Working From Home…Safely
By Josh Williams, Ph.D.
Since COVID, employees are working from home now more than ever. There are many benefits to this arrangement and people often report how much more productive they are now compared to working in a designated office (plus no rush hour traffic). However, there can be disadvantages as well. People may feel increasingly isolated and may also be less vigilant when it comes to their own physical safety. Here are some reminders for working from home…safely.
- Set aside a specific place to work. Having a designated work area helps compartmentalize work and minimize home distractions. It also sends a signal to family members that you are unavailable when working in your workspace. This normalizes work functions as separate from other aspects of home activities.
- Stay connected. One of the biggest disadvantages of home offices is that it’s easy for employees to work in silos without getting context from nearby coworkers. Setting up regular touchpoint meetings and making the effort to message coworkers keeps important communication flowing throughout the organization. It also may fight social isolation that some people feel moving from a traditional environment to a home office.1,2
- Schedule periodic breaks to stay fresh. It’s important to take regular breaks to avoid fatigue and repetitive motion injuries. Setting up stretch break timers on the computer can also be helpful. Simple steps like taking walks when needed helps avoid both physical (carpal tunnel) and psychological (stress, burnout) concerns.
- Prioritize your tasks to match your productive time. Individuals have different times when they’re most productive. Some early risers are highly efficient in the morning while others work better later in the day. Setting up easy-to-complete tasks during your less productive times frees you up to use your maximum brainpower during times when you’re most productive.3
- Keep an ergonomically fit workspace. Whether you are in the office or at home, keeping a workspace that ensures your health and well-being is crucial. Here’s a list of a few items that can help you achieve this: a laptop stand that ensures your computer screen is at eye level, a remote keyboard and mouse, and an ergonomic office chair.
Here is a short guide that you can print out and refer to when needed to make sure you’re avoiding harm when working from home.
|Office Set Up/Equipment||Ergonomic chairs, sit/stand desks (if available), wrist pads, proper monitors, etc.|
|Socialization||Keep regular, open dialogue with team members (including video) to ensure good communication and the minimization of isolation.|
|Housekeeping||Desk organization, safe storage of materials, slip/trip hazards (boxes, cords), etc.|
|Posture||Wrists straight, 90-degree forearm angle, monitor at (or just below) eye level, lower back supported, etc.|
|Stretching and Breaks||Regularly do stretching before, during, and after the day; take regular breaks to move around, etc.|
|Situational Awareness||Eyes on task and path, pinch point avoidance, handrails with stairs, etc.|
|Body Position/Ergonomics||Proper bending, lifting, reaching, etc.|
Home office safety may seem like a frivolous topic. However, repetitive motion injuries are the fastest growing on-the-job injury type in North America. I’ve spoken with a number of employees who can no longer (comfortably) hold their grandkids or use doorknobs because of carpal tunnel syndrome. Also, mental health concerns climbed considerably during COVID which was due, in part, to social isolation. These elements can also be at play when people are working from home instead of going into an office.
This short guide may help to improve your safety and well-being when working from home. It may even boost your productivity.