Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Telecommuters More Susceptible to "Sitting Disease"

If you telecommute, your manager - and your doctor - want to keep you on your toes.

There's nothing new about the message that people who work at a desk need to get up and move around throughout the day.  But as the number of people working from home continues to rise, it's becoming a renewed focus. 

Telecommuters spend more time sitting than their counterpoints in the office, making them even more susceptible to what health experts are calling "Sitting Disease".   

Here are just a few examples of why we sit longer when working from home:
  •      All our meetings can take place by phone/computer from our chairs.
  •      All conversation takes place by phone/computer rather than face-to-face - again, from our chairs.
  •      We are more likely to eat at our desks when we don't have co-workers to stop by and invite us to join them in the cafeteria or at the local deli.
Throughout the day, telecommuters are missing out on those short walks that wake up the metabolism, stretch the muscles, and send serotonin to the brain.

Telecommuter Dos and Don'ts to counteract Sitting Disease:
  • Don't take those calls sitting down.  Do stand, or better yet, pace while you're talking on the phone.  Become a team member who can "think on their feet".
  • Don't limit yourself to traditional office furniture and equipment.  Do consider new standing workstations and exercise ball chairs.  Trade in the desktop for a laptop, add a headset to your phone that lets you move around.
  • Don't eat lunch at your desk.  Do move to the kitchen, cook yourself a healthy meal, and eat it standing at your kitchen counter.  If your laptop needs to go with you, so be it, but put it on the counter, not the table (with the chair).
  • Don't let preconceived notions about working from home limit your movement options.  Do short bouts of housework and outdoor activities like shoveling the walk and going to the mailbox.  "Short bouts" means the equivalent time as your peers in the office are taking when they walk from their desk to the conference room (including that conversation in the hall along the way, the stop to refill the coffee mug, and the trip to the restroom) - 5-10 minutes at a pop, separated by an hour or so of focused work effort.  Telecommuters who do a few minutes of laundry between the hours of 9-5 are not "stealing company time".  Balancing time spent at the desk/phone and time spent transitioning from one activity to the next is the same challenge, regardless of location - it's just the transition activities that differ.
  • Don't be afraid to talk about it.  Do use one-on-one meeting time between manager and employee to be upfront about your concerns and ideas about telecommuting expectations.  Managers, worried your virtual team member is spending too much time away from their desk?  Telecommuters, sensing concern from your manager and team members about what you're "really" doing when you work from home?  You need a healthy conversation about how job performance is evaluated, how work productivity is measured, and a review of the team's communication expectations. 
Find more scary facts about our sedentary lives, as well as some helpful suggestions (for men and women) in this article by Women's Health Magazine.