and at organisational level. 

What’s in the toolbox?

Graphic with simple icons and text showing intervention strategies

Alongside those who took part in our research, we designed a toolkit that can be used by anyone who is working at home or hybrid working. The toolkit is currently being tested and will be freely available to access soon:

  • Desk-time calculator allowing employees to calculate how much time they are spending at their desk each day, and therefore become more aware of their behaviour.
  • Animations with educational content and suggestions.
  • MS Teams prompt with suggestions such a yoga, microbreaks, chores, etc. for moving, delivered at various time points across the working day. 
  • 50-minute meetings rather than have a 1-hour meeting, reduce this to 50-minutes and use the spare 10-minutes for something active (not to reply to those emails that came in during the meeting!).
  • DIY tech use your smartphone / phone / smartpod / cooker alarm to set reminders to move.
  • Home-to-home commute start and end your work at home day with some active movement, and even better if you can meet a pal or family member to keep you committed.