The workplace landscape has drastically changed in recent months. As a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic, many office workers have found themselves working from home.
Businesses and organizations that are able to operate outside of their usual location may now have some, or all employees working from home. In many instances, this transition could have happened very quickly with little time for planning or managing the transition.
As a result, workers may find that their home office set-up is quite different, and perhaps less-optimal compared with what they were used to in the workplace. [Find out how to help your workers with the transition to working from home in "8 Tips to Successfully Transition to Working Remotely During the COVID-19 Pandemic"].
Ergonomics is an important concept to consider and plan for in any workplace environment. When both the physical and environmental aspects of ergonomics are optimal, the potential for injuries is reduced and overall worker health can be improved.
This is no different in a working-from-home set-up. Key factors that must be considered include comfort, efficiency, and cognitive design.
There are no "one-size fits all" ergonomic workstations. Employers and employees can work together to improve the ergonomics of a working-from-home set-up. Use the following points as a checklist to help optimize a home office space for comfort and productivity. [Find out more about the importance of ergonomics in "The Importance of Setting Up Ergonomic Workstations for Office Workers"].
1. Home Office Desk and Chair Set-up
A desk and chair are crucial components for an employee's home office. It's not usually ideal to end up working from the dining room table and chairs or another similar area which hasn't been designed with laptops or computers in mind. Consider the ways in which a well-designed office desk and chair set up can be replicated in the home office.
It may be possible to use the same set-up and simply transfer the exact same desk and chair from the workplace, to home. Alternatively, there may be funds to allocate for the creation of an appropriate home office set up.
When selecting a home office chair, it's important that it is adjustable and is an appropriate design for the individual. If it is a good fit for the person it will help support their body and promote good posture. [Find out more about office chairs in "Ergonomics: Everything You Need to Know About Office Chairs."
A sit-stand desk can offer the option to alternate between sitting and standing positions. The ability to change positions with a set-up like this can reduce the incidence of lower back pain and improve overall comfort and worker health.
2. Other Ergonomic Aids For Workers At Home
Aside from the basic desk and chair set-up, there are several other physical aids that can be considered to improve worker comfort and productivity in the home office. These include:
- A separate, and ergonomically designed, keyboard and mouse
- Keyboard tray
- Wrist and footrests
- A monitor stand to allow the screen to be placed at an optimal height and distance
[See the full list and details at "10 Important Ergonomic Aids For Office Workers".]
3. Optimizing Your Home Environment With Ergonomics in Mind
There are several aspects of the home environment that should be managed wherever possible in order to promote comfort and productivity. Examples include:
Try to maximize natural light wherever possible, and minimize glare. This may require plants or objects to be moved, and windows to be opened and closed as appropriate throughout the day. Use room lights and lamps when required to reduce the likelihood of eye strain and headaches.
Home Office Location
Although it may be more challenging for workers who have also found themselves at home with the kids, choose a quiet location with minimal distractions to set up the home office.
Add some greenery into your home office to help purify the air, boost mood and enjoy other health benefits.
Maintain a comfortable home-office temperature to promote comfort and productivity.
4. Personal Responsibility in Home Office Ergonomics
There is a degree of personal responsibility involved when it comes to optimal ergonomics. Employees should be made aware of the key elements of a healthy workplace. These also apply to a home office space, and some of them require a certain level of personal responsibility and action.
Some examples of personal responsibility that can be taken to improve home office ergonomics include:
- Opening windows regularly to keep fresh air circulating
- Remembering to drink water regularly in order to stay hydrated
- Consuming nourishing whole foods to promote sustained energy and optimal health
- Stopping for regular breaks and exercising regularly in order to improve both well-being and performance, mentally and physically
- Practicing mindfulness or other stress-relieving techniques
Employers could offer refresher sessions on these concepts, or use apps or other technology to help solidify these habits in employees who are working from home. Even if an employee had solid habits in place in the workplace, they may have lost some of these recently. The transition to a different working environment and other stressors they may be experiencing should not be overlooked.
Is Ergonomics A Worthwhile Investment For A Home Office?
Although some of the above ergonomic considerations require only a little time and forethought, others may require some degree of investment. At first glance, it might be easy to dismiss these investments as costs that the company doesn't need.
However, it's important to consider:
- The length of time employees may spend working from their home office each day
- How long the working-from-home period may continue for
- The repercussions of the differences between the ergonomic set-up they are used to in the workplace and the set-up they are now facing at home
- Costs for an ergonomically efficient home office set up versus potential costs for ergonomic-related injuries or health conditions.