Working from home may have changed more than just your workplace setup; it may have drastically changed the way you do your job.
When I did onsite ergonomic consultations prior to the new regimen, I used to move around all day. I’d walk from workstation to workstation. I’d be kneeling, crouching, climbing stairs, writing notes. Often, my work would include demonstrating stretches.
Now, just like you, I sit at my computer all day working. Part of that is performing ergonomic assessments remotely.
1. More Time Spent at your Desk
If we are spending all our of working hours at our computers instead of moving around, our computer setup at home might be even important than it was at the office.
Maybe when you were moving around more, it was possible to have horrible workplace ergonomics and not experience any pain.
I have assessed workstations where clients report no pain at all despite a high presence of ergonomic risk factors. Usually the explanation is that they barely sit at their desks.
For an office manager clocking 6,000 steps per day at the office with no extended sedentary behavior, poor workstation ergonomics didn’t matter so much. Same for a busy supervisor who spent most of her time managing by walking around.
Ergonomic injury is cumulative. It takes long hours, and sometimes months or years for those overstrained muscles and tendons to make it impossible for you to work, but when they do you will wish you had listened to your body sooner.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, instead of moving around all day many of us are slouched hour after hour at our computers. If now is the first time you are sitting at your desk instead of walking around an office, then good ergonomics just became a lot more important.
2. Downgrade in the Quality of your Furniture and Equipment
Does this sound familiar? If you were working in high tech or for a multi national corporation and have never worked from home before, it is likely that you have experienced a serious downgrade in your furniture and equipment.
Your fully adjustable chair has been replaced by a kitchen stool. Your adjustable-height desk is now a shelf bolted to the wall at a random height. Unfortunately I’m not making this stuff up. I am receiving more calls than ever before and many of them are from individuals who left their ergonomic furniture behind at the office and are unable to continue working from home because of pain.
Your adjustable- height desk is now a shelf bolted to the wall at a random height.
Good office furniture and equipment is not just another competitive workplace condition like free lunches and a fully stocked coffee bar. It’s about wellness and productivity. Many large corporations are supporting employees working from home with virtual ergonomic assessments or a budget for new furniture and equipment.
Although most employees are using the budget to buy a chair, there is more to good office ergonomics than just a new chair. There is also an increasing trend of people purchasing height-adjustable desks for their homes.
And the results are justifying the initiatives. Studies are finding that productivity is up in the short term. For it to stay that way, the home workstation has to be comfortable, pleasant and safe. I am consulting for several companies on how to assist their employees to find the right ergonomic furniture for their specific work from home situation.3
3. Now is the time to Make Healthy Lifestyle Changes
Many of us have used this time at home to upgrade our skills and cultivate healthy habits. You can now do that weird yoga pose at your desk without fear of judgement. Working from home allows us additional freedom to adjust our lifestyle for the better. Now is the time to upgrade our body awareness as well.
Whereas assessing postures and ergonomic risks is best left to professionals, paying attention to the early signs of pain and injury is something everybody can do.
Working from home allows us additional freedom to adjust our lifestyle for the better.
When it comes to ergonomics, small changes make a big difference. This works in both directions, for better and for worse. Paying attention to how your body feels is a learned skill. If we were doing it, we wouldn’t ever get to the situation where our pain is so acute that working from our desks becomes unbearable. We would make changes long before a repetitive strain injury or work related musculoskeletal disorder sidelined us.
If you’re sitting for longer periods than before in a workspace that was not designed with ergonomic principles in mind, don’t wait for the pain to get worse. Pay more attention to how your body feels, and do something about it.