With more people working remote, home office ergonomics is taking on a new level of importance. Yet creating a space with ergonomically correct, comfortable furnishings can prove challenging.
Although convenient, dining tables, hard chairs and tall kitchen counters aren’t comfortable for long stretches of time. And, if you’re routinely uncomfortable, will you perform your best? Probably not.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at home office ergonomics and why you – and your remote employees – should pay attention to them.
Ergonomics, generally defined
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace ergonomics as the science of designing a safe, productive workplace customized for the employee’s capabilities and limitations.
Although business leaders may be inclined to think of workplace ergonomics strictly as a safety or comfort issue, studies have shown how an ergonomically optimized work setup helps with employee performance, retention and overall wellness.
Preventing injury with home office ergonomics
If a home-based workstation isn’t set up well, workers with poor posture run the risk of repetitive stress. The damage and constant trauma from repetitive stress accumulates over time – from weeks to years – and often starts with discomfort.
Without ergonomic intervention, however, even minor aches and pains – or other physical sensations such as numbness, tingling, burning, cramping – may lead to significant injury.
The two main ergonomic problem areas for home-based office spaces are:
- Chairs not suitable for long hours of work
- Using a kitchen table or other nonstandard item as a desk
If it’s impossible to replace or supply an appropriate desk and chair, then encourage employees to maintain a neutral position and proper alignment as much as possible.
N-E-W home office ergonomics
The acronym N-E-W is a helpful reminder of basic ergonomic concepts:
“N” stands for the neutral position.
While sitting or standing for work, keep the neck straight, shoulders loosely at the sides, elbows at a right angle, wrists straight and lower back supported on the backrest of the chair. Aim for proper alignment with a 90-degree bend at the hips and knees. Keep feet flat on the floor or use a footrest.
Remember: although laptops are convenient and portable – and a staple of the remote workforce, failure to use them consistently while in a neutral position with proper alignment can create problems.
“E” stands for eye and elbow height.
Whether seated or standing, make sure the computer keyboard and mouse are at the elbow level. The top of the computer monitor should be at or slightly below eye height.
“W” stands for work area.
Keep oft-used items close by in the primary work zone, while objects used less often can be within reach of one’s outstretched arms. The keyboard, mouse and computer monitors should be closest to the user.
7 additional home office ergonomic tips
Although posture and workspaces take center stage in home office ergonomics, there are seven other considerations worth noting, both for yourself and your team:
- Reduce eyestrain by taking microbreaks. Strive to take a 20-second break every 20 minutes by looking at something else at least 20 feet away.
- Improve poor lighting. Use task lighting when working on printed materials and focused, diffused light for computer work. To prevent eye fatigue, avoid the glare from bright sunlight on a laptop screen.
- Take stretch breaks. Break up the strain on your body that results from doing the same thing for a long time in an uncomfortable position. When possible, use the time during work calls to stand up, walk and stretch. (This is a good way to promote workplace wellness, too.)
- To minimize external noise, use a headphone with a microphone for teleconference calls.
- Use an external keyboard and mouse for better positioning of the laptop monitor. This can help foster neutral neck posture and proper alignment of the arms and wrists.
- Invest in equipment such as a laptop stand or monitor riser. These, too, can help with the alignment of eyes and neck in relation to the computer monitor.
- Additional items that may help include a footrest, using a vertical mouse or ergonomic style keyboard and a lumbar support cushion.
Reliable ergonomics resources
To encourage continued awareness about ergonomics, consider periodically broaching the topic in staff meetings or sending out email reminders.
For employees who maintain an on-site workspace, they may be reminded to use that set up as a benchmark for their home-based workstation.
In addition, various resources and tools are available online to ensure an ergonomic setup, including:
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Computer Workstation eTool
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Computer Workstation Checklist
- The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Elements of Ergonomics Program
As with on-site workers, providing employees with access to in-house or outsourced ergonomics or workplace safety experts may help. For remote staff, an expert can review photos or videos of a home office and make recommendations on how to improve the set up. (In some fields, such consultations may be deemed an attractive workplace perk.)
At the end of the day, nurturing employee safety and wellness through home office ergonomics is another way to build a positive workplace culture, one that keeps remote workers engaged and productive.
Discover other ways to foster employee engagement by downloading our free magazine: The Insperity guide to employee engagement