Remote working is on the rise, with increasing health risks associated with sedentary lifestyles. Could standing desks be the answer?
What is remote working?
You're no doubt familiar with the term, but remote working is a means by which a worker can perform their tasks wherever they are. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), up to 90% of staff said they'd like to work remotely at least part-time, and the ONS believes that around half of UK staff could be working remotely by 2020. With such a hefty increase in remote working, employers and staff need to be aware of the potential health risks as well as benefits.
The pros of remote working for workers
For workers, there are multiple benefits to remote working. Chief among them are the improved work-life balance, the higher productivity, and reduced work-based expenses like travel.
The pros of remote working for employers
Employers also get added value from employing staff who work remotely from home or elsewhere. They get the benefit of employees who feel satisfied, fulfilled, and motivated to boost their productivity. In some cases, employers might also reap the benefits of smaller office spaces and reduced rents. Employers who adhere to HR best practice for remote workers could find it as easy to have remote working employees as office-based ones.
The health risks of remote working - we need to talk
There are, however, known risks associated with longterm remote working. These risks could negatively affect both employees and employers - and they primarily relate to health.
According to the Get Britain Standing organisation, a sedentary lifestyle is one of the four top causes of preventable death. From cardiovascular health and metabolism issues to mental health, back and neck pain, muscle degeneration and osteoporosis, a wide range of conditions can be caused or exacerbated by excessive amounts of time spent sitting down.
When it comes to remote working from home, constant sitting is a real problem. Work/life boundaries get blurred, and an employee can find themselves beginning work hours before their office-based colleagues start their day. Whereas an office worker might head out with colleagues for lunch, a homeworker can grab a snack from the kitchen and keep on going - often finishing late in order to achieve a task or make a dent in the to-do list.
In addition to potentially working longer hours because there's no official starting or stopping time, remote workers lose out on daily step counts where they save on money. There's no need to travel to the office, and no chance to get moving, stretch the limbs, work the spine or enjoy the simple restorative pleasures that heading outdoors can bring.
Employers who want to reduce the risk of injury in their employees need to consider the infrastructure of sedentary workers - and that's where standing desks come in.
What are standing desks?
The umbrella term of 'standing desks' covers a wide variety of desks and desk enhancers that enable a worker to stand as they work:
- Sit-stand height-adjustable desks
- Sit-stand desktop converters
- Desktop risers
- Fixed-height standing desks
- Sit-stand-recline 'astronaut' workstations
Budget and cost-effective models are available for remote workers who aren't sure if a standing desk is worth the outlay and for employers who want to convert existing office furniture to enable their workers to sit or stand as they prefer.
How standing desks help mitigate the health risks of remote working
Research and medical trials suggest that standing desks directly help to boost work performance and reduce the risks inherent in a sedentary lifestyle. In research published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in 2018, NHS staff who swapped their standard desks for sit-stand workstations reduced their sitting time by around 80 minutes per day after a year.
Those same staff also reported feeling more engaged with their work, and suffering from fewer musculoskeletal problems. It's potentially very good news for remote workers who are concerned about the effects of increased sitting and reduced movement when working from home.
Changeboard challenge: Varidesk Pro Plus 30 review
As a member of the Changeboard team and a remote worker, I'd been noting increased back pain over time as a result from working daily from home. Although I try to incorporate elective exercise into my week (gym and walking the dog), I became very conscious that, with self-set long work hours and a lack of travel to and from work, my spine and lower back muscles were beginning to take the strain. I gota Varidesk Pro Plus 30 and have been using it for about a month at time of writing.
It's early days, but I can feel that my back pain has been reduced, and although I couldn't put a number on it - I'm not, after all, engaged in an NHS moderated trial - I suspect I've reduced my sitting hours, too. My average daily step count hasn't gone up, but I didn't expect it to. After all, the Varidesk isn't a treadmill desk where you can walk as you work (yes, these truly exist). Its aim is to help you stand more throughout the day.
The Varidesk is a standing desk converter, which means you can convert your existing desk into a sit-stand workstation just by placing the Varidesk on top of your desk's normal work surface. If you have a very small and compact everyday desk, you might need to check the dimensions to ensure it's large enough for the converter to sit on top.
As you work, you can convert your desk from sit to stand quite easily using latches on the side of your desk. This ease of use is vital, because you have to be able to make the change without fuss, and as soon as you feel the urge. As an engaged and productive worker, you don't want lengthy minutes of fiddling with office equipment stretching into hours.
As an added design feature, the mechanism is nigh-on silent. If I was using this in an office scenario with other sit-stand colleagues, I'd be grateful for that silent mechanism to ensure I wouldn't be interrupting anyone else's work.
A key feature of the efficacy of a sit-stand desk converter is its ergonomic nature; there's no point in replacing one set of aches and pains with another, solely due to bad design. Fortunately, the design of the Varidesk is sturdy and well thought-out. A multitude of height settings enable you to feel the benefit regardless of how tall you are.
Because it works on two tiers there is a lower platform for your keyboard and mouse, and a higher one for your monitor (or two monitors, or monitor/laptop combo, depending on your preference). The keyboard platform is set at a comfortable height - I touch type, but like to look down at my hands occasionally, and don't have to contort my neck to do so.
I think that standing while you work on a computer is a learned behaviour that takes a little time to adjust to. I typically work for four hours or so, then suddenly get a twinge of back pain and realise I can simply raise my desk. I then work standing for about half an hour, enough for my muscles and spine to feel re-aligned, and sit back down again.
At £365, this isn't a super-cheap option. However, the price holds up well compared with other, similar office products. After a month, I'm now familiar enough with the heights and positioning of the Varidesk that I almost forget it is there and stay seated - but when the back pain rears up, that's when I need the standing option most, and have become increasingly glad to be able to use it at will.
As a remote worker with a sedentary lifestyle, I appreciate what a standing desk can do for my focus and physical comfort, and national statistics and reports lead me to suspect it might have its benefits in the standard office too.
The gulf between those embracing change and those falling behind is growing.
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