Working at home – how to set up your workstation
Schedule your home office ergonomic assessment
A home workstation that allows you to work in as near a neutral posture as possible, helps ensure that you optimize your day and stay injury-free.
There are a number of resources available to help, including remote ergonomic assessments available through the environmental health & safety office.
“A lot of people are having trouble with their home workstation setups,” says Judy Shields, occupational health coordinator in the environmental health & safety office.
“Some faculty and staff have one main setup, while others are carrying a laptop from place to place throughout the day. Many people are finding that they’re working longer hours in a less than ideal home office, as they balance their job responsibilities with the challenges of family responsibilities.”
She says that employees finding it difficult to set up a comfortable home office should reach out to her.
“Even if it’s just for a conversation,” she says. “A lot of people are struggling, so I want you to know that you’re are not alone. We can usually figure out what’s not working for you and find a way to make things better, just by tweaking a couple of things.”
It’s about angles
Each remote ergonomic assessment begins with a phone call. An assessment will include talking through the placement of your body and equipment, from your head down to your feet.
Shields has found that remote assessments are working out quite well. The process is simple and not complicated as some may think.
“We would start with talking about your posture while sitting or standing. Do you have a 90 degree angle at your hips while sitting? Do you have a 90 degree angle at your elbows while doing data entry? Do you have lumbar support while sitting? Are your feet firmly on the floor? Sometimes I speak to a faculty or staff member two or three times over the course of a week or two.” says Shields.
Adjustable chair: ergonomic magic item
Shields encourages employees to speak to their supervisors about borrowing ergonomic equipment from their office such as adjustable chairs, monitors, keyboards or mice.
“An adjustable chair is the most important piece of equipment to make sure your home office is fit for everyday work. A chair can be adjusted to your needs—whether you’re working at a desk or at the kitchen table.”
Laptops are great for portable home offices, but ergonomic modifications should be considered when using these devices. A laptop used full time works best if the user has a separate keyboard and mouse to use with it. This allows the laptop to be positioned at the correct height for the worker.
Using items in your home, you can create the needed ergonomic angles once you’re in the proper seated position, which is more easily attained when using an adjustable chair. Banker boxes or other sturdy flat containers can be used for foot stools, you can roll up towels to create lumbar support and socks can be used to create a wrist rest, to name a few of the possible adjustments.
Standing workstations can also be created with furniture and equipment in your home, like an ironing board or by placing a large plastic tote, such as a Rubbermaid container on a tabletop.
Staying in any one position for long periods can cause issues. Try to get up and move every 30 minutes, for at least 5 minutes and remember to stretch throughout the day. Here are some tips to help you during the workday:
- Have standing or walking meetings;
- Schedule short breaks into your day to move and stretch;
- Take part in physical activities during your lunch break;
- Organize a fun step/activity challenge within your faculty or unit.
Resources to help set up your home office
A list of resources can be found on UM Occupational Health and Worker’s Compensation webpage to assist with setting up and adjusting your home workspace. Also see:
- Ergonomic tips for temporary home offices (Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc.)
- At home workstation self-assessment checklist (MFL Occupational Health Centre)
- Setting up a temporary home office (Institute for Work and Health)
- Best practices for at-home ergonomics (Andrew Dolhy, CPE)
- Hand-held devices tip sheet – overuse of hand-held devices (MFL Occupational Health Centre)
“If you only have time to read one resource, make sure to read ergonomic tips for temporary home offices,” says Shields. “You’ll find that the suggestions are not complicated and that the tips and ergonomic adjustments include items that are found in the average home.”
She says that she hopes people reach out before they are struggling and in pain.
“I’m here to help.”
Managers can speak with their HR consultant if they have questions or concerns. They can also speak to Judy Shields if they have questions about ergonomic assessments.
The Reasonable Accommodation Fund (RAF) is available to financially assist with purchases of adaptive equipment or software for employees with medical conditions that create workplace barriers.