Ergonomics of Working From Home

New Delhi (IANSlife) The lockdown forced people across the globe to embrace remote working. What was a perk is now the norm. While one has managed to get more time and independence as we commute from bed to desk, the physical repercussions to our body and mind need to be contemplated.

Have you met Susan? She is an illustration created by ‘directapply’, a recruiting company. It is based on what directapply thinks how a remote worker will look like 25 years from now if they are not mindful of their home working habits. The hunch backed, bloodshot eyes with dark circles, strangely held hands and the bloated body might seem an exaggeration but the reality may not be very different.

Dr. Nisha Nair, Assistant Vice President, Health Risk Management, Anviti Insurance Brokers Private Limited explains the �Ergonomics of Working From Home’. She speaks about how the impending lifestyle changes will drastically affect the employee population.

SUSAN- A Remote Working Employee!

According to the study conducted by IWG, 80 per cent of people turned down job offers that did not offer flexible working pre-COVID-19 times. Currently with 50 per cent of workplaces offering flexi working, ensuring daily calls and meetings during lockdown, 29 per cent of the subjects feel less productive than ever before.

While people have converted their living rooms to office cubicles, kitchen to canteens, they are stuck in a small space throughout the day. The boredom and restrictions on stepping outdoors is leading people to devour hoarded snacks. Unhealthy eating habits have led to deteriorating physical health.

With many companies aiming to shift to a work-from-home models for the long run, further deterioration of physical and mental health of their employees can be expected. With the sudden shift to working from home, employees had to create office spaces out of their couches and dining tables. These spaces and the furniture at home was never designed to support users for long meetings and focused work; with ergonomics completely out of the equation.

Why do ergonomics at home need attention?

For someone who would have occasionally worked from home or spent a few late hours, after office, working from home, the sudden change to working-full-time-from-home for extended months, can take a toll on their mental and physical health. Most modern homes are not built to work.

The furnishings, lighting and the environment is designed for everything but focused work. The dining table, which is the preferred area to work, is not of the appropriate height and the chairs cannot be adjusted according to the individual’s height and needs. Most chairs may not have hand-rest and even if they do, it cannot appropriately support the hand while using a laptop. Working seated on the bed is a bad idea, as it cannot provide a neutral back posture. The design of the bed makes the individual slouch. The cozy couch or the sofa may be very tempting, but they provide zero support to the spine. The light from the ceiling or from the open window may not be sufficient depending on where and how you are seated. These factors jointly lead to decreased productivity, which may cost the employer in numerous ways.

How can a home be prepared for work?

The first step towards making a home ergonomically sensitive is to understand the nature of the work. Work Ergonomics is about the working individual, their body type, and their ways of working. Depending on the work style, the workspace at home should be modified. Once the specific needs are identified and addressed, there are common aspects of working that need attention:

Maintain good posture to prevent neck and back related problems. Include simple exercises in your routine for a few hours. Use the right chair that enables right posture and supports your lower and upper back.

Use adjustable chairs and table to keep the desk at the right height or use old books to adjust height of laptop and use firm cushion to adjust height on chair. Your hands should be bent at the elbows and sit comfortably on both sides.

Using laptop keyboard for a prolonged use is not advisable as it is cramped and uses little space, buy a separate keyboard and mouse for ease of use.

The screen brightness must be adjusted to the lighting in the room. If you are seated next to the window, position your system to avoid any glare. Glare causes fatigue and dryness in the eyes.

Isolate your workspace from the rest of the home to avoid noise & distraction. You can also use noise cancelling headphone to increase concentration.

Take short breaks and walk around the house. Ensure your feet are properly rested to reduce strain on spine. Never place laptop on your lap as it is an uncomfortable position that can hurt your eye and neck.

How can employers help?

While many offer ergonomically designed office spaces with adjustable chairs, stand-up desks, monitor extensions to laptops, many are yet to consider the encouraging ergonomic best practices for their employees who are working from home. The reason for employers to invest time, effort and money in this area is precisely the same which made them invest in ergonomics of office spaces – fewer compensation claims due to injuries, increased productivity, increased morale, reduced absenteeism.

One way the corporate can help themselves is by educating their employees about the significance of ergonomics and what they can do about it while working from home. Employers must implement programs, involving the management and employees, to train them on the best practices that they can follow. Employees should be provided with required resources and tools to manage work effectively and safely from home.

Physical and mental issues among the workforce who are isolated in new work-spaces managing stress related to family and work, needs immediate attention. The ‘Susan Apocalypse’ can be prevented by employees and employers, actively engaging in this direction. Quicker the realisation dawns on everyone, lesser will be the impact on health and in turn on business.

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