As I think about those of you reading this article, I can likely draw a few conclusions about you. You are likely working from home at least part of the time or full time, your work from home scenario may extend through a good part of 2021 and by now, you are likely tiring of some of the aspects of this arrangement. If I got any of that right, you may benefit from some resources surrounding how to make that home office arrangement fit you better.
If we look at the current statistics surrounding remote work using The Owl Labs/Global Workplace Analytics’ 2020 State of Remote Work Survey and other related research, we see 92% of people expect to work from home at least one day a week in 2021 and 80% at least three times per week. In addition, 77% of respondents indicated that after COVID-19, being able to work from home would make them happier and 75% said they are as or more productive working from home than when they were in the office. This is compelling data that many business owners are looking at carefully as they model their return to the office plans.
Many employers are exploring or in various stages of implementing programs and standards for working from home. This may consist of policies surrounding work hours, meetings, break and rest guidelines, etc., as well as determining the appropriate furniture and technology that should be issued for the home office worker and how this will be funded. There is no perfect answer for this challenge and in fact, programs are all over the map with some companies taking no action and others providing detailed guidelines and stipends of $1,500 or more per employee.
In addition, businesses must also take into consideration the guidelines surrounding Workers’ Compensation obligations regarding injuries of their employees sustained while working from home. In many situations, an employer is not excused if their worker is injured due to inappropriate technology or furniture use or lack of appropriate resources. It’s important for an employer to check with their insurance provider to understand the rules and to be sure they are in compliance as this varies by state in the US and more variable abroad.
The challenges workers are facing at home can vary and are personally unique to them and their families. There are some common denominators that we hear about frequently such as lack of privacy, disruptions throughout the day, inconsistent technology performance, lack of an ergonomic workspace and challenges managing the demands of schooling children simultaneously while trying to work. These challenges compounded by demanding job responsibilities and managing the danger and restrictions of a pandemic, can have a negative impact on our health, wellbeing, and overall state of mind.
With all these points, both negative and positive, there are things you can’t control right now but there are places where you can act and improve your situation. If you are a business owner or decision maker, developing clear guidelines regarding work from home policies can go a long way to provide structure and clarity for your teams. When it comes to the home office furniture and technology piece of the equation, providing resources to your employees whether its allowing them to take things like monitors and chairs from the office (only if it can be done safely – chairs are heavy), providing a stipend for them to procure equipment or if budgets don’t allow purchases, give them ergonomic guidelines, training and other resources to make the most of what they have access to at home.
For the rest of us, we can empower ourselves to act regarding our workspaces, no matter what they are, to make improvements to our posture and comfort and reduce fatigue and the risk of injury.
Let’s explore a few strategies you can consider. First, from an ergonomic perspective, the top priority will always be your chair. If you are fortunate enough to have access to an adjustable chair, here are some setting recommendations:
- Set the seat height so that your feet are flat on the floor with your thighs parallel to the floor.
- Set the seat depth so that your back fits comfortably against the chair back and there is room to fit two or three fingers between the front edge of the seat and the back of your leg.
- Set the lumbar so that it fits comfortably in the curve of your lower back.
- Set the arms so that you can lightly rest your arms and you can pull your chair in close to the edge of your desk.
If you don’t have an adjustable chair and are using a dining or kitchen style chair, be sure the seat is cushioned and if not, add a pillow or folded towel for comfort. Roll up a small towel to use as a lumbar support and try to choose a chair with arms so you can lean on them to rest occasionally. Once you have your chair adjusted, you may find that your desk is too high. If that is the case, raise up the chair and put your feet on a footrest, box or several books so you can maintain a 90-degree angle at your knee and your feet are supported. This same approach applies if you are using a kitchen chair as well and the desk is too high.
The next item to tackle is the computer screen. If you are using a laptop, you may find that your shoulders are curling forward during the day and you are leaning down to view your screen. This is a common problem with laptops and is caused because your eyes are not happy looking down all day. You can take one of two steps to solve this. Either connect your laptop to an external height adjustable monitor or place the laptop up on a riser to give it some extra height. Then, add a wireless keyboard and mouse. These simple and relatively inexpensive equipment additions will allow you to view your monitor with your head upright. If your monitor is adjustable, move it up or down so the top line of text on the screen is about level with your eyes. Now, your eyes will be happy, and you will lean forward and slouch less.
Keep moving throughout the day to keep your blood flowing and muscles active. If you do not have a height adjustable desk, consider standing at the kitchen counter periodically with your laptop. It is also completely appropriate to change your posture by lying on the couch or a comfy chair periodically. These changes in posture will reduce fatigue and give your muscles and joints a chance to rest. However, don’t stay on the couch all day as that can have negative implications due to lack of proper support.
It’s easy to become engrossed in a task and realize you have not moved for hours. Try using technology to set reminders for movement such as a smart watch, your cell phone, or your calendar. Want to go low tech – use an egg timer, they work great. Also, it is important to make the effort to be more self-aware of your bad posture habits or lack of movement. Your body will tell you when something is not right. Acknowledge it and take steps to fix the problem. Don’t wait for a slight twinge or soreness to turn into a full-blown musculoskeletal injury. It’s not worth it.
Finally, try to incorporate good habits into your workday. We all know we should drink lots of water and choose healthy snacks but taking breaks are equally important. If you can walk outside, do it! If you can’t then make some trips up and down the stairs or simply walk around the house. Consider adding simple stretching exercises while working and be sure to keep your eyes refreshed by changing your focus and manage good lighting and reduce glare on your computer screen and worksurface.
There is a lot here to consider but it’s not complicated. If you don’t know where to start, work on improving habits and incorporating movement, stretching and resting your eyes into your daily routine. These cost nothing and can have a big impact. If you need resources and support, we can help you here at Be Well Ergo with workstation assessments/evaluations for one person or a whole team or office and either remote or in person, ergonomic training development and helping you establish policies and procedures. Please visit us our website for more resources and information.
Lisa Barday, AOEE, REAS, AOEAS, WELL AP, LEED AP