Volume 3 | March 2022
Human-Centered. Solutions Driven.
Working From Home: A New Normal With New Challenges
By Sandalwood Team
As a result of changes in the world the past two years, we are now in a transition or in the midst of a great change in how we perform work, specifically work previously performed in an office environment. Coupled with technological advancements, working from home is now seen as an option that provides benefits to both the employees than can work from home (work life balance, reduced commute, flexibility, etc.) and for the company (savings in real estate, space, infrastructure). However, as with many changes we have experienced this year, not all find this a welcome update.
Working from home is not the temporary phase that it was once thought to be. The impact of the global pandemic over the last two years has changed the traditional work arrangement and made working from home a much more common practice. While some companies are returning to full-time in person work practices, others are moving forward with a full-time “Work from Home” or “Hybrid” work environment (some work in the office, some at home). Nearly half of full-time US employees (46%) reported working exclusively or in-part from their home. (1)
Despite the positive results that come with working remotely, such as having more flexible work hours, a healthier work-life balance, and more sustainability by reducing carbon footprint, there are some negative consequences that appear if not managed appropriately.
Factors including available workspace, family dynamics, loose definitions of work and home time and the ability to set up a proper workstation at home, can hinder an employee’s productivity and quality of work as well as their desire to want to work from home.
To complicate things, a group of unpleasant disorders that affect the nerves, muscles, tendons, and ligaments known as Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WRMSD) can result from poor investment in support for home workers and the spaces they work in. WRMSD emerge as a result of poor ergonomic practices. Employees exposed to poor postures for long periods of time with few breaks are at most risk. These situations can result in costs to both the employer and the worker. For the employer, direct costs such as medical and worker’s compensation fees and indirect costs such as absenteeism, lost productivity, and increased administration costs can result. For the worker, discomfort, pain, reduced ranges of motion, reduced ability to perform work and enjoy their outside of work and daily life activities. Many of these disorders can be attributed to not having suitable and standardized office furniture and equipment at employee homes, knowing how to minimize awkward postures and not changing their work position throughout the day.
Companies wanting to be successful in their move to a full or hybrid work from home approach should consider how to support their employees at home.
To encourage safe, comfortable and effective work at home, considerations need to be made for employees who may not have a dedicated workstation and are utilizing some unconventional spaces to work from, like their kitchen table, couch, or bed. As each employee’s home will differ so will their work area setup.
If you had an office ergonomic program in place to support workers in the office, you can make minor changes to help them through this transition to work from home. If you didn’t have a program in place, it is especially important to get one started now.
The basis of these programs should include;
- Training: To educate employees on risk factors and proper practices.
- Ergonomic Assessments to review and provide feedback relevant to employees’ workspace, correct concerns and eliminate risks.
- Standard Product Recommendations and Suggestions to ensure equipment, accessories, and furniture are selected to fit the worker, differing workspaces, budgets and needs.
- Reporting and Case Tracking to monitor concerns, improvements and ensure employees get the support they need.
You may be thinking, what about the liability of allowing people to complete assessments in home based offices? This is a concern that has been solved with the use of easily accessible technology. From the simple use of your smartphone and webcams to the collection of posture data through observation tools, an Ergonomist can assess workers remotely with great accuracy and success in reducing risks.
Do you need to provide every worker with a full workstation? No, this is not a requirement and in fact may pose problems for workers with not as much office space available in their home. Simple, inexpensive changes can be made to reduce risks. Access to a few reasonably priced accessories can make a big difference. Investment in a good chair, laptop stand, keyboard and mouse can ensure almost any space can be made to fit an employee and reduce the risk of awkward postures.
Encouraging workers to take calls standing, walking in the house and changing positions and stretching between meetings can be very effective.
If your company is embracing a “Hybrid” work environment, the design of the office space is equally important. When in the office, collaboration may be of utmost importance and optimizes the time spent in there. Workspaces in the office should provide for movement, allow for the assumption of different postures i.e. standing areas, sitting areas, meeting areas, and encourage discussion. The purposes of each work area (home or the office) should be different and purposeful.
As you make the change to a different work environment, understanding your team’s needs, how they will use the spaces, what their needs at home and in the office are is very important. Communicating the change, giving time to adjust and provide supports is equally important. Further, there will be special cases that will need extra attention and support from experts in accommodation that should not be forgotten.
We have adapted our office ergonomic services over the last two years to include remote support alongside our existing in-person services to better ensure the needs of our clients are met. We know the evolution of the workplace will be constant, and because of that, so will the ergonomic requirements. Our end goal is always risk reduction at work, no matter the work environment: home/remote, office, factory floor, or metaverse.
How are you helping your team to achieve this goal?