Hybrid Working: Why Ergonomic Awareness is More Important Than Ever

Monday, November 15, 2021

The pandemic proved, to a large extent, that it’s perfectly possible for employees to work from home and be just as productive as if they were in an office.

Article 5 Minutes
Hybrid Working: Why Ergonomic Awareness is More Important Than Ever

Many workplaces have reopened for business (marking our return to a ‘new normal’) and the vast majority of employees – over 90% according to one study – prefer permanent hybrid working practices.

This is where the topic of ergonomics takes on a new importance. Traditionally practiced in office-based settings, it brings together human anatomy and physiology with product engineering in order to design a work environment for optimum wellbeing and productivity.

Ergonomic assessments carried out by occupational health professionals are widely available for the workplace where they are used to proactively deal with health and posture issues before they become a problem. This comprises workstation assessments including display screen equipment, recommendations for solutions such as ergonomically designed office furniture and equipment and educational advice on posture and symptom management.

So far, so good – but what about staff working from home?

Ergonomics and working from home

As more of us work remotely at least some of the time, as a permanent choice rather than a temporary measure, prioritizing good ergonomics becomes more vital – both in the office and at home. “Proper ergonomic care will need to be provided in both spaces, to avoid a tsunami of back pain affecting sick leave levels and productivity,” advises one industry expert in a recent blog.

According to the American Posture Institute, a home office that isn’t ergonomically optimized not only increases the risk of poor posture causing back pain and spinal health issues, over time it can also lead to lower metabolic rate and respiratory dysfunction. What’s more, physical issues can have additional negative mental health effects, including stress, lack of confidence and depression. Ultimately, ignoring the ergonomic impact of home working has the potential to undermine all the benefits of remote and hybrid working that we have only just come to appreciate fully.

It stands to reason that, as home working becomes the norm for more people, we’ll have to think carefully about how workspaces are set up at home and how home-based staff can be ergonomically supported. In addition to Workplace DSE Policies, employers should consider having a Mobile DSE Policy in place. If working from home is expected of individual team members, employers must assess if the home is a suitable workplace, or carry out a DSE Risk Assessment for the home working location including implementation, training and advice. Remote staff should ensure they know how to use the equipment correctly and take reasonable care of their own health & safety as well as any risks posed to people in the vicinity.

The ergonomic do’s and don’ts of home working

In order to ensure the safety and comfort of your remote workers, here are some basic do’s and don’ts for working from home:

DON’T: Discard your current study chair just yet

Before you invest in an ergonomic office chair, carry out some basic checks and use everyday household objects to help adjust your position. A firm cushion on the chair will raise your hips and increase the curvature of your spine to help make sitting for longer periods more comfortable.

DON’T: Let your feet dangle freely

If your study’s chair is too high so that your feet don’t touch the ground, this position places additional stress on the lumbar spine. Find a solution with some heavy books on the floor to raise your feet so that the thighs are almost parallel to the floor and your hips slightly higher than your knees.

DON’T: Work with a laptop on the sofa

A sofa is not the right place for a permanent workstation. It may be comfortable to stretch your legs out and have the laptop on your lap to start with, but working in this position for any length of time can lead to muscle numbness and discomfort.

DON’T: Work hunched over the laptop

Sitting at a desk and using a laptop for a full day’s or week’s work can lead to back, neck and shoulder strain. Wherever possible, use a laptop stand with an external keyboard and mouse to raise your screen, plug in an external monitor or use a standing desk. Keep your screen and your eyes at the same level to avoid tilting or craning your neck.

DO: Personalize your workspace to fit you

One of the benefits of home working is that you won’t have to share your workstation with anyone else, or suffer the discomfort of sitting at a station that isn’t right for you. Make sure you fully customize your home working space ergonomically so the chair, furniture and computer are exactly at the right height and position for you.

DO: Work at the right height

Find the correct height for your chair so that your elbows are nearly parallel with the desktop. This position promotes better wrist alignment and prevents impingement or carpal tunnel stress. Organize your desk so that everything is at arm’s length.

DON’T: Skip breaks and meals

Without an office routine, it may be tempting to immerse yourself in work, snacking ‘al desko’ rather than having meal breaks. Don’t underestimate the importance of having regular breaks from the screen, getting up and walking around and staying properly nourished and hydrated. Ergonomists agree that regular breaks enhance physical and mental wellbeing, and boost creativity and productivity.

DO: Observe the ‘20/20/20’ rule

Regular screen breaks are important to rest your eye muscles and reduce eye strain. For every 20 minutes of focused working at the computer, spend 20 seconds doing something that’s at least 20 feet away.

DO: Have regular breaks from the desk

You should aim to get up from the desk at least once an hour, have a stretch and walk around. When you work from home, make an extra effort to incorporate movement into your day, aiming for 10,000 steps daily.

Chester Avey

Chester Avey has over 10 years of experience in cybersecurity and business management. Since retiring he enjoys sharing his knowledge and experience through his writing.



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