WFH stipends are not enough. Ergonomic education is key.

It’s been a year since the world went remote. And there’s much to celebrate. We’ve reclaimed our commute to focus on the things that matter most to us, like spending time with family and investing in our wellbeing. As businesses, we’ve witnessed first hand the productivity, engagement, hiring and financial gains from embracing greater flexibility over where people work.

But we still have a way to go in terms of ergonomic health.

Brandwatch, a social media analytic tool, studied health complaints made online between March 2020 and January 2021. Just under 1M authors cited back pain, a further 350,000 cited eye strain, and over 50,000 cited wrist pain in the 10-month period.

I recently carried out one-to-one assessments for a fully remote office and found 9 in 10 employees were experiencing some sort of musculoskeletal issue. When I run these assessments in offices, generally 1 in 5 employees need extra support.

Where are we going wrong working from home?

At the start of the pandemic, a lot of companies gave people budgets for home office equipment, or allowed them to take stuff home from the office.

That’s simply not enough.

It's all about ergonomic education. Reach out to everyone and give them basic ergonomic advice so that they know how to set up their home office.

Give them a checklist, prioritising the items that are most important to get right. People often spend the money they’re given on things that won’t help them in the long run. So people need a little bit of educational advice on how to optimise that expenditure so that they don't buy the wrong items or come back to the company asking for more.

Better still, put measures in place to guide your employees towards the right purchases. If you provide equipment through Hofy's platform, you can input budgets for different types of equipment and actually approve specific products for teams. This is a fantastic way of making sure you don't overspend on things people don't actually need, as well as guiding your people towards the equipment that's right for them. Combine this with some personal advice on the right equipment for each individual's situation, and you will be winning.

So, what do your employees actually need to work safely and comfortably from home?

The bare minimum home office set-up

At a bare minimum, your home workers need a table and a chair - however big or small - but some sort of flat surface at least, as well as a laptop stand, external keyboard and mouse.

Ergonomic chair and desk

Even though many clients I work with have been working from home for a year now, I still see people working from their bed or sitting on a sofa. When people work from a sofa or bed, they hunch and they don’t move. They adopt really awkward postures which can have long term consequences for the neck, jaw and back.

The most important thing is that your employees are sitting at the right height - they should be sitting with their arms level with the top of the table. Even if your employees have to use a dining chair temporarily, they can sit on a cushion to raise their sitting height and use an additional one behind their backs to make their chairs more comfortable. If they then need to support their feet, a footrest can be used.

Space is obviously a luxury. If people have to work in their bedrooms, a folding table is ideal so they can put it away at the end of the day. A lot of people are very conscious about not mixing their working day with their home life, and so something they can put away at the end of the day is great for switching off.

Laptop stand, keyboard and mouse

Your employees really must raise their laptops on a laptop stand, and use an external keyboard and mouse. Time and time again, I see people hunching over their laptops because they haven’t raised it, or hunching their shoulders up because they’ve raised their laptop but aren’t using an external keyboard.

Using a laptop on the table without a separate keyboard and mouse leads to neck, shoulder, upper and lower back issues - the whole works.

If people experience neck and shoulder tension from slouching over all the time, or hunching their shoulders up, that can also lead to tension headaches. People don’t necessarily associate the two.

So encourage your employees to raise that laptop, use a separate keyboard and mouse, and sit with their elbows level with the tabletop.

When everyone is working remotely, it’s not always easy to identify who's missing what. But there are plenty of solutions out there to give you greater visibility over the equipment your remote workers are using. At Inspired Ergonomics, we offer a range of one-to-one home working assessment services to make sure your remote workers get the tailored support they need. If you are looking for an online solution, Hofy also offers home-specific DSE assessments within it’s remote work platform.

The bigger picture: ergonomics and wellbeing

Beyond physical health, people’s home working space can also have an effect on their wellbeing. It comes down to their ability to switch off at the end of the day.

At the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of people gained back their commute time. But many people defaulted to filling the time with more work.

However, people started to burn out and the stress and the impact on their mental health started to show. People also started to be on online calls, constantly. There’s now an official term for this: "Zoom fatigue". Connecting with people properly online is very draining because we have to work that much harder to read visual cues.

People were suddenly working harder, and they weren't exercising as much. They were working in their commute time, sitting for longer, and struggling to separate work from home life.

So tell your teams: put that laptop away. Put your work papers away. Cut the visual reminder that there's work to do and be strict with yourself. When you've got a moment of free time, don’t just fill that time with work just because there isn't anything else to do. If you don’t, and you do this constantly, it creates burnout eventually.

Look after yourself, take breaks, and exercise. I always tell people to fill their commute time with a walk in the morning. Encourage your home workers to get outside and get into nature. It’s good for your eyes, good for your physical health, and gives you a boost of vitamin D for your energy levels. Regular movement throughout the day is key, so remember to take regular standing breaks too.

Ensure wellbeing at home with Hofy

Get total visibility of your remote workplace. Use Hofy’s DSE assessments to risk assess every team member’s home workstation and get the necessary support in place - fast.