Half of home workers are experiencing physical pain due to a poor home office set-up, a new report reveals.

Major culprits include being forced to use sofas, beds and beanbags instead of desks, less movement due to not having to walk to see colleagues and a lack of ergonomic advice from employers, according to research of 2,000 people.

The ‘Are Home-Workers Sitting Comfortably?’ report by Ascenti, the UK’s leading physiotherapy group, reveals that back, neck, shoulder and hand pain are common among the half (49%) of home workers already experiencing discomfort since they stopped being office-based.

Workplace-induced musculoskeletal pain affected half-a-million UK workers last year, costing businesses £15bn. With the report suggesting a 10-fold rise in home working since the coronavirus outbreak, it is feared this could increase dramatically due to non-ergonomic set-ups.

The sofa is the new ‘seat of choice’ for office workers, the research found, with seven out of 10 (72%) having worked from the couch since the outbreak, while more than half (56%) have used their bed, making them both more popular than the traditional desk (47%).

Younger employees are particularly likely to use alternative work set-ups, with nine out 10 (91%) 16-24 year olds having based their office out of bed, two thirds (65%) on the floor and half (52%) from a beanbag.

The improvised set-ups are the result of half of home workers being unable to access a desk, adjustable chair or separate monitor and keyboard, and many others having to share. Women are particularly likely to miss out and are experiencing more signs of injury as a result.

The good news for employers that are investing into supporting staff with their home-working set-up is that eight out of 10 (85%) would be more likely to want to work for a company like this. The research found that recognising employees’ responsibilities at home (28%), providing a work computer/laptop (25%), inviting questions about setting up a workspace (19%) and the promise of work-from-home options in the future (26%) would all improve an employer’s reputation.

To help businesses who would like to provide their employees with an engaging way to test their home-working set-up, Ascenti has created The Ergonometer quiz. This fun 10 question quiz provides a great way for employers to open the conversation with their staff and invite them to contact the business for further advice.

In addition, the ‘Are Home-Workers Sitting Comfortably?’ report contains evidence-based expert advice for employers to help them answer questions.

Stephanie Dobrikova, CEO of Ascenti, which works with more than 400 businesses to provide physiotherapy support to staff and which recently added a home-working health assessment to its list of services, commented: “Organisations have had a really tough time having to quickly adapt their systems, services and communications to meet the unique needs of the current situation and we all know how incredibly hard people have been working to make that happen.

“However, the results of this report suggest that a majority of home-workers are carrying out their daily duties in a way that increases their chances of physical injury, which could add extra pressure to individuals, businesses and the health service at what is already an exceptionally challenging time – and that is a worry.

“Having a good ergonomic workspace can reduce pain, prevent injury and increase productivity, so it’s well worth supporting home workers with setting one up, especially as it looks likely that this situation could be with us for a while yet.

“Creating an ergonomic home office doesn’t have to be expensive and advising employees of simple tricks like using a rolled up towel to provide lumbar spine support and adjusting their seat height with a cushion can really help to protect the health of those who don’t have access to an adjustable chair. Movement and stretches are also important and home-workers should be advised to try to stand up every 20 minutes and move for 20 seconds – our data shows that nearly one in four are now moving less than they used to.

“Many home-workers told us that they’re feeling distant from their colleagues and struggling to switch off at the end of the day. Video conferencing can be a good way to stay connected to others, while rounding off the workday with a 30-60 minute walk can help them to stay fit and provides a great way to unwind and transition from worklife to homelife.

“From a company culture and employer brand point of view, it’s clear from this research that demonstrating an understanding of the pressures your employees are facing at this time and taking steps to make things easier for them – whether through providing equipment, advice or the offer of flexibility – will go a long way to supporting their health and wellbeing, and in turn improve both their productivity and your reputation as an employer.”

Ascenti, which is providing free virtual physiotherapy appointments to NHS workers and over 65s during the lockdown, invites businesses and organisations to get in touch for further advice. Home-workers who complete The Ergonometer test and share their results to social media can win one of 20 free online appointments where they can have a home-working health check.