How to turn home offices into productive workspaces
In early 2020, millions of people set their Out of Office message and left their desk; many never returned. As we settle into a new, hybrid, post-pandemic world, organisations are dealing with the fact that working from home (at least some of the time) is here to stay.
For many it’s more convenient and enjoyable – and often more productive. For others it’s a mess. Clutter, noise, distractions and IT issues can make work a struggle – and affect physical and mental wellbeing.
How do you help your remote workforce tackle home office ergonomics?
While it’s true that people working from home are ultimately responsible for their own health and safety, smart employers don’t hide behind legalistic detail. Instead, they get closer to their staff, try to understand their individual situation, and make sure they are properly set up to do the job. Hunching over a laptop on a kitchen chair or sprawling on the sofa surrounded by paper may be okay for a while, but in the long run it spells trouble. Not just back, neck and shoulder problems, but a blurring of boundaries between work and home spaces that often leads to frustration and resentment. It’s well worth making sure that all your employees have a dedicated workspace – and, if necessary, help them create one.
Doing a proper review of each employee’s home office not only identifies potential pitfalls, but also shows you take their work and wellbeing seriously. You’re signalling that you still expect output of highest standard – and that you’ll give them all the support they need to deliver it. If you run an SME, you may be able to this kind of assessment yourself. Alternatively, you can use a specialist ergonomics consultant. Either way, it’s an investment that will pay off.
The right equipment
You wouldn’t hesitate to give employees essential technology so they can work effectively. The same should apply to the equipment that keeps them safe and healthy, for example:
- A desk at the right height – not a low kitchen table that’s a short cut to backache.
- A proper adjustable office chair with good support. When they don’t have to commute, people often work more hours a day at home than they would in the office. Make sure they’re sitting comfortably.
- Good lighting, heating and ventilation.
- A separate monitor alongside the laptop, to stop them slumping in front of a tiny screen.
- A wireless mouse and keyboard, to make everything less cramped.
Behaviour is just as important as kit. The beauty of the office is that people naturally move around to speak to colleagues, go to meetings or just natter about Strictly. Working at home, especially if they are alone in the house, means all this communication usually takes place in the same, static position in front of a screen. People take fewer natural breaks and find they’ve been sitting in the same spot for hours. By giving your employees a structured routine to follow, you can prompt them to change posture regularly, stretch their limbs and take short, refreshing walks outside. It all helps to improve physical condition and clears the mind.
While ergonomics focuses on the physical environment, don’t ignore the importance of a broader sense of belonging. Remote workers need to feel they haven’t been forgotten and you’ll need a clear communication strategy to keep them engaged and motivated. Schedule regular check-ins, including face-to-face meetings, video calls or even short text messages, to keep an eye on people’s mood and state of mind. It means you can act quickly if you spot any warning signs.
Out of sight, not out of mind
Even when an employee isn’t physically under your roof, they’re still your responsibility. And while managing a workforce that is dispersed across the town, region, country or even the world, can sound daunting, it’s much easier with a coherent, practical home office ergonomics strategy for remote workers. Get it right and everyone benefits.