Lessons from Lockdown: Working from home

During lockdown earlier this year, Working Wise conducted Virtual Workstation Assessments to provide support to remote workers and educate them on the best practices of setting up an ergonomic workstation at home. We sat down with our Occupational Health Nurse, Tracey Emmerson, and talked about her experience with helping workers to stay healthy and safe while working from home.

Q: What were the main trends you identified?

Answer: Workplaces were quite generous in what they provided their staff in terms of equipment such as laptops and monitors – this meant people in their bubbles didn’t have to share devices with each other. However, the main issue was that workers did not know how to properly set-up this equipment for optimal use.

The main trend I found was that the majority of people had a poor workstation, such as sitting at dining tables or kitchen benches. This posed a huge risk to their health and safety, especially if they did not have the right chair or a footrest to support their feet.

If some people didn’t have access to a supportive chair, I would occasionally recommend an exercise ball as these are a good and comfortable alternative (people can also get movement in their hips while sitting on these). Make-shift footrests were also a common thing, where workers used objects like Sistema boxes or gym rollers (they got quite creative!).

Poor alignment of the desk, chair and monitor height was another main trend that occurred. All of these factors resulted in workers experiencing poor posture, neck discomfort and back discomfort. In a more positive light, almost all the workers I talked to said they stuck to a good work routine and went for daily walks.

Q: What were the lessons learned from lockdown?

Answer: Taking proper care of worker wellbeing and psychological health was a significant lesson during lockdown. Many people lived in bubbles with their families or flatmates so they had a good support circle. For those living alone, it was important for them to keep in touch with their colleagues, friends and families. Workers maintained daily communication with their work colleagues and managers which was great to hear.

Some people were suffering from fatigue that was not necessarily physical but more mental during lockdown. Taking regular breaks and getting fresh air was an important factor in aiding this. I think it is also essential for workplaces to provide staff with access to Employment Assistance Programmes (EAPs)  to help employees deal with personal problems that might impact their job performance, health and wellbeing.

In terms of the actual work set-up, the main lesson that came out of lockdown is the importance of being prepared. Employers should have a plan in place for staff working from home, especially for how they will manage potential hazards and risks.

Q: How different are virtual assessments compared to face-to-face assessments?

Answer: I was surprised at how easy the process was – it turned out really well and there were very few internet issues! The main challenge was not being able to physically see/measure their desk set-up and typing technique. Although there were some limitations, I was still able to discuss best ergonomic practices to improve their situation. It was great being able to support people at home at a time they needed it the most. Workers felt cared by their employer as they had access to professional advice. I think we made the most out of an unprecedented situation.

Q: What’s your take on provision of ergonomic equipment? What would be your advice for employers?

Answer: I believe it is a shared responsibility. Employers should be providing workers with the essential equipment, e.g. laptop, monitor, mouse and keyboard. However, individuals have different needs and may require additional equipment. The employer and workers should discuss this and come to an agreement on the supply of equipment.

Q: Did you get a sense of whether people enjoyed working from home?

Answer: Most of the office based workers enjoyed working from home and it was mainly the community based workers who found it harder to adapt to sitting behind a desk at home. I sensed that most people like the flexibility and balance of doing both.

Q: What are the top 5 things to think about if staff are going to work from home permanently?

  1. A good desk-setup is essential – but if I were to recommend one piece of equipment to supply it would be a good supportive chair. Having the right chair could allow them to sit at any location with good posture.
  2. Maintain communication – Checking in with staff daily is important, or have them visit the office if possible to see how they’re coping.
  3. Support worker wellbeing – Remind workers they still need to take regular breaks and provide them access to EAPs.
  4. Educate workers – Provide education sessions on the risks and hazards associated with working from home and how to remain healthy and safe.
  5. Monitoring and control the hazards – Create a working from home plan; identify the hazards and risks associated with working from home and implement effective controls to manage them.

See what some of our clients had to say about their virtual assessment:

“I had an assessment with Tracey, the session was not only extremely fruitful and educational but also very entertaining.  Tracey helped me set up my home office, a standing desk out of various bits and bobs around the house!  My back and general wellbeing thank her!” – Renee, Creative NZ

“Thanks again to Tracey for a relaxing and supportive session! I found it very useful along with Tracey’s comprehensive WSA report” –  Eruera, Te Puni Kōkiri

“Thanks to Tracey for a very informative presentation and humour to boot – very refreshing. We were happy with the turn out … she provided some great tips and exercises.” – Alison, Pharmac

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