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Usually, we talk about productivity software and the ways it can enhance and improve your company’s performance. But home office ergonomics are top of mind for managers across the workplace spectrum right now…
Small wonder. An already burgeoning proportion of telecommuters ballooned exponentially with the arrival of COVID-19. Flex hours and home-based offices are no longer reserved for contractors or parents straddling family and a career.
While leaders grapple with the challenges of maintaining team cohesiveness via webcam meetings and teleconferences, finding ways to measure performance, set growth – or survival – targets, employees have their own set of challenges. They’re faced with converting their home into a safe, productive, fully-functioning office-away-from-office.
Employers would be wise to provide guidance and support to their remote employees. Repetitive stress injuries are a major contributor to absenteeism and healthcare claims. And inadequate workstations negatively impact productivity. Your employees are working in improvised spaces instead of the ergonomic workstations you installed in the office.
Here are some simple guidelines for creating an ergonomic home office.
Ergonomics /ˌərɡəˈnämiks (noun): the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment.
Physical space in a home office.
- Desk and chair.
Hopefully, your team members aren’t working at a kitchen table or hunched over on the sofa with their laptop on the coffee table. Good posture is a cornerstone of good health in the workplace, and neither of these surfaces lends themselves to posture that would make an occupational therapist or doctor proud.
When employers consider workplace safety, it’s natural to think of the risks associated with lifting and twisting in a factory or in the supply room. But poor posture at a desk leads to minor ailments such as headaches, eye strain, numbness, tingling, and pain in the extremities, and, in worst-case scenarios, Musculoskeletal Disorders (MDSs). These have long term negative effects on employees, and repercussions for employee health benefit plans and paid sick leave.
Encourage employees to find a dedicated surface they can adjust and customize.
- A desk and chair combination that allows for a ‘neutral’ sitting position.
- Arms and legs should be resting at a 90° angle with feet flat on the floor.
- If the desk is too low, it should be propped up with blocks or books.
- If the chair is too low, raise it to the appropriate level and get a footrest to keep your feet flat on a surface.
- Ideally, an ergonomic task chair should be used instead of a hard dining room chair or soft occasional chair. Neither provides the lumbar support required to keep a healthy sitting posture.
- Keyboard, mouse, laptop, screen.
If your employee has a desktop computer, they probably have a safe, comfortable workstation set up in their home office already. But for employees transitioning from an office desktop to working on a laptop, there are several recommendations to make.
- Invest in a wireless keyboard and mouse combination so the screen can be kept an arm’s length away while the keyboard and mouse are within easy reach. A larger screen is also an asset and can be easily connected a laptop.
- Most laptops and screens have options for changing the hue and contrast based on the time of day and light sources. It’s worth taking the time to learn how your screen can adapt to the working environment, which can reduce eye fatigue and headaches.
- Experts agree that employees who spend their day on a computer should stop every 20 minutes and focus on something in the distance. This “focus break” rests your eyes and reduces headaches and eye strain.
- There are two schools of thought on the positioning of peripherals. One school encourages a static arrangement in which the screen, keyboard, and mouse stay in roughly the same position all the time.A second school recommends making slight adjustments during the day: angling the screen up or down, moving the mouse or keyboard to a slightly different location on the desk.Each individual will find a level of comfort and will get signals from their body if changes need to be made.
- Consider a document holder and/or telescoping monitor stand for greater fine-tuning.
- Reduce the force used on the keyboard and increase the sensitivity of the mouse to reduce the amount of pressure required.
- Learn keyboard shortcuts for common functions to minimize the need to use the mouse.
This can be a challenge in a home office. The low-glare daylight fixtures in the ceiling panels at your office are perfect. The bright ceiling fixtures, floor lamps, and either over or under exposure to natural light in a home are less than ideal.
- Where possible, have a task lamp that highlights documents but not the computer screen.
- Reduce glare by adding sheers or blinds to large windows to filter the light.
- Keep the screen clean – dust diffuses the light in ways that can lead to eye strain.
Mental space in a home office.
Maybe your employees were accustomed to working in a humming bullpen and the silence in their home offices is deafening and distracting. Or perhaps they had quiet pods and the unfamiliar daytime sounds in their homes and apartments – never mind the family members who might also be sharing their spaces – is a roadblock to productivity.
There are white noise soundtracks available online for those who need the background hum, and noise-canceling earphones for those who need utter silence in order to concentrate
This is an area of occupational health and safety that lacks controversy or criticism. Gone are the days when you’d claim bragging rights for chaining yourself to your desk for hours at a stretch.
No matter how ergonomically efficient their workstation might be, employees need to move at regular intervals. In fact, there’s new research suggesting that locking yourself into a task for more than 90 minutes reduces your brain’s capacity to replenish itself, so it’s no longer functioning at its peak. The quality of your work suffers…and so does your body.
An ergonomic workstation minimizes the negative effects of joint pain, eye strain, impaired blood flow, but nothing replaces standing up, stretching and taking a quick break to give your brain and your body a chance to reboot.
In a home office environment, this can mean stepping outside to water some plants, starting a load of laundry, getting a snack…any task that isn’t computer-based.
A work break isn’t an opening for checking social media, personal emails or surfing Youtube. It’s a time for a complete change of tasks, away the computer.
The home office – a place for productivity.
America’s workforce was already transitioning to a telecommuting model, for a variety of reasons, before the pandemic. Companies discovered cost-savings, employees were more productive and indicated greater job satisfaction. Turnover was shrinking, and so were absenteeism and sick leave. The environment was enjoying a breather from commuters on the roadways, as well.
Dr. Anita Kamouri (Co-Founder, Iometrics), and Kate Lister (President, Global Workplace Analytics) conducted a Work From Home Experience Survey © 2020 this spring in response to COVID-19. They revealed that 88% of those surveyed were working from home at least one day a week, and 77% wanted to continue that trend beyond the pandemic.
Further, they learned that managers were satisfied with the performance and engagement of their employees despite the lack of in-person contact. Meetings were still efficient, travel expense accounts were shrinking…the list of benefits goes on.
As employers and employees adapt to the changing workplace model, its important to shift away from looking at home offices as a stop-gap measure. Instead, look at them as an extension of your actual office and make every effort to maximize your employees’ potential.
If you’d like to join the conversation about adapting to running a business during a pandemic, join us for Coffee With an Expert. Each month we bring panelists to the virtual table to discuss topics that are relevant to you right now.
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