Are we sitting (too) comfortably?: Developing health-enhancing intervention strategies to reduce time spent sitting whilst working from home

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Moray House School of Education


Working from home (WfH) is likely to become the new norm for many employees as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic. Companies have invested in setting employees up with the resources to WfH and many employees will be encouraged to continue home working. Indeed one of the UK's largest companies (Unilever) announced this week (14.01.21) that their office workers will never return to five days a week in an office with this type of working seen as "very old fashioned now". While there are positive consequences in relation to this shift for employees (e.g. no commuting costs), there are also negative effects particularly in relation to the amount of time spent in sedentary behaviours, such as sitting. With increased time spent in online meetings, no movement while commuting or moving around to meetings/interact with colleagues/go out for lunch/coffee, for many employees their time spent sitting while WfH will have dramatically increased. Time spent in sedentary behaviours has been identified as a public health hazard with both physical (more than 6-8 hours/day associated with an increased risk of mortality, type 2 diabetes and obesity) and mental health consequences (higher levels of sedentary time associated with depression). The UK Chief Medical Officers recommend all adults should minimise time spent sedentary across the day and break up long periods of sedentary time with light physical activity.

Traditional office based work settings often require employees to conduct their work while seated. Research has emerged on the traditional office based work setting to explore levels of sedentary behaviour, what factors influence time spent sitting at work, and the implementation of successful interventions. The findings of these research studies cannot however be applied to WfH where the physical and social environment is very different (e.g. home working set up, absence of colleagues, difference in how work activities are conducted). Research relating specifically to sedentary behaviour while WfH is lacking - we currently don't know how best to support employees while WfH in relation to their sedentary behaviours. Interventions or programmes that are feasible, acceptable, affordable and effective over a sustained period are urgently needed in this time of a widespread shift in working practices.

The overall aim of this research study is to develop strategies to support people WfH to reduce/break up their sedentary behaviour. Whilst all employees could benefit from intervention, to maximize current and future public health gain we have focused on the 18-40 years age group in job roles associated with high levels of sitting. We have five specific objectives:
1. To scope the literature from traditional workplaces to identify transferable support strategies
2. To collect data from employees and employers on their views on sedentary behaviour
3. To explore with employees and employers their perceptions in relation to acceptability, feasibility and engagement with interventions resources as they are developed and refined
4. To continually consult with workplace well-being stakeholders
5. To design and refine intervention strategies and create an initial theory explaining how we expect the intervention to be effective.

Given the scarcity of research on this topic, the potential applications and benefits of the study findings are likely to be highly sought after with widespread benefit. As we emerge from Covid-19, the creation of positive and supporting work environments that support health and well-being, and facilitate productivity and engagement will be a priority for many companies. The intervention resources created in this study will support employees WfH to develop sustainable behaviours to reduce their sedentary behaviours thereby minimising short-term effects of long periods of sitting (e.g., musculo-skeletal discomfort) and longer term risk reduction in relation to chronic conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes.

Technical Summary

COVID-19 has changed the way we work, both during lockdown and beyond. For large sectors of the population, spending at least a portion of the working week in a home environment will become part of the 'new normal' working landscape. An adverse effect of working from home is an increase in sedentary behaviour, as employees spend more time sitting due to longer screen time, more on-line meetings, and no longer commuting or move around the workspace. Sedentary behaviour is a public health hazard with high volumes significantly increasing risk of all-cause and CVD mortality, incident cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, obesity and mental health. There is a dearth of research focused on sedentary behaviour whilst working from home, and we know very little about how best to intervene to reduce sedentary behaviour when working from home to mitigate against short and long-term health risks.

The aim of this developmental research project is to identify intervention strategies to reduce and break up prolonged sedentary behaviour whilst working from home in women and men aged 18-40 in specific job roles. The objectives are:
1) To scope the existing evidence base to consider the transferability of effective sedentary behaviour interventions in the workplace to a working from home environment
2) To collect primary data to understand employers' and employees' views on sedentary behaviour and factors that will influence behaviour change
3) To collect primary data to assess employees' and employers' perceptions of how acceptable, feasible, and engaging initial interventions iterations are
4) To continually consult with workplace well-being stakeholders
5) To design and refine intervention strategies and articulate an initial programme theory describing how the intervention is expected to lead to its effects

The outcomes of this research will contribute to the evidence base, and be of value to the employment sector as we adapt to new ways of working.
Description Are you working too comfortably? Prototyping a digital intervention to reduce occupational sedentary behaviour while working at home
Amount £4,835 (GBP)
Funding ID University of Edinburgh's Wellcome Trust Institutional Translational Partnership Award (iTPA) Springboard fund PIII-035SF 
Organisation University of Edinburgh 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2021 
End 07/2021
Description Scottish Physical Activity for Health Research Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation on the sedentary behaviour in the working at home environment
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021