COVID-19 has created one of the most revolutionary changes to office design and human resources—the migration of employees away from the office to working from home.
This shift to the home office has created opportunities for improved productivity and employee satisfaction, as well as potential risks for musculoskeletal injuries. As many individuals are currently working both at home and in the office, this hybrid working situation requires a focus on comfort, productivity and health to enhance employee performance.
There are many benefits of a hybrid office model, including increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, decreased commuting time, flexibility of work location and schedule and a reduced need for commercial office space. To support a hybrid office model, it is important to take employee health and safety into account as the risk of ergonomic injury can be even higher for hybrid workers than those who work only in the office, due to workstation designs that do not support the body.
There should be a hybrid office policy to set expectations and ground rules for these types of arrangements upfront. The policy can include communication practices, the number of hours required within the office (and at what times) and employee health and safety provisions. The employee health and safety section of the policy can include standards for office equipment and overall safety requirements for the home office.
There should be a dedicated place for computer-based work in the home office, either as a sit-down workstation, standing workstation or both. How the home office is furnished can vary by organization. At one end of the spectrum, all of the office equipment can be purchased for the employee, similar to a corporate setting. On the other end, organizations might provide only a secure Internet connection and a laptop.
The workstation set up should be similar in both the office and at home. This includes having a chair with adjustability to fit the body and other equipment that minimizes awkward postures that can lead to musculoskeletal injury, such as a keyboard and mouse rest to reduce contact pressure on the wrist and forearms and, where possible, height-adjustable monitors to prevent awkward neck postures. In the home office environment, there are many different options to create an ideal workspace, but seating and using a task chair is one of the fundamental pieces of equipment to reduce risks for musculoskeletal injury.
The hybrid office working arrangement brings benefits of working in an office and at home. With the rise of video conferencing, many hours are spent at home, interacting through a computer, but face-to-face communication is typically only available when in the office.
To make the most of hybrid working, it is important to schedule office days when there is the opportunity to interact with and strengthen relationships face to face with colleagues and clients, whereas home office days can be allocated for concentration with minimal distractions.
By proactively planning how to use office days and home work days, there is the opportunity to take advantage of increasing productivity. Nothing beats bumping into someone in the office to problem solve a difficult task, which is not always possible when working from home. Yet, the home offers uninterrupted time to complete tasks without the distractions inherent to an office setting.
Working from home can create a struggle to disconnect from work when the day is done and to find balance. There are not the same time constraints at home as there are in an office, with scheduling commutes to meet family and personal commitments.
Perks of working from home include dressing more casually and creating scheduling flexibility, but there is also the challenge of stopping the work day. Even more important when working in a hybrid environment is to understand your work style and ability to stay connected, while maintaining time for activities.
Across Canada, many fitness centres and other types of sporting leagues have shut down, and it is important to maintain physical activity and the social connections that sport provides. When working in a hybrid office, look for opportunities to maintain physical exercise. This can include a walking meeting with a colleague, walking to the mailbox or taking the time to step away from the computer to have lunch in the kitchen. Taking the time for physical activity, even moderate activity, will provide many health benefits and reduced feelings of stress.
Aaron Miller is an ergonomics consultant based in Kelowna, B.C. As a Canadian Certified Professional Ergonomist (CCPE), Aaron specializes in leading design and corporate initiatives to improve organizational efficiency, effectiveness, and opportunities for change. Aaron can reached at email@example.com