We are in the midst of a conundrum playing out between post-pandemic employees, (who kinda got used to the idea of working remotely in their pajamas) and businesses large and small who have seen negative impacts of remote work in various ways: productivity, bottom line, and company culture. Companies are strategizing on how to get employees back in to the workplace.
While you can find research to back up either party’s side, I wish to weigh -in as an advocate for a 3rd side: the side of our bodies, which have suffered from remote work, sitting at a computer for vast, unbroken long shifts and Zoom meetings. Or worse: working on our laptop on our squishy couch.
With remote work, it’s common for my patients to report that there are days where they walk a mere 200 to 300 steps per day, and the cumulative effect on our bodies is significant. This loss of daily activity wouldn’t be so bad if we made up for this in other ways, but the reality is most of us don’t and won’t. This manifests itself in musculoskeletal pain and loss of function and range of motion pretty much everywhere in our body: legs, joints, hips, back, shoulders. What we stop asking our bodies to do, and how to move, our bodies respond by no longer being able to do those things. This diminished overall level of fitness brings with it more profound health implications for all of our other body systems: cardiovascular, digestive, immune, cognitive, and more.
Some large national companies have made headlines over the past few months by requiring their employees to come in from remote work for a specific numbers of days per week. There is often resistance. Smaller companies are watching, faced with the same challenge, struggling for solutions.
As an advocate for all humans’ bodies, I want to suggest that it’s good for our physical health for most of us to go back to in-person work as much as possible. There, I said it! This won’t be easy, as we are creatures of habit and our habits have changed. On the flip side, businesses need to respond to what will be employees’ greater expectations from the workplace satisfying lifestyle-enhancing benefits. Both “sides” are going to have to communicate and work together through this transition, and it will take time.
Action steps for companies:
- Give your employee real reasons why you are bringing your remote people in. If productivity and culture has been suffering, be honest with your employees and tell them.
- Institute “employee workplace wellness initiatives” or enhance what is already in place into something more robust.
- Survey your employees what they would like. Don’t spend money on a bunch of perks that nobody wants. Every company has its own unique culture. Tap into it.
- If your HR Department doesn’t have the bandwidth to take this on as a high-priority project, outsource it.
- You WILL lose some people. Maybe they have changed their living situation over the past couple of years. Work with the people who will work with you.
- Enhance their reasons why your employees want to come into work. The world is different now, and things aren’t going completely back to the way things were.
Action steps for humans:
- Be honest and authentic. Tell your employer why you may be struggling (if you are) with coming back in to the office.
- If you need mental health support to help you through this transition, seek it out.
- If you are adamant about staying remote, and your employer is “laying down the line” to bring people in, look for, or train for, a truly remote position and move on.
- MOVE.YOUR.BODY. Taking care of your body is one of THE jobs of your life. You will grow into the body that you have earned (or not) down the road.