Remote workers urged to create proper home offices to protect their health

Many people have found themselves working remotely from home as a result of the pandemic, forcing them to adjust to a new workflow that, in many cases, involves taking over the kitchen table or bedroom closet. It is apparent that remote working, when possible, will be a long-term reality for many people, meaning it's time to accept fate and create a proper home office. Failure to do so, researchers warn, may come with long-term health consequences.

Sudden remote working

One's exact remote working setup depends on their job — some people can get by with just a laptop and headphones while others are forced to create more elaborate setups involving special hardware or more robust cameras. Experts with the University of Cincinnati warn that regardless of your particular workflow needs, you should create a proper, stable, and ergonomic home office to keep your body in good shape.

A safe home working environment is one that will accommodate several hours or more of work daily, according to researchers, which means ditching the small and compact laptop and replacing it with larger, more ergonomic external monitors and peripherals. An external display will help the remote worker avoid staring downward for long periods of time, for example; the external keyboard will help prevent repetitive stress conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome.

As part of their work, the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine's office ergonomics expert Kermit Davis, Ph.D., conducted a survey of university staff and faculty to assess the remote working environments. Of the more than 800 people who completed the survey, Davis notes that many of their home working environments were less than ideal.

Most common issues

Remote workers were found to often use chairs that were too low to the ground, while only a very small percentage (2%) used chairs that were too high. As well, and though a little more than half of those surveyed used chairs that had armrests, many either didn't use them or had these armrests adjusted incorrectly.

Likewise, most respondents didn't use lumbar support or even the back of their work chair, many had their computer monitor too low or off-center, and the majority of remote workers were using laptop displays, not larger external monitors. These issues likely reflect the general state of many home-working environments, according to the university, which notes that there are some cheap workarounds to fix many of these ergonomic issues.

Using something like a large book can elevate a laptop, for example, so that the user isn't having to stare downward at the screen. Likewise, pillows can be used to help support one's lower back and armrests can be wrapped with foam and other material if they're too low and can't be adjusted. Peripherals like an external keyboard can be directly attached to a laptop and monitors can be adjusted so that they're eye-level in the center of the worker's desk.

Ergonomics aren't the only concern

As well, Davis notes that there are some other issues that may cause health issues for remote workers, some of them easier to address than others. For example, workers should be sure to change their posture every so often, such as taking time to stand up and stretch. As well, remote workers may find it harder to maintain a work-life balance when living and working in the same environment, not to mention the struggles with new workflows and the general isolation of the pandemic.

Recognizing these issues will help remote workers make necessary adjustments to how they view and handle the workday, as well as their need for socialization and the new difficulties presented by social distancing. Various strategies can be used, such as limiting work equipment to the home office, using 'Do Not Disturb' modes to prevent after-work communications, using hardware setups for video chats with friends and family, and more.