Are you self employed and work from home? It can be a very fulfilling way of working – more control, variety, and opportunity, with no boss peering over your shoulder. Sounds good, right?
But while you’re getting carried away in all that freedom and promise, laser focussed on your business, have you spent time thinking about how to look after yourself personally?
You don’t have a boss making you read Policies any more, you’re busy doing other very important things and you’re likely to be small enough to avoid the radar of the Enforcement Agencies, so it might be tempting to think you don’t need to bother about all that ‘elf ‘n’ safety nonsense.
The fact is that even for desk-based work, freelancing and homeworking does have some risk – both mental and physical. Ignoring this will make your work more difficult and painful at best, impossible at worst. Don’t forget that you’re responsible for yourself now as well as your business!
Here are three key things you should pay attention to if you want to keep yourself and your business fit and healthy:
1 – Workstation and Posture
Using computers, and the workstations they’re part of, is a common cause of ill health amongst home workers. Typical problems include wrist pain, back pain, eye strain and headaches – all of which are avoidable. These ailments are annoying and distracting in the short term, but can become debilitating in the long term, requiring surgery in extreme cases (such as carpal tunnel syndrome).
Injuries and poor health are much more likely where the workstation equipment is domestic too. Do you ever find yourself working at the dining table, squeezed in between the fruit bowl and the photo of Aunt Gladys? Or sitting on the sofa with your laptop, watching Breaking Bad? If you were in a business workplace, none of these are very likely… The organisation would give you dedicated office equipment – desk, phone, computer and chair. They would ask you to do a short assessment on your workstation and give you some basic guidance on how to set it properly up to avoid injury. They might even have someone check you’re doing all this properly and have a system in place to catch you if things go wrong.
Now that you’re working from home of course, none of this gets provided automatically and the risk of ill health is higher if you don’t pay attention to it.
Here are some simple tips to stay fit and healthy at your workstation:
- Get a decent adjustable 5 wheeled office chair. Yes, they cost money, but that’s preferable to living with back pain for the next 30 years, right?
- Get the chair adjusted properly to suit both your body shape and your work area
- Set up a dedicated work area with a desk. It doesn’t need to be huge, but make it big enough at least for your computer, phone and space to arrange your paperwork and coffee mug. You don’t want to be cramped up…
- Adjust the desk to a comfortable height (so your feet can sit flat on the floor and you aren’t banging your knees under the desk)
- Take regular breaks – five minutes in every hour at least – more is better
- Get up, stretch and walk about. Get the circulation flowing again through your legs. Try these stretches out (as with all exercise, take it slow, stop if it hurts and seek medical advice):
– Slowly rolling your shoulders around forwards and backwards
– Slowly rolling your head and neck around in a circle
– Spread your fingers out wide and ball them up into fists a few times
– Stretch your arms across your chest, one at a time
– Slowly arch your back to take out some of the curve you’ve put in there
The more you use your computer, the higher the risk of poor health, so try to alternate computer work with other tasks throughout the day.
If you really feel experimental, try exploring some of the modern workstation options. There are several interesting choices available, such as gym ball chairs, standing desks, treadmill desks or under-desk cycle machines to keep your body moving while you work. There are also loads of ergonomically designed mice and keyboards on the market – some of these can be gimmicky though, so try them out before you part with the cash.
2 – Fire Safety
Working from home means you’re unlikely to work in a building with a fire alarm, sprinkler system and evacuation plan (come on, even I don’t do that, and I do safety for a living…).
Just make sure the electrical equipment you use is in visibly good condition and get it fixed if it looks worn or damaged in any way. Remember that plug sockets are only able to handle a fixed amount of power load. So don’t plug everything into one socket via a jumble of extension cords and wires – the whole lot will overheat and you’ll probably have a fire on your hands.
Life risks aside, consider if you could still run your business successfully from a blackened shell… Probably not.
Keep anything flammable well away from your electrical equipment too – paper, cardboard and aerosol cans are typical culprits.
Candles, smoking and radiant heaters cause a lot of domestic fires, so it’s probably best to keep them out of your office area. It doesn’t hurt to keep a small fire extinguisher in the office too – you just never know when it might be needed.
3 – Work Life Balance and Mental Health
The line between work and home life can get pretty blurry at times. If you’re just starting your business, the chances are you’ll be working a lot of hours, and I mean a lot! That’s often necessary to get things off the ground, but make sure you take time out to do something else from time to time. Try to segregate your work area from the rest of your home too, if you have the space. This has the ergonomic benefits already discussed, but it also helps give you a mental boundary between work and home. You need to be able to switch off sometimes.
If you can set up an office in a separate room, then that’s great. If not, section off a corner of a room you don’t use very much and dedicate that space instead.
Running your own business can be a stressful experience. Things are not likely to be controlled as well as they are in a larger, well established business. Accept this and embrace the shifting sands that you’re now standing on – freedom was why you wanted to be your own boss in the first place, right?
It’s not for everyone, but mindfulness meditation is a great antidote to stress. Ignore any ideas you might have about orange robes, chanting and incense – it isn’t like that, I promise (although if that twirls your noodle, then go for it). Check out Headspace for some great free app-based meditation sessions, or look for local classes near you.
Human contact is vital too. I can say this with authority, because I’ve been there – you need to get out of the house, into the sunlight and speak to real people, face to face! Local networking events are great for this. It’s really helpful to talk to like minded people who are also running their own business. Find out how they cope with the long hours in front of a computer with only the cat / pug / goldfish for company. Plus, you might also make some brilliant business contacts while you’re there.
Thanks to Paul Brittain of Prevolution, who suggested the topic for this article.
Director, Haysman Consulting Limited
Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner