Tech & trend

Don’t leave your ergonomics at the office!

In our new normal, many of us have traded office desks for kitchen tables. And even if global events move us back to the workplace soon, working from home in some form or fashion is here to stay. Dr. Mark Benden and Martha Parker of the Texas A&M University Ergo Center have plenty of tips and tricks for those facing the challenges of working from home now and in the not-so-distant future.

At the beginning of the year, when many of us went from working in the office every day to working at home with our kids, partners, pets, and roommates, ergonomics was the last thing on our mind. As we created our makeshift desks on our kitchen tables or ironing boards, we had no idea that a couple of weeks could turn into indefinitely. Many companies, like Google and Uber, have announced that they will not be going back to the office until mid-2021, while some have even announced that they will never be going back to the traditional office models they have had in the past. Needless to say, working from home is here to stay. Whether that is working from home all the time or just having the options and flexibility to do either, there is no escaping this new normal we live in. This means we need to move on from the hack-phase of makeshift desks and workspaces and start to think differently about working from home.

“In your job, you can compare yourself to a pro-athlete,” says, Dr. Mark Benden, the department head and associate professor, as well as the director of the Ergo Center at Texas A&M University. “In order to perform at peak levels, you need the same equipment and tools around that you always have. You would not want to change this up or go without something every time you travelled. This is the same for your workspace. To keep the level of performance the same, you want that transition to be seamless.”

This seamlessness is a topic we explored in a new two-part LINcast podcast that focused on the challenges and opportunities of working from home. Our offices and workspaces have been perfected to reduce health and safety risks and ensure we are as healthy and productive as possible. Our homes are another story. In this episode, Dr. Benden and Martha Parker, project manager and ergonomist at Texas A&M Ergo Center, take us through some unique findings from a series of studies centred around office workers who shifted to work from home. These studies were the first of their kind as they took in software data on a very large-scale, monitoring 120 types of metrics of over 40,000 office workers for multiple years. One big question that everyone wonders, “Can people working from home be as effective as those working in the office?”

“After about 45 days, people were back up to their regular level of productivity,” says Parker. “What that means for us today is that you’re going to get back to where you were from a work status, and you can do it for the long haul.”

So, the good news is that we can do it. We can be just as effective at home. But to speed up that transition and ensure a continued level of productivity, it is important that we have that dedicated space at home that replicates the same equipment and setup as our workspace in the office. This is where ergonomics is even more important. When you are sitting on a kitchen chair for your workspace every day, you are going to see some new pains and potential health challenges over longer periods of time. One nice finding from the study did surprise a lot of people, including Dr. Benden and Parker.

“What we learned is that from an activity standpoint, people in the office and people working remotely from home move about the same amount, which is still really bad. They don't move a lot.” Parker highlighted.

Knowing that we can be just as productive and move just as little while working from home, it makes sense that a lot of companies are planning on keeping some form of work from home flexibility moving forward, even after COVID-19 is gone. But the big difference is that in the office your health and well-being are monitored by your company and regulating bodies like OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), while at home you must be the one to focus more on your wellness. Let’s face it, we tend not to worry about ergonomics until we get back, neck or wrist pains. Part two of the podcast dives into what you can do to improve your ergonomics while working from home.

It's about fit,” says Parker. “It's what fits you. So, there's some critical things you want to look at. The length of your legs, your back support, armrests. The width of the chair. All those things you want to make sure fit you, then we can work on how the chair and your desk interact from a height perspective.”

Dr. Benden suggests having the same keyboard, same mouse, and same monitor that you have in the office to keep that seamlessness we talked about. But you also want the docking station and other critical things that keep your head and neck neutral as you work.

“The distance to the monitor is really critical. So, we run into several things with monitors that cause problems for people in the office, but also in their remote offices. The height is the number one…after sitting for so long, by the end of the day you start slouching and slumping, we get lower and lower in our chair. We think it’s gravity sucking us down, pulling us into the earth. But the monitor is typically too high. I just don't run into situations anymore except maybe with Shaq, that the monitor is too low. They tend to be too high, set up too high. So, bring the monitor down.”

One of the biggest things they believe you need to focus on though is to stay active and moving. You don’t want to sit or stand in the same position all day. Though we tend to move about the same at home as we do at work, as Parker said, it is still not that great. In fact, they suggest following the 20-8-2 metric. Where you sit for 20 minutes, stand for 8 minutes and walk or move for 2 minutes. Maybe you take the conference call while walking outside and getting a little fresh air. It can do wonders for your creativity and focus, but also for your mental and physical health.

Make office workers stay active and healthy
 

Dr. Benden covered it well, “The thing for folks to remember, is that the best position you can be in ergonomically to work at your computer is your next one. So, the very optimal position is the whole concept of change…That's the secret sauce. That's what's good for us, it's the transition to move.”

You can learn all about the results from the comprehensive study on working from home in part one of the discussion with Dr. Benden and Parker, or get all the tips and tricks for your health and well-being in part two.

 

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