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If you began working from home (WFH) during the COVID-19 pandemic and are interested in knowing what your ergonomic risk is, you can start by checking in with your body.  If your body is fatigued, strained, hurting or even frozen in areas that felt fine when you were working at the office, chances are your home workspace ergonomics need to be improved.

Was your home workspace set up for more than occasional use? 

The dining room table, or kitchen table, or sofa or bed workstation is a challenge to both your body and your productivity. If you began working from home during the pandemic, you might not have realized when you set up your workspace that it would be for more than a few weeks.  

But the short term has a way of becoming the long term and in many cases it’s going to be you who wants to keep it that way.  If your home office was set up before you realized that you would be working from home for months or years or maybe forever, now is the time to upgrade it.  Bad ergonomics is not okay and will affect productivity if it hasn’t already done so. 

Ergonomic Risks of Working from Home

Is your desk too high or too low relative to your chair?  Is your chair height adjustable? If not, you are at risk of experiencing wrist or shoulder pain.  Does your chair lack a cushioned seat that distributes the weight along your thighs and across your pelvis? Do the armrests of your chair collide with the desk preventing your from getting as close as you need to your monitor without leaning forward?  These are just a few of the many, many causes of musculoskeletal pain and injury. 

If previously you worked in an office and had a customized or adjustable workstation including a height adjustable desk, ergonomic chair, monitor arm or riser and you are now working at the dining room table or worse, then your ergonomic risk has gone up substantially.

You need to identify the ergonomic risks of your home workspace and make changes to ensure that it is no less productive, pleasant and safe than what you left behind at the office.

Poor Ergonomics Affects Productivity and Profitability

Studies have shown that both employers and employees believe that WFH has a positive effect on productivity so far. Many employees will choose to keep working from home full time. In other cases, employers are sufficiently satisfied with productivity to keep employees at home. Your home office must be comfortable and safe so that your productivity will not be adversely affected. If physical discomfort or fatigue is affecting the way you feel about your work, your will be less productive and less profitable. 

Employers’ Response

Many employers have responded to the ergonomic challenges presented by WFH.  As they should. Caring for employee wellness is one way that employers engage remote workers. In some countries an ergonomic assessment is regulated for employees working from home.  MNC’s usually require the same standards in all locations.  In the current climate, employers have by necessity replaced the on site ergonomic assessment with an online assessment.  

Many companies are providing a budget for upgrading the home office, or specifically for purchasing a chair. Employers are turning to me for recommendations for furniture and equipment suppliers. While I wholeheartedly agree that a dining room or kitchen chair can never be good for prolonged computer work, rushing out to buy a chair should not be done before identifying an individual’s ergonomic risks. Furniture and equipment are easy to buy and they should come after identifying an individual’s complaints and risks. There is more to reducing your ergonomic risk than buying a new chair. 

Take Matters into Your Own Hands

A diagnosis should always come before a solution.  After identifying ergonomic risks with professional ergonomics advice, it should be up to the employee to decide how best to use the allotted budget.