As covered in previous articles, when implemented correctly, there are significant benefits to be gained by organisations setting some or all their employees up to WFH on a full time or hybrid basis. With WFH set to become a key component for many organisations post-pandemic, embracing the concept and adapting various aspects of the business structure to enable it to maximise these benefits, will ensure the organisation is WFH fit, thereby enabling cost savings and increased productivity levels to be attained.
As we emerge from lockdown and move into a new working landscape, some employees will be wishing to return to the office full time, some part time, whilst others will be keen to retain their newfound working independence, an independence that has afforded them flexibility and time and money savings. The reality however is that the organisation determines the rules of employment and the employees will not necessarily get their desired outcome. Decisions will be based on what is required to make the organisation fit for a long-term strategy of WFH but it cannot be ignored that getting employees also WFH fit, is equally as important. Failure to address the need for employee WFH fitness is likely to have a long-term detrimental effect.
Much has been said and made of the effects that WFH can have on mental health and rightly so but just as important is the need for good physical health. Indeed, it could be debated that the latter, significantly aides the former.
The Challenges of Fitness when WFH
With the dark, cold and wet winter days rapidly fading, Spring on the horizon and a path to lifting lockdown measures, things are looking a lot brighter than they did. We still have some way to go until life is back too normal but when it does, the reality is that certain aspects will continue to differ from before.
With many employees being expected to WFH on a permanent or hybrid basis long term, many of their pre-pandemic routines, some of which had a positive impact on their physical health, may not be returned to. For example, the much derided daily commute had many negative aspects but for most it did provide some involuntary physical health benefits. For those walking, jogging or cycling, the benefits were obvious but even for those taking the train or driving to work, they participated in reasonable levels of activity, from waiting in queues, climbing station steps, walking to and from the car park or taking the stairs to the office, they all contributed significantly to their general physical health. Then throughout the course of the day, the daily step count would grow and contribute further to involuntary fitness levels. It is therefore reasonable to assume that for those WFH on a permanent or say a 2 day a week basis, they will experience a drop in involuntary physical exercise of between 100% and 40%.
For those that historically dropped into the gym on the routine home commute, this also may not return as it was before, due to reduced capacity and time slots, concerns over exposure to viruses and gym membership perhaps being closer to the office rather than the home.
It is therefore reasonable to conclude that when WFH, one of the biggest problems is the potential for high levels of inactivity. With a busy and healthy workload but no routine coffee/tea and lunch breaks, no meetings to physically attend or ‘watercooler’ colleague catch-ups, the tendency is for employees to sit at their home office desk for long periods until the tasks are completed.
The danger of being sedentary for excessive periods is well documented but in summary, it is linked to weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease and it may also slow metabolism, which impacts the body’s ability to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar and break down body fat. Then there are the not insignificant musculoskeletal issues affecting the back, neck, hip flexors, hamstrings and calves.
During the past year, many have taken to new forms or increased levels of exercise despite gyms and parks remaining closed. During the initial lockdowns, there was an almost ubiquitous take up of on-line fitness classes and countryside walks and with more time afforded for those WFH, it is reasonable to assume that staying physically active would seem an easy thing to do. However, with the onset of winter, a renewed anxiety over the virus and general lockdown fatigue, enthusiasm and commitment to fitness plans and goals diminished.
It is unmistakable that despite all the well documented positive effects that setting employees up to WFH can bring to them and the organisation, the reduced or removed need to leave home each day to commute, will have a significant detrimental effect on their physical health. Failing to address these issues will have a medium to long term effect on the employee and in turn the employer. Helping employees recognise and deal with their physical fitness requirements whilst WFH, will therefore not only help them, but also go a long way to achieving the organisations business objectives.
Employee WFH fitness must be attained for the good of the business.
According to the NHS, the average British person walks between 3,000 and 4,000 steps a day. This is despite 10,000 steps being the recommended target.
What is the Solution to Improving WFH Fitness?
Whilst it is unlikely that many organisations could mandate adherence by its employees to certain levels of physical fitness, conveying the virtues of employee good physical health when WFH should form part of any progressive organisations policies, from large corporates down to sole traders.
Create a Fitness Plan and Diary
Whilst many employees believe they will exercise during the working day, without a set plan in place, the chances are that legitimate reasons such as extended phone calls, responding to emails and dealing with a heavy workload, will always take precedence. Therefore, they should be encouraged to treat their exercise periods with the same priority as a meeting or client call and so scheduling time away from their desk will mean they are more likely to do it.
Encouraging employees to design a simple daily and weekly schedule, will help them achieve their basic fitness goals and go some way towards attaining and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
When is Exercise Time?
With the usual level of involuntary fitness time likely to be significantly reduced when WFH, the answer to this question is ‘Anytime’. Within their daily fitness plan, encourage employees to:
- incorporate a ‘daily commute’ before work. A brisk 15 minute+ circular walk or jog (come rain or shine) to increase the heart rate, invigorate the mind and kickstart the metabolism, will encourage a positive start to the working day
- take occasional snap breaks away from the desk to grab a glass of water, pick up the post or just to garden gaze. These quick breaks will also help ease monitor eye strain
- take short 5 minute breaks that incorporate the use of fitness equipment, a trip up and down the stairs or a walk around the garden
- have constructive 30 minute + lunch breaks. These should differ each day and could include a targeted distanced walk, jog or cycle, completing a planned gym session or online fitness class. Oh, and don’t forget a light healthy lunch!
- remain active whilst at their desk. Incorporating a variety of seated exercises whilst reading, taking calls or writing reports will not only help fitness levels but also improve posture. Investing in a Standing or Sit Stand desk is also worth considering
- undertake something physically constructive after work such as a home gym session, a fitness class or even some gardening. This important session of the day will help clear the mind and draw a close to the working day
Affording WFH Fitness
Investment in the fitness of employees WFH will be repaid many times over through reduced sickness, improved wellbeing and job satisfaction, thereby improving productivity levels and profit. In previous articles we have highlighted the potential for significant cost efficiencies through adopting a WFH policy for some or all employees, on a full time or hybrid basis and it could be claimed that if just some of these savings were reinvested in employee’s health and wellbeing, the business benefits of WHF could be enhanced even further.
The biggest investment of course should be in the time given to encouraging and helping employees create a Fitness Plan and Diary to adhere to. Within this plan can be cost free elements like walking, jogging, exercise and body weight programs. Employees will naturally have their own preference of the type of exercise and what is right or appealing to one, will not be so for another but the most important thing is to ensure a plan of some sort is established.
Whether an employer should invest in fitness equipment for some or all its employees is a decision for each individual organisation. As mentioned above, there are likely to be funds available to finance such equipment but should this be supplemented or paid for by the employee from savings that they are likely to realise through WFH (reduced commute cost or relinquished gym membership)?
Another consideration for the employer is that according to XpertHR’s 14th annual survey into sickness absence rates and costs, reported in Personnel Today, the 2017 annual median cost of an employee being off sick stood at £568 and this figure ignores any impact on reduced productivity levels. Therefore, any investment that helps to reduce this burden must be worth considering.
Health and Fitness measures to consider investing in could include:
Home Office Gym Equipment One or more of the following items; o Resistance bands o Yoga o Weights o Stability balls o Treadmills o Exercise bikes o Rowing machine o Vibration plates o Elliptical trainers o Under desk treadmills This could be taken a step further by having a designated room designed and converted to a fully functioning bespoke Gym
Online Class Subscriptions: Fitness Work Out, Pilates or Yoga sessions
Inhouse Fitness Room: Some organisations are considering utilising some of their freed-up office space to create dedicated areas for employees to use when they visit the office on a WFH hybrid basis
Fitbits and Fitness Trackers: These devices can provide not just the self-motivation to keep fit and healthy through target setting, tracking and recording but some can also be paired with those of colleagues, thus creating healthy competition and engagement between employees
Government Cycle to Work Scheme: Receiving professional advice on how this scheme may be accessible to organisations in the wake of the pandemic would certainly be worth considering. With employees not necessarily commuting when WFH, there was talk around adjustments to the policy being made
Government Cycle to Work Scheme: New or renewed membership of a Gym close to the home office
What the most cost effective and tax efficient ways of investing in such equipment and services is not something The WFH Zone can comment on and would therefore recommend taking appropriate professional advice.
In summary, WFH does not work for all employers or indeed all employees but for many, a fulltime or hybrid form of WFH is likely to be a permanent feature in 2021 and beyond. It is therefore important that measures are taken to ensure the organisation and the employees are WFH fit, by ensuring associated physical problems are highlighted and solutions defined and implemented. By one or both parties investing time and potentially money in these issues, a healthier, happier and more engaged workforce is likely to realise reduced sickness levels, improved efficiencies and subsequently increased profits.
The WFH Zone is the UK’s first online portal designed to assist organisations in the process of setting employees up to work from home in the most cost effective and ethical way. Our service provides a filter and search facility that helps employers and employees find quality suppliers of a range of Services and Products specifically associated with a work from home zone.
Fact: Just 10 minutes on an exercise bike can help burn between 40 and 80 calories depending on body weight and exercise intensity
Fact: Rowing at a moderate pace for 30 minutes burns about 210 calories for a 125-pound individual and 311 calories for a 185-pound individual. [Harvard Health Publications]