Ergonomics for home offices: A comprehensive, uncomplicated approach

When you walk through an office and see workers slumped over their desks, slouching in their chairs, or perched on the edge of their seats, you’ll wonder if they need some ergonomics support. However, when your contact with workers is primarily through Zoom or Teams, where the background looks like a corner office with a view, you can’t fully understand their work environment. As we’ve reported before, we’ve seen some pretty atrocious home office environments.

We can debate for hours about the extent to which employers are responsible for home offices. But really, liability is only a small consideration. If an employee is working at a kitchen table, the employer is not getting the best productivity or work quality out of that employee. Even when the employees don’t report their back or neck or wrist pain, the employer can benefit if the ergonomics of the home office is optimized.

What should employers do for remote workers?

  1. Negotiate preferred pricing for good office furniture, and ensure that employees know how to make the purchase and install the equipment. (We can help you to weed through the market. Be aware that there’s a lot of really bad stuff out there.) Even if you don’t provide a budget for home office furniture, you should identify equipment that is universally appropriate, and make it easy for employees to obtain it. When employees unwittingly purchase desks that don’t adjust low enough (like most desk-top converters), or chairs that don’t provide appropriate lumbar support, they are reluctant to spend even more money on the equipment that they actually need.
  2. Provide information resources to allow employees to adjust their workstations appropriately. (We have some basic resources for temporary home offices, and some sit/stand resources that you can install on your intranet.) You can also find some free e-learning resources
  3. Provide step-by-step training for employees who are still struggling to set up their workstations. Practical training will help employees to make appropriate adjustments, by demonstration, practice, and feedback. (We offer an open-enrollment virtual training session, running on February 13. Participants love that they are learning to make adjustments to their chairs, keyboards, mice, and screens, while they are sitting right at their desks! We can also run this course specifically for your employees.)
  4. Provide virtual or in-person assessments for employees who have reported discomfort. By the time an employee reports discomfort, it’s too late to expect them to root around to look for help; an ergonomist should be assigned to evaluate and provide specific recommendations. An assessment will produce work practice recommendations for the employee to implement, and purchase or repair recommendations for the supervisor/employer. You should implement these recommendations to prevent further injury, productivity loss, or employee disengagement. (We can do assessments virtually (requiring the employee to submit a video of themselves at work) or in-person if you’re within an hour of one of our offices (London, Cambridge, and Mississauga).)

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