Hidden Health Hazards of Working from Home

Tips to Avoid Three Silent Saboteurs

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Photo credit: Karim Ghantous on Unsplash

“My back hurts, I have a headache, and I hardly have time to go to the bathroom,” complained Satoko, a senior director at a high-tech firm, just four days after her company instituted a work from home policy. As a manager, Satoko’s priority was the welfare of her team members. Between one-on-one check-ins with her direct reports, regular work meetings, and new meetings to strategize how to keep business results going, her schedule was even more relentless than normal. Vanished are the half hours she booked to eat lunch and the hour she’d blocked each day for email. As remote work stretches into weeks – and months for some — it’s taking a physical toll on us. Some of these strains are tangible, a common one being back pain, but lurking right beneath obvious signs of discomfort are at least three silent saboteurs of our strength.

Here are three dangers of working from home – and ways to address them.

The danger of tooth decay. Duke University researcher and author, Dan Ariely says that the best maintained part of our bodies is our teeth. We are careful to tend our teeth because we’re motivated by social acceptance – at risk if habitual dental neglect led to halitosis. Now that we don’t see our colleagues in person or stay at least six feet apart, our dental diligence has declined. It’s easy to slide into your office chair without brushing your teeth. As long as you’re dressed, no one knows about your bad breath or your bunny slippers. At a recent conference call, four out of six people hadn’t brushed their teeth yet and it was 1pm. Instead of telling yourself you’ll brush your teeth after breakfast, which then slides into after lunch or later, employ your toothbrush before you leave the bathroom in the morning.

The harm to your heart health. By now we know that sitting is the new smoking. We may have already created exercise routines to offset the time spent at our desks. When we sit too much during meetings in conference rooms, we at least have the benefit of movement to get from one conference room to the next. When meeting virtually, one video call may be stacked on top of the previous one. There’s no natural physical movement built in. Start your calls by asking who else has been in back-to-back meetings and would like to take a 30-second movement break. Then stand up and move or stretch. I do this with all my group calls and have even learned creative ways to do burpees in a restricted office space. Set your fitness watch to buzz if you’re not active each hour and to serve as a reminder in meetings. If a meeting finishes early, before defaulting into email first complete your step goal for the hour. Perhaps even run a friendly competition with colleagues to add the social motivation of belonging to the active-step club.

The kick to your kidneys. Virtual meetings tend to start on time, much more often than in-person ones, leaving scarce time to drink water or visit the bathroom. Take time the night before to fill not just a glass but a jug of water to keep by your desk. Not only will you stay well hydrated; you will also be forced to find a way to use the restroom and get in a few steps along the way.

We are living through a unique time in history with a clear and present danger to our health: the novel coronavirus. While we can’t control all aspects of the spread of this disease, we do have agency to control our work environment and activity levels to detour our personal curves from potentially avoidable health problems to wellness.

Written by Sabina Nawaz

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