Many businesses have had to send their employees home for an extended period. Some might be choosing to make the switch to remote work permanent.
However, many employees did not have a proper home office, and a good number still don’t. Employees might be working from a laptop on the couch (or worse, the bed), or otherwise in less-than-ideal circumstances.
The fact is that many employees working from home, especially those who do expect to return to the office sometime next year, don’t have good ergonomic setups to work in. And that can have a negative impact on their productivity and morale.
How Poor Ergonomics Affect Productivity
Poor ergonomics affect productivity in a number of ways, as well as negatively impacting the health of your employees. There are four major ways they can affect it:
- Absenteeism. Ergonomic injuries can cause employees to use more of their sick time and even take unpaid time off. Poor ergonomics can cause work-related musculoskeletal disorders. For office workers, this includes carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis in the wrists and hands, and pain in the back and neck. All of these can force a worker to take time off.
- Presenteeism. Then there are the workers who are saving their sick time and don’t take that time off, but who are trying to work through the pain. This can easily lead to presenteeism, where your employee clocks in, but does only the minimum amount of work.
- Morale. Absenteeism and presenteeism then lead to low morale. For example, somebody is working on a project with another employee, but that employee has a sore back and is putting in less effort. Their partner is likely to rightly feel like the person who does everything on the group project.
- Turnover. And all of this ultimately learns to higher turnover as employees head for greener pastures. This is less likely to happen during a downturn, but there’s a risk of delayed departure.
What Can Employees Do to Improve Ergonomics for People Working from Home?
In the office, it’s a lot easier to deal with ergonomic problems. You can check workstations, talk to people, and see if they are jury-rigging things to solve ergonomic problems.
When everyone is at home, it becomes more of a challenge. Are your employees working in a bedroom because it’s the only quiet space? Are they using the dining room table as a desk? None of these situations are ideal.
Thankfully, there are still things you can do. Here are some things to consider.
Employees working from home become responsible for their own ergonomics, but they may never have been given the knowledge to set things up correctly.
Have somebody go over what a good workspace looks like with your employees. Make sure that they talk about things like allowing sufficient legroom, setting chair height correctly, etc.
Ideally, your remote employees should have a separate room with a proper desk and chair. However, even if that’s not currently an option, you can talk to them about ways to make a chair more comfortable with seat cushions, how to make a footrest from things they have lying around, etc. Screens need to be at eye level and arm’s length away, slightly lower for people who wear bifocals.
Also, remind employees to take frequent breaks to stand and stretch. For those who tend to forget, suggest the use of a timer app on their computer or phone. Talk to them about keeping frequently-used items, such as their phone, within easy reach. In order to give specific advice on ergonomics, have them take photos of their primary work area so that you can see any problems and advise appropriately.
Provide the Right Hardware
Laptops are great, but they are not the best tool for extended work. If you have sent an employee home with just a laptop, consider also sending them an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse. The cost of buying and shipping low-cost peripherals is minimal compared to the productivity improvement. If your employees take a lot of phone calls, provide them with a headset. (This can also reduce conflict caused by video conferencing in smaller spaces, also having a positive impact on productivity). Another piece of cheap hardware that can be useful is an anti-glare computer screen cover. Get ones that also filter blue light. As an alternative to a monitor, you could also provide a laptop stand to raise the monitor to eye level.
Encourage your employees to set up a “docking station” and use the external peripherals as much as possible. (However, don’t put pressure on people who find that, for example, taking the laptop out into the yard on a nice day improves their productivity).
You could also consider providing employees with wrist rests (which can reduce the incidence and symptoms of carpal tunnel).
Give a Home Office Allowance
Another thing worth costing out is a home office allowance. If you give your employees a home office allowance, the amount is fully tax-deductible and also not considered taxable income to the employee. Generally, this means a one-time payment your employees can use to set up a work station if they don’t already have one. The allowance can then be used to pay for a better desk and chair.
You can either set a fixed amount or let employees expense their purchases up to a reasonable limit. In some states, you may be legally required to reimburse for “necessary job expenses,” which could easily be argued to include the expense of setting up a home office, if you are asking people to work from home for your convenience. (This means that you don’t need to reimburse employees who choose to work from home because they hate their commute).
If you do choose to reimburse for setting up a home office, you should tie it with education and training to help employees get the right equipment and keep costs down.
A lot of people working from home never planned to do so. This is resulting in poor ergonomics which can reduce productivity. It’s worth investing time and money to help your employees set up a better work station with good ergonomics that will help them succeed and avoid injuries.