The ONS has reported that 9.9 million people now work from home in the UK. Remote working allowed employees to maintain productivity whilst staying safe and connected during the pandemic. However, this shift to the home office comes with its own set of challenges, particularly when it comes to ergonomics.
Working from home offers the flexibility and convenience of setting our own schedules. Still, it also presents the risk of impractical work setups that can lead to discomfort, reduced productivity, and long-term health issues. One of the critical factors influencing remote work success is the creation of a fit-for-purpose workstation. Unfortunately, many remote workers find themselves working in improvised spaces – their dining tables doubling as desks, or worse, working from their sofas.
This article highlights the importance of home office ergonomics and provides seven ergonomic tips for achieving better ergonomics whilst working remotely.
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What Does ‘Ergonomics’ Mean?
As remote working continues to evolve and become an integral part of organisations’ business models, the concept of ergonomics becomes increasingly relevant. But what does ‘ergonomics’ actually mean, and why is it crucial for remote workers to understand and apply its principles?
In simple terms, ergonomics refers to the study of designing and arranging work environments and tools in a way that optimises performance and wellbeing. The goal of ergonomics is to create a workspace that fits the worker rather than forcing the worker to adapt to an environment that isn’t fit for purpose. When organisations promote comfort, safety, and efficiency, ergonomic practices ensure that individuals can work with reduced strain and risk of injuries, ultimately enhancing overall productivity and job satisfaction.
For remote workers, embracing ergonomics takes on even more significance due to the challenges working from home can pose. Unlike traditional office settings, remote work allows individuals to design their workspaces. However, this newfound freedom can also lead to problematic setups, where home comforts might overshadow ergonomic necessities.
Why is Ergonomic Working Important?
Research shows that almost 25% of people working from home say finding adequate workspace is difficult. Understanding the importance of ergonomic working is crucial for individuals seeking to optimise their home office setup and achieve long-term success in their remote careers.
Health and Wellbeing
One of the primary reasons ergonomic working is vital for remote workers is its direct influence on physical health and overall wellbeing. Prolonged periods of poor posture and uncomfortable work environments can lead to musculoskeletal issues such as back pain, neck strain, and wrist discomfort. These conditions not only result in immediate discomfort but may also escalate into chronic health problems if left unaddressed.
Research has outlined that having an ergonomic chair as one more work tool guarantees between 15% and 20% more productivity. This research shows that an optimised ergonomic workspace can positively impact productivity levels. When employees are comfortable and free from distractions caused by discomfort, they can concentrate on their tasks with improved focus and efficiency. Ergonomic setups minimise the need for constant adjustments and breaks due to discomfort, allowing individuals to maintain their workflow without interruptions.
Remote work can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection from the traditional office environment. However, a well-designed ergonomic workspace can play a significant role in promoting mental health. Comfortable and aesthetically pleasing work environments can reduce stress levels and improve mood.
On top of that, ergonomic practices encourage movement and breaks throughout the workday, which can help alleviate the mental strain associated with prolonged sedentary work. Simple activities like stretching or taking short walks can refresh the mind and improve overall cognitive function such as creativity and problem-solving.
Ergonomics also contributes to a healthier work-life balance for remote workers. A properly set up home office establishes a clear boundary between work and personal life, allowing individuals to disconnect from work duties when the workday ends.
By dedicating a designated workspace, remote workers can mentally “leave” their work environment, reducing the risk of burnout and promoting relaxation during leisure time. This separation creates a healthier work-life balance, ultimately leading to greater job satisfaction and increased retention rates.
7 Ergonomic Tips for Working from Home
Maintaining Good Posture
42% of employees don’t have a proper office chair when working from home. So what are they sitting on? If you’re sitting on a bed or a sofa, maintaining proper posture will be near impossible. Good posture is a fundamental aspect of ergonomic working.
- When sitting at your desk, be mindful of your positioning, with your feet flat on the floor or a footrest.
- Your knees should be at a 90-degree angle, and your lower back should be supported by your chair’s lumbar support.
- Your computer screen should be at eye level, approximately an arm’s length away. A good way to do this if you’re using a laptop computer is to place the machine on a laptop stand.
- Your elbows should rest at a comfortable 90-degree angle when typing (some may need a wrist rest to facilitate this).
- Remember to sit up straight, avoiding slouching or hunching over the keyboard to reduce strain on your back, neck, and shoulders.
Taking Breaks and Stretching
Incorporate regular stretching breaks into your daily routine. Stretching helps to alleviate muscle tension, improve flexibility, and promote blood circulation. Simple neck rolls, shoulder shrugs, and wrist stretches can make a significant difference in reducing discomfort and enhancing overall wellbeing. Consider setting a timer to remind yourself to take short stretch breaks every hour.
Sitting for prolonged periods can have adverse effects on your health. To combat this, include physical activity in your remote work routine. Whether it’s doing quick exercises, like squats or jumping jacks, or taking short walks around your home or garden, staying active boosts energy levels and helps maintain a healthy posture.
Considering Alternative Workstations
Consider investing in a standing desk to alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day. A standing desk allows you to work in an upright position, which can reduce the risk of back pain and improve circulation. Experiment with different desk heights to find the most comfortable standing position for you.
Investing in Ergonomic Accessories
Ergonomic accessories can significantly enhance your work experience. A vertical mouse can reduce wrist strain by promoting a more natural hand position. If you use a laptop, consider using a laptop riser or an external keyboard and mouse to elevate the screen to eye level and improve your posture.
Reducing Eye Strain
Proper screen display settings can help minimise eye straining and fatigue. Adjust the brightness and contrast of your monitor to suit the lighting conditions in your workspace. Additionally, consider using the “Blue Light Filter” feature on your device during evening work hours, as it reduces the amount of blue light emitted, which can disrupt sleep patterns.
The 20-20-20 Rule
To give your eyes a break from continuous screen use, follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus on something at least 20 feet away. This simple practice can reduce eye strain and prevent digital eye fatigue.
From a legal standpoint, employers are responsible for safeguarding the health and wellbeing of their remote workforce. As remote work becomes more prevalent, it is essential for employers to fulfil their obligations to employees, not only to comply with legal requirements but also to create a positive and productive work environment. Embracing these responsibilities are a hallmark of responsible and forward-thinking employers.
Here are some key obligations that employers must fulfil:
Health & Safety
Employers are bound by the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) and the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their employees. This duty of care extends to remote workers who work from home. Employers must recognise the potential risks associated with remote work and take appropriate measures to mitigate them.
To support the wellbeing of remote workers, employers should conduct ergonomic assessments of their employees’ home workstations. These assessments aim to identify potential ergonomic issues and offer practical solutions to improve the setup. Providing employees with personalised ergonomic guidance will minimise the risk of work-related injuries and promote optimal performance.
Display Screen Equipment (DSE)
Under the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, employers are required to provide laptop and computer users with adequate DSE assessments. This includes the evaluation of computer equipment, furniture, and lighting used by employees during their work hours. The assessment should address any adjustments needed to optimise the workstation ergonomics and reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders.
Provision of Necessary Equipment
Employers should ensure that remote workers have access to the necessary equipment and tools needed to maintain an ergonomic workspace. This may include providing adjustable chairs, ergonomic keyboards, and computer monitors to support proper posture and reduce strain on the body.
Training and Awareness
Employers should offer appropriate training to remote workers about the importance of ergonomics and maintaining a healthy work environment. Educating employees on ergonomic best practices empowers them to take an active role in their wellbeing and productivity. A collaborative effort between employers and employees to prioritise ergonomics will lead to a healthier, happier, and more successful remote work experience for everyone involved.
Regular Check-ins and Support
Employers should maintain regular communication with their remote workforce to assess their wellbeing and address any concerns related to ergonomics or remote work conditions. This proactive approach ensures employees feel supported and valued, ultimately contributing to a positive work culture. By fulfilling these obligations, employers demonstrate their commitment to the wellbeing and productivity of their remote workforce.