Ergonomics Anywhere: Considerations for the Holidays

Ergonomics Anywhere: Considerations for the Holidays

With the blurring of work and home, it is inevitable that some employees will be working remotely over the holidays, whether that be from home, family members’ homes, or even on planes travelling to another destination. While this arrangement allows employees flexibility in planning their vacation schedules, working in a new position can be less than ideal if ergonomics is not considered. For example, laptops and cellphones can create awkward positioning that predisposes employees to aches and pains. A lack of boundaries at home can increase the chance of employees working longer hours, which can also create ergonomic issues.

It is important to consider proper positioning principles and workplace boundaries no matter where you work, so that when you return to the workplace in the new year, you return healthy and ready to be productive.

Laptop Ergonomics

Even if you lack the proper equipment, you can optimize your space by being creative and supplementing these tools with what you already have at home. One of the benefits of working virtually is the comfort and flexibility of your environment, so you can use the following ergonomic tips to try new positions and customize your workstation.

  • Laptop
    • Raise your laptop on boxes so that it meets eye level.
    • Use an external keyboard or place the laptop on a three-inch binder so you can keep your elbows at 90 degrees.
    • Keep your wrists in a neutral position.
    • Use a binder to place any documents you have at an angle.
  • Chair
    • Keep your thighs supported.
    • Plant your feet on the floor or footrest.
    • Have your arms supported at table height.
    • Use a rolled towel for lower back support.                                                                                                
  • Standing
    • Raise your laptop to eye level with boxes.
    • Place an external keyboard and mouse on boxes to ensure elbows are kept at 90 degrees.
    • Use a footrest to rest one foot on at a time.
  • Couch
    • Place your laptop on a pillow and cutting board to put over your lap.
    • Use two extra pillows to support your forearms.
    • Keep wrists in a neutral position.
    • Keep elbows at roughly 90 degrees.

Cell Phone Ergonomics

  • When holding up the phone, raise it to chest level or higher to prevent excessive bending of the neck.
  • Use the speakerphone, headset, earphones, or wireless Bluetooth products if you will be talking on the phone regularly. Avoid holding the phone between your head and shoulder to prevent muscle strain.
  • Adjust your phone’s brightness level or font size to make reading on your screen easier on the eyes.
  • Alternate typing with your thumbs and fingers to avoid repetitive strain injury in your thumbs.
  • Keep your wrists in a neutral position.
  • Take breaks – do not use the cell phone for using emails all day long.

Setting Boundaries

Setting a clear distinction between working and holiday/family time can help employees prevent stress and burnout, but it can also help employees establish good ergonomic principles at home. At a time when you will likely be surrounded by family members and the chaos of holiday spirit, it can be easy to forget the good habits that you’ve developed in your usual workspace and fall into unhealthy patterns. Getting set up ergonomically may be as easy as adjusting to your regular routine.

Instead of working on the couch or at the kitchen table, consider using a separate office space with proper ergonomic equipment. If you do not have an extra room, try taping off an area or using physical barriers to distinguish your workspace. If you do not have proper equipment, use some of the ergonomic tips listed above as a temporary solution.

While working remotely, it can sometimes be difficult to disconnect from work, but just because you have access to work doesn’t mean you should always be working. Working long hours has proven to be bad for your health, and sitting for long periods of time is also associated with higher levels of mortality from causes like cardiovascular disease. Shutting down the work screens during family time can provide you the much-needed movement break, and mental health break, your body needs.

What Can Employees Do?

  • Take regular breaks to interrupt continuous sitting time.
  • Stretch your eyes regularly. Practice the near/far exercise “20/20/20” – look into the distance (20 feet away) to relax your eye muscles for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
  • Use hand stretching exercises to keep your hands flexible. Try tapping your thumb to each finger or opening your hand and spreading your fingers as wide as you can before closing into a fist.
  • Continue to use ergonomic principles, no matter where you work.

What Can Employers Do?

  • Encourage employees to take regular breaks and to disconnect from work during vacation time.
  • Do not contact employees after their regularly scheduled working hours. Learn more about the right to disconnect.
  • Educate employees on proper ergonomic principles, using tip sheets, ergonomic webinars and workshops, and Occupational Therapy assessments.
  • Delay any important meetings until the new year to accommodate the different schedules and locations of employees.

How Can Gowan Consulting Help?

Gowan Consulting specializes in the area of Occupational Therapy. We have Occupational Therapists all over Canada that can assist with making your workplace healthier. We can assist with anything from ergonomic assessments to mental health to workplace accommodations and return to work. Make a referral or contact us to see how we can help with your workplace concerns.

You can also check out our entire training catalogue, which includes live workshops, certificate programs, and recorded webinars for employees and employers. Or set up a consultation with us to develop a customized session or program for your workplace needs.

For more information on ergonomics, check out our upcoming Hybrid Office Ergonomics for the Health and Safety Professional virtual training or one of recorded webinars on ergonomics, such as our Working from Home series or Setting Up Your Home Office with Ergonomics.

References

“Smartphones and Ergonomics: Hand Aches and Injuries,” Mount Sinai, https://www.mountsinai.org/files/MSHealth/Assets/HS/Patient%20Care/Service-Areas/Occupational%20Medicine/Ergonomics-Smartphones.pdf

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