Covid-19 has created one of the most revolutionary changes to working arrangements. Key to the changes is a move to a flexible working model, whereby the worksite, the physical space in which employees work, could be the home, the office or a hybrid of the two.
In this article, Laura Milnes, our Head of Ergonomics, talks about the legal and moral obligations to protect the health and safety of employees wherever they work, and the positive effect on wellbeing and productivity using good ergonomic practices delivers for hybrid workers.
Create a hybrid working policy
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 home/remote workstation designs that do not support the body or meet ergonomics best practice.
Employers should develop and document a hybrid working policy that sets-out, for example, expectations for number of hours/days required in the office/at home, standards for, and provision of, furniture and equipment, and overall safety requirements for a home office.
Consideration also needs to be given to the contractual implications of hybrid working. Will employees make a formal request for hybrid working and if accepted, will there be a formal change to their contract? If so, then as an employer you are responsible for employees’ health, safety and welfare, including when working from home. This would involve carrying out a workstation assessment and providing employees with appropriate equipment, furniture (desk, chairs etc) and advice on control measures.
Promote an ergonomic set-up
To reduce the risk of musculoskeletal discomfort, Display Screen Equipment (DSE) users should strive for a neutral, upright posture when working:
Employers should also provide workers with advice on completing their own basic assessment at home. This could be in the form of practical home workstation set-up guidance. See the ‘Further Information’ section below.
Consider furniture and equipment
To establish appropriate levels of user health and safety and comfort and to promote the recommended posture, the Schedule to the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations sets out minimum requirements for DSE workstations. However, it is stated that the Schedule applies only in so far as:
(a) the components concerned (for example document holder, footrest) are present at the workstation. Where a particular item is mentioned in the Schedule, this should not be interpreted as a requirement that all workstations should have one.
(b) they relate to worker health, safety and welfare. For the purposes of these Regulations, it is only necessary to comply with the detailed requirements of the Schedule if this would secure the health, safety or welfare of people at work. This means that an adjustable office chair is not necessarily required if a user is comfortably supported in a non-adjustable chair.
What equipment should be used?
To achieve an ergonomic set-up, we recommend that the following equipment (as a minimum) be used by staff for prolonged DSE work (assuming users have a desk/table and a comfortable, supportive chair):
footrest (if required).
Is an adjustable chair required?
The primary requirement of the DSE Regulations is that the work chair should allow the user to achieve a comfortable position. Providing that users’ find their seat comfortable and supportive, and they can adopt the recommended posture, it is not necessary to always use an office-style adjustable chair.
There are various back and body support cushions available if needed. For example, for staff to use with a kitchen chair when working at home.
What about specialist equipment?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states that employers should try to meet specialist DSE needs. For small equipment/peripherals (e.g. keyboards, mouse, laptop riser) this could mean allowing workers to take this equipment with them and use it at home/office. For larger items (e.g. ergonomic chairs, height-adjustable desks), encourage workers to try other ways of creating a comfortable working environment (e.g. using supporting cushions, standing to work at their kitchen worktop etc.).
If staff cannot achieve a comfortable/ergonomic set-up at home, then they should be encouraged to work in the office, where adjustable, ergonomic equipment is provided.
Having said that, provision of equipment at home could be a reasonable adjustment for some employees and may be the safest/best option for those with existing health conditions or disabilities.
How the home office is furnished can vary by organisation, depending on their policy. At one end of the spectrum, all of the office equipment can be purchased for the employee, similar to a corporate setting. Or employees can be provided with a budget to source their own equipment for working at home. Other employers may only provide a laptop. See the ‘Further Information’ section to read our top tips for purchasing ergonomic equipment for working at home, to help avoid any (potentially) costly mistakes.
Promote wellbeing and productivity
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.
Get dressed each morning. You don’t have to wear your normal work attire, but you do need to change your mindset from relaxed pyjamas to alert business time.
Stick to your usual working hours, sleep times and break times to provide structure to your day. Maintain a structured meal plan; with a proper breakfast, lunch, and dinner away from where you’ve been working.
Ideally, you should have a dedicated office space with a door that can be closed to those you live with. If a designated office space is not possible, then try working in different parts of your home to break up the day and keep your mind focused.
Use natural daylight, especially after lunch, to keep you alert and work-orientated when you’re feeling tired.
Set yourself a ‘to-do’ list at the beginning of each day/week, to keep you motivated, with achievable deadlines to stop you procrastinating or getting side-tracked.
Although it’s important to stay connected, leave yourself time between calls and virtual meetings, and turn off instant messengers to focus on your to-do list.
Just as you do when you leave the office (hopefully), switch off your work emails and calls at a set time so that your personal time remains as such.
Similarly, set boundaries with the people you live with (including your children) and put your phone on airplane mode to avoid getting distracted, particularly if you have a tight deadline or lots to do.
Use sound-blocking earplugs, headphones or earmuffs to distance yourself from the familiar world around you and aid concentration.
In contrast with the above, working from home gives you flexibility and sometimes it might be worth using this to your advantage; by changing your hours to suit personal requirements or to dial into overseas meetings.
Earlier this year we created a series of eight infographics covering our top tips on working from home. From posture, through to purchasing equipment, wellbeing, stretching, and child friendly ergonomic ideas for home schooling. See SCL_coronavirus_series_2021
If you need any help with your home or office workstation set up, our expert ergonomics consultants are here, just get in touch.