Working from home – what do we know now?
As a small but mighty team of expert assessors, our partners at Inspired Ergonomics have completed 1,000s of remote 1:1 home workstation assessments since the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2020. This has provided them with a great insight of certain trends, common issues and what items are frequently being recommended to reduce the risks that are present when ‘WFH’.
Pre-Covid, Inspired Ergonomics would typically see around 5% of the workforce requiring additional help to ensure a suitable DSE (display screen equipment) workstation set up. Since March 2020, this percentage has skyrocketed, and is staying relatively high even 20 months on. As an example, one of their clients (a Large Enterprise Business) has seen that 55% of their staff have needed supplementary guidance and support via a 1:1 assessment to address their issues with WFH.
What issues have the Inspired Ergonomics assessors seen?
Common musculoskeletal aches and pains, such as lower back complaints, are still ever present, but they have seen a large increase in the number of people reporting neck and upper limb issues, as well as the symptoms of visual fatigue such as blurred vision or headaches. They have also seen a high volume of computer users report burnout, stress, fatigue and other symptoms that negatively affect the employee’s general physical and mental wellbeing
To better understand why these issues may occur, Inspired Ergonomics assessors discuss the presentation of the employee’s discomfort, as well as their working habits. They then spend time completing a detailed observation of photographs of the employee at their ‘workstation’ whilst also studying them over a video call.
Sadly, a high volume of employees are still working on their laptops and sitting on static chairs at their dining tables (and that’s not the worst set up they’ve seen!). Typically, dining tables are much higher than their office desk counterparts. Whilst this may be okay for some, for the majority it results in a lot of shoulder elevation and an increase in tension in the muscles around the neck, shoulder and upper back. Adaptative changes can quickly occur with sustained awkward postures such as this, and that is where aches and pains can occur. Additionally, dining tables often feature a decorative (in some cases structural) bar that runs around the perimeter of the tabletop, which prevents most users from being able to sit at a suitable height with their forearms level with the working surface, even if their chair were height adjustable, as said bar impacts the tops of their thighs.
Static chairs are, understandably, static. This means there’s no option to adjust the seat height, alter the back rest angle or change the back rest height. Unless you’re lucky, this usually results in most people perched at the front of the seat, with a rounded back and a huge increase in load through the spinal column, and you’ve guessed it … an increase in aches and pains. Most static chairs are also very firm and just generally uncomfortable. Office chairs are made with foam and upholstery, or a flexible mesh material, for a reason after all.
To use a laptop’s display, keyboard and trackpad as one is usually perfectly acceptable for short durations here and there. However, there’s no denying that using portable DSE for significant periods encourages poor postures. To keep the keyboard and trackpad within reach, the attached display is then too close for most people. This can increase eye strain. As a result, some users will want to push the display further away, but then this encourages outstretched arms and forward postures. Secondly, the height of a laptop display is too low for most people’s natural line of sight. This can result in an increase in visual strain, but more likely will result in the craning of the neck and rounding of the shoulders. The only way to set both the display and input devices suitably is to ensure they are separate from one another, using a laptop stand and an external keyboard and mouse.
What solutions have the Inspired Ergonomics assessors recommended?
In some cases, the addition of a cushion to raise the user’s sitting height and perhaps the addition of a cushion at their lower back, alongside the use of books or boxes as laptop stands is acceptable. However, as we enter more of a hybrid working pattern, suitable support at home is thought to be just as important as suitable support in the office.
The team at Inspired Ergonomics have recommended a large number of fully adjustable home worker chairs, such as our own Homeworker Chair. Ensuring that the back rest is height and angle adjustable and is separate from the seat pan can help to provide full support to the back that is correctly aligned with the spinal curvature. Including a depth adjustable seat pan can help to provide full thigh support without pressure at the back of the knees, which can help to avoid those perched postures. Chairs that feature height, width and depth adjustable arm rests can help to support the upper limbs without impacting access to the desk. Our Homeworker chair has all these features and includes inflatable lumbar support as standard, which is very helpful at varying the level of support across all users.
What does the future hold?
It will certainly be very interesting to see how employers support their staff when they split their working environments between both home and the office. Most of our clients and contacts report the continuation of home working in some form or another. The numbers speak for themselves when only 5% of a population typically needed further guidance when they were provided with the necessary tools to complete their desk-based tasks in the first instance, as opposed to 55% when they weren’t. Investing in the long-term health of the workforce is important, so please do get in touch if you require any further assistance.