Hybrid working: a physical wellbeing revolution?

19 Jan 22 | Blog

Think back, long ago, to the way our lives used to be. For many of us, the weekend was king – offering a respite from the hours spent commuting and working, but somehow not enough time to cover the rest of life’s tasks.

First off, there’s the admin of it all. Cleaning, laundry, cooking, food shopping, DIY. Then there’s the pleasurable but time-sapping things like socialising with friends and family. Not to mention your other commitments – from volunteering to hobby groups – and those of your partner or children, if you have them. 

How did we manage it? Forget about resting, forget about exercise. Outsource what you can, like some elements of caring for family, and let multiple balls drop because you’ve no option. But things can be different now.

What is hybrid working going to change in the long-term?

Let’s be clear: a hybrid working model represents much more than employers reluctantly letting their teams bunk off at home a few times a week. No, it offers a complete cognitive shift to our way of being. 

It’s an acceptance of the fact that we don’t have to ‘live to work’ or ‘work to live’ – but that our day-to-day can be balanced between the things we have to do, want to do, and what’s good for us. Like the introduction of the 48-hour weekend and the entrance of women into the workforce, it’s a workplace change that extends far into life as we know it. 

And in a much broader sense that we realise, one aspect of that is how it can improve our physical health and wellbeing. 

How a hybrid working model can protect the NHS

The UK’s healthcare service has been overstretched for years – and adding in a global pandemic certainly didn’t help. Call them heroes, frontline workers, or NHS angels, health workers have dealt with a particularly difficult few years. 

But what does hybrid work have to do with this? The possibly surprising reality is that hybrid working, for a variety of reasons, could take some pressure off the NHS:

  • 41% would exercise more if they were allowed to work flexibly, and this could reduce adult inactivity in the UK by a third – cutting back physical health conditions
  • 1 in 10 of workers would use the additional 2 hours a day they save to care for family members, resulting in a £3.1 billion saving for the NHS
  • Mental health services may also be under less strain, as 82% saying hybrid working has been positive for their mental health (79% say the same about physical health)

And it’s not just a boost for the NHS. Of those unable to work, hybrid work could bring 3.8 million back – boosting GDP by £48 billion yearly – and increase part-time worker hours by 1.27 billion hours annually. So the benefits keep stacking up.

What is the connection between physical health and mental health?

The freedom to do more physical activity is a double-whammy, boosting mental health too. As we’ve discussed previously, highly active adults have lower stress rates and a 20-30% lower risk of depression. Physical activity also boosts self-esteem.

Can mental health affect physical health? Yes, of course, but with many reporting raised mental wellbeing from flexible working patterns too, this seems under control.

So in a roundabout way, a hybrid workplace can offer benefits to the country, health services, businesses, and your employees themselves. Encouraging them to take up the opportunity to use their spare time for physical activity is a worthy exercise, due to this. 

How to promote physical wellbeing at work, and at home

Out of office:

  • Ergonomic equipment: 73% say ergonomic work conditions are an incentive to join a company, yet only 19% are supplied with an ergonomic chair and just 65% with a laptop. Consider what you can provide them at home to make work safe and comfortable.
  • Regular ‘light breaks’: At home, it’s easy to work through lunch and forget to take a break. Make it a company-wide activity to take a ‘light break’, where people step outside for some much-needed vitamin D. Just a walk down the street can be enough!
  • Flexible hours for exercise: For some, it’s impossible to go to-and-from the gym in their lunch break, or they might want to avoid the busy times. Be flexible about letting people decide their own hours, to a point, to accommodate exercise.
  • Right to disconnect: Now a legal right in France, the ‘right to disconnect’ helps tackle the always-on risk of home working. Don’t expect round-the-clock replies, and consider enforcing delayed email sends afterhours to make this message clear.

In the office:

  • Cycle-friendly facilities: Cycle-to-work schemes are great, but if there’s nowhere to safely store bikes and (crucially!) clean up after a sweaty ride in, it’s not really a lifestyle choice you’re encouraging. For your next office move, consider showers and bike stores.
  • Ergonomic equipment: This one applies at home and in the office. If the office doesn’t have ergonomic chairs and desks, and a comfortable atmosphere, you run the risk of it being a more unhealthy environment than home.
  • Well-ventilated, COVID-19 safe: Is your office really safe? Think about spacing, air ventilation, cleaning, social distancing policies and anything else you can do to keep the space as safe as possible.
  • Healthy snacks & breakfast: ‘Office cake culture’ is much discussed and, while nice for a treat, a wide array of tempting but unhealthy snacks could be avoided. This carries across if you provide breakfast food too.

 

Hybrid roles can benefit us all, if you get it right – we can help you with that

Nobody said it would be easy. Changing to a completely different approach to worklife is a huge thing to tackle, and no-one’s got the definitive right answer. All you can do is make small, iterative changes to try and hone the perfect hybrid working policy.

That comes by listening to your people, what they need, and how they’re doing in this new world of work. Use our ‘Returning to the Workplace’ survey for free, and you’ll get a good measure of how to get started:

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