How to create a healthy and happy workspace

The events of the past 12 months have transformed the way many of us work. For those of us fortunate enough to have the space, this transformation has largely been a positive experience, allowing us extra time with our love ones, and importantly, time for ourselves.

However, for those trying to work in busy households, perhaps even sharing the kitchen table, or needing to work from the bedroom or sofa, working from home has not only impacted our mental health, but also our physical wellbeing. This may sound bizarre, but 8% of home workers have reported being injured from using an ironing board as a desk!

Research suggests that many of us are likely to continue working from home in future, for at least part of the week. Therefore, we must create a happy and healthy workspace. Employers also have a duty to protect our health and safety during working hours, so everyone has their part to play.

Is working from home damaging your health?

Forget the ironing board; a shocking number of people aren’t even getting out of bed to go to work! A whopping 72% of Americans said they had worked remotely from their bed during the pandemic. And here in the UK, those aged 18 to 34 are twice as likely to work from their bed than older workers. This is particularly concerning as young people may not immediately notice the adverse effects of poor working conditions – and more specifically – body positions.

Your neck, back, and hips are all under pressure when working on a soft surface such as a bed or sofa. This could lead to headaches, permanent stiffness in the back, arthritis and what’s known as ‘cervical pain’ – pain in the bones, ligaments and muscles in your neck.

Even if you’re lucky enough to have a desk and quiet workspace at home, is it set up appropriately? Using a computer for long periods of time can cause eye strain, back pain and repetitive strain injury.

Keep a safe posture

Whatever your set-up (desk, ironing board or bed), it’s likely your workspace could be improved. If you have to sit on a soft surface, try mimicking sitting in an upright chair to create a safe posture. If sitting on a chair, place a pillow behind your lower back for lumbar support and if you are on a bed or sofa, put pillows under your knees. And don’t even consider lying on your stomach to type; it really stresses your neck and elbows!

Even working from a desk can be problematic if you haven’t got yourself set up correctly. If possible, use a mouse rather than a trackpad and separate your screen and keyboard to ensure your screen is at eye level. This doesn’t necessarily mean investing in expensive equipment. Instead, try using a pile of books to raise your screen. A good chair with support for your lower back is vital. If you’re working from the kitchen or dining room table, bear in mind that compared to an office chair, your dining room chair will often be lower than is optimal for a safe working posture, creating a pressure point for your forearms. Try placing a towel under your forearms to help with this.

Just keep moving!

Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) refers to any activity that burns energy outside  eating, sleeping or exercise. At the office, we’d likely get up from our chairs frequently to speak with colleagues, go to the printer or make a cup of tea! We would also be traveling to and from our workplace – for example train journeys, walking to the office, cycling etc.

But are we doing this now we’re at home? For many of us, we’ve lost these daily (yet vital) movements, and so we need to compensate. With studies showing that NEAT is the key to maintaining our body weight and energy levels, we need to ensure we move at least every 30 minutes to maintain a healthy level of activity. This could be going for a short walk every day, or fitting in a short fitness routine. It’s important to move our eyes too! They too are a muscle so make sure that at least every 20 minutes you look away from your screen and focus on something else for 20 seconds.

Regenerate and refuel

If we don’t look after ourselves, how will we maintain our levels of productivity working from home? Having a good routine will really help with this. If a morning workout isn’t your thing, then maybe try meditating instead. Just find what works best for you.

Taking breaks is also key to maintaining productivity. Take a proper break away from your ‘desk’ to eat your meals. And then take smaller breaks in between. And speaking of food, don’t underestimate the impact healthy food has on our physical and mental wellbeing. Take time to plan your meals and don’t let yourself get too hungry. Regular healthy snacks throughout the day will help to keep your energy levels up. Otherwise, you might find yourself reaching for that chocolate bar, leaving you sluggish and fatigued for the rest of the day.

Add exercise into the mix

As well as taking regular breaks, try to fit a couple of quick exercises in where possible to keep your body mobile, and your mind healthy. You could also use some of your breaks to just rest and lie on the floor for a few minutes, concentrating on your breath, which is equally as effective at resetting the body and mind.

In our next blogpost, we’ll explore which exercises are most beneficial, as well as quick and easy to incorporate into our busy work schedules.

Another way of keeping active in between work sessions is to join one of our weekly classes, which is even easier now that many of them are online! Take a look at  where you will find a full timetable of studio and online courses for all ages and abilities.

Check out our video – how to create a good working space – to see our quick tips!