Covid-19 let the genie out of the bottle for office workers … and there is no way to get it back in.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced millions of people all around the world into their homes and given them no other choice but to work remotely. But how many people exactly are working from home because of the coronavirus? In recent Gallup Survey Poll 62 per cent of employed persons now work from home. 2017 stats released by Dimension Data indicated that 42 per cent of all South African companies had employees working from home on a full-time basis, an overall increase of 20 per cent.
Working from home is a worldwide developing trend and affects companies in various ways. This study focused on South African circumstances and examined the cost saving implications for a private company and its employees if they were able and allowed to work from home.
A recent publication reported a study that was conducted with regard to the benefits and pitfalls of employees working from home. The study found that the majority of employees were willing to work from home. The infrastructural savings, per head, for companies is a compelling factor, as are significant savings for employees who could save both time and money on high monthly travel expenses and travel time to work and back.

  It is clear from the studies that employer agility and investment in human capital with a high EQ are critical success factors in the work-from-home model.
Whilst the home office has challenges it is here to stay beyond Covid-19 in a hybrid model which will vary from organisation to organisation. Employees are most likely to go into the employer’s office, as required, a ‘hot desking’ basis. Hot desking is an office organisation system which involves multiple workers using a single physical work station at different time periods.

  Buzzing with electromagnetic radiation (EMR) from our technology, printer fumes, LED screens, artificial lighting and over-conditioned air, the typical home office can be an unhealthy zone, contributing to sedentary behaviour and its other related health issues from sore backs to weight gain.

The home office may have its challenges, such as a lack of boundaries and a spill-over into domestic life. On the upside, you can modify it.

 Create your healthy dedicated home office

The first step is to create a dedicated space for working from home as opposed to working off the kitchen counter. If there is no dedicated space available make one of the rooms a dual purpose space. A dining room may serve as a desk and meeting room during office hours and a dining area after hours. This allows you to control the disruptive environment better, including factors like privacy, noise and distractions such as pets.

Sit-stand desks

The two most important items in a health-aware home office are a good ergonomic working surface and good chair. A good ergonomic desk is one that’s height-adjustable so you can stand up as well as sit down. We are not designed to sit for stretches at a time and research shows prolonged sitting down is hazardous to our health.

             Working from a sit-stand desk or working surface (versus the traditional chair-bound type) is linked with better work performance and engagement and less fatigue, anxiety and lower-back problems.
A less costly option is to a raise the level of your keyboard or computer; there are scissor-lifts for desktops that can facilitate this.
General guidelines suggest having the top of the screen at or below eye level, your body fairly close to your computer and knees at similar height level to hips in order to maintain a posture that reduces slouching and muscle strain.

The chair is your seat of power

A healthy chair won’t contribute to back, neck, shoulder strain and other injuries and should be height adjustable and able to be tilted with good lumbar support.

  Ideally, the position of your seat should be with the desk in front, the wall behind and window to the side or front, with the door at the side where you can see people coming in and out.

             In Feng Shui, this is known as the ‘seat of power’. Such positioning provides a sense of protection at your back and psychological safety and confidence.

             In addition, a high-backed chair reinforces this sense of psychological anchoring. “You feel more powerful when you have a high-backed chair. It’s called ‘the Black Warrior’ in Feng Shui; it wins the psychological battle. 

 Biophilic design

This is a concept used in building design and interior decorating to increase occupant connectivity to the natural environment through the use of direct nature, indirect nature and space and place conditions.

  Mounting research shows biophilic design is better for your health. It includes things like the use of natural, chemical-free and low-toxic materials for furnishings, fabrics, flooring, walls, coatings and accessories as well as other items in the home, in particular indoor plants.

             Most manufactured items and finishes outgas toxic chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the indoor air. Reusing second-hand materials is an antidote in that the materials have already outgassed for a few years.

 Connect to nature and the world outside

Research on hospital patients by Roger Ulrich in the 1980s found a pleasant view is good for your health and reduces stress. Position your desk so it looks out on a landscape. If your window looks out on something ugly, install a window box of flowers and a pretty climber on a trellis outside your window. If you don’t have a window, hang a beautiful nature scene on the wall. In Ulrich’s studies, even pictures of nature were curative and calming.

              Another way to connect to the outside is to take regular breaks to sit in the sunshine or garden, or take a walk.

             An outdoor view also offers much needed variation for your eyes and visual breaks from the screen. It’s important you have a place where you can look away from the screen into the distance, hopefully through a window, or at some artwork on the opposite wall, somewhere where you can use your long site. From a Feng Shui perspective, a view or picture also helps you take your focus off yourself into the world, which is helpful when work stress becomes overwhelming.

 Reduce electromagnetic radiation (EMR)

While we can’t make EMR go away, we can be aware of the subject and reduce it.

             In 2011, radio frequency wireless radiation (one form of EMR) was classified as a Class 2B carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
RF EMR is emitted by mobile phones and wi-fi, including wi-fi-connected laptops, iPads and cordless phones.

              Strategies to minimise EMR focus on increasing the distance between you and the source and reducing your time around such devices. Some barrier strategies are also available.

             Keep wi-fi equipment including wireless router as far from you as possible. Avoid working with your device on your body, use your mobile phone on speaker, and limit the length of calls and text rather than phone. Turn off your wi-fi at night. Shielded boxes, cases and covers and filters for your devices can also be purchased.

Harness natural light

Another reason to constrict your use of computers and phones is that they emit blue-spectrum light. This growing issue has been associated with insomnia, hormone imbalances, eye damage and other health problems. Along with reducing screen time, minimise blue light by using an anti-blue light screen filter. Swap your Kindle reader and smart phone for old-fashioned notebooks, workbooks and diaries.

              Like the rest of the indoor environment, the home office is a source of artificial light and low in the natural full-spectrum sunshine your body thrives best on. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to a range of health issues from osteoporosis to depression. If you’re able, place your home office in the sunniest room of the home and take regular breaks outdoors, either in the garden or on a terrace, patio or balcony

              Minimise fluorescent lighting in favour of the old-fashioned incandescents, which emit lower levels of ultraviolet. It’s also important to light your work space well to avoid eye strain.

 Colour your space

Harness the psychological powers of colour to produce a mood that fosters concentration, creativity and calmness.
Smart employers have come to understand the benefits of conscious colour schemes in the workplace. In particular the integration of green into workspaces.

Green is the colour of nature, of fresh air and plant life, which is associated with growth and renewal and has been correlated to broader thinking and creativity. For the office environment where inspiration is key, green can feed the impulse of innovation and forward momentum. Softer shades of green also have the same calming effect as pinks, natural wood tones and blues and can reduce anxiety and promote balance. Green has the added benefit of being easy on fatigued eyes.

Feng Shui, however, suggests more yang (the more active, light component of energy in Taoist philosophy) colours and energy in the home office environment; the utilisation of more fire – bright colours like orange and red – to keep you activated.

             Red-and-yellow-coloured rooms increased alertness and mental activity than those coloured blue, green, pink, grey, white and black. In a 2014 study these colours were found to increase agitation.
If being overwhelmed by work stress or social isolation is an issue, paint your home office a soft yellow. Multiple colour studies suggest yellow rooms can calm anxiety and are most associated with a brighter mood.

              If your job involves creativity, you might want to add more blue. In studies on paint colours, blue was most associated with imagination.

  Claude Monet, the French Impressionist painter, painted his workspace yellow and furnished it with accents of blues – when asked, he said that the yellow stimulated his mind whilst the blue helped with focus and remaining calm.

Control room temperature

Being too hot or cold can be a distraction from work. The standard temperature for comfort for most offices for someone with moderate to no movement is set at 22° C.

Ventilate and Introduce indoor plants

Indoor air pollution is one of the top five environmental risks to health. The best way to reduce indoor air pollution is by having good ventilation and air exchange and open a window, even if it’s just a crack, or at least flush out the space regularly.

  Plants can be enlisted in the battle against indoor air pollution and soil micro-organisms are believed to be responsible for the mechanism of cleansing the air.

             A NASA Clean Air Study found several houseplants were effective in reducing five common indoor toxins: Formaldehyde (in plywood, particleboard, paper and synthetic fabrics), benzene (in plastics, detergents, glues, exhaust, paint, and furniture wax), xylene (in printing, leather, paint, and exhausts), ammonia (in window cleaners, floor waxes) and trichloroethylene (in printer inks, paints, lacquers etc.).

Here are five of the best air purifying indoor plants according to the NASA Clean Air Study. There are, of course, many others.

Devil’s Ivy or pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
Otherwise known as pothos or golden pothos, devil’s ivy is an easy-to-grow indoor houseplant that will fight off common household toxins. It adds instant colour to any room with cascading tendrils and grows well in water, pots and hanging baskets.

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)
Also known as spathiphyllum, peace lilies are an easy and undemanding plant to look after. Their glossy green leaves make the perfect addition to any room especially those spots with low light. Keep them happy with a weekly water and fertilise with a slow-release fertiliser in spring to promote growth and those glorious white flowers.
Toxins removed: Benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene

The heart-shaped philodendron is a luscious addition to indoor spaces. Philos are relatively easy to look after; they just need moderate water and bright, indirect sunlight.
Toxins removed: Formaldehyde.

Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Spider plants are the perfect choice for newbies and those with a bad track record when it comes to plants. They thrive in indirect sunlight and survive in just about any conditions.
Toxins removed: Formaldehyde and xylene.

Snake Plant/Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata)
Snake Plants otherwise known as Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, is a succulent plant that can grow up to two metres in height. It is a low maintenance plant that is hardy and thrives on neglect. Place them in somewhere offering bright even direct light for a couple of hours a day. Be careful not to overwater as they thrive in dry conditions.
Toxins removed: Formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, benzene and xylene.

Note: Some indoor plants like the Philodendron and Spathiphyllum are mildly toxic to animals and small children, the Spider Plant is totally non-toxic