The future of work has been altered indefinitely. More business owners are hybridizing work models to safeguard employees’ health as the world battles the deadly virus. However, employees have another challenge to address: optimizing employee productivity in the new normal.
Employees across the country spend at least 8 hours a day sitting at their desks; thus, workplace furniture contributes significantly to employee health and productivity. In the pandemic and post-pandemic periods where many employees work from home on most days, the need for ergonomic workstations has become more crucial.
Sitting, as they say, is the new smoking, with several health complications arising from prolonged sitting, particularly chronic diseases such as musculoskeletal disorders (MSD). Now imagine your risk when you have to work all day slouched on your couch, hunching over your computer to meet work deadlines. While your position may feel cozy at first, you may begin to experience kinks in your neck and back down the line. Desk jobs are dangerous for long-term health, especially in a world where so many people, like me, are already afflicted by Forward Head Posture (FHP) and Upper-Crossed Syndrome (UCS) from being enamored with our phones.
Musculoskeletal disorders account for nearly 70 million hospital visits in the United States every year, and a total of 130 million healthcare encounters, including emergency room, outpatient, and inpatient visits. According to Liberty Mutual, musculoskeletal disorders cost employers $13.4 billion every year, with an estimated $54 billion constituting the economic burden of work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
So, poor working conditions do not only affect employee health but also lower employee productivity and increase healthcare spending — and these are not good metrics for any business. So, while employers are rethinking work models to fit into the new normal, they are also beginning to rethink work, and how it impacts employee health and productivity.
Ergonomics! That’s the buzzword business leaders need to focus on to ramp up employee productivity in the new normal. Workstations, where employees spend nearly all their work hours, should drive productivity, not impede it. A proper ergonomic workstation allows you to sit comfortably in your natural posture, without having to hunch over or bend to use your computer.
To properly set up your ergonomic workstation, you must first determine the best ergonomic desk height for you. There is no one-size-fits-all ergonomic furniture as workers have varying heights and body types.
If you have to hunch forward to work, you’re likely not sitting in the right position. An ergonomic desk allows you to place your hands comfortably on your desk such that your elbows are angled at about 90 degrees to the surface of the desk. If your elbows are at more than a 90-degree angle, you may need to raise the desk or lower your chair; and if your elbows are angled at less than 90 degrees to the desk, your desk should be lowered, or the chair raised. Sitting at a work desk at an inappropriate height may cause your muscles and joints to compensate for the poor posture by overstretching. After some time, the muscles may become sore and rigid.
Adjusting your chair to match your desk height may be counterintuitive if you have an uncomfortable chair.
An ergonomic chair allows your thighs to stay parallel to the floor, and your feet flat on the floor. An ergonomic chair also has lumbar support that limits the strain on your lower back muscles and allows you to protect the natural curvature of your lumbar spine. This allows you to sit up straight, protecting your spine muscles from overstretching. Remember to keep the backrest of your chair unlocked to promote free movement of your upper body.
None of these adjustments should compromise your natural posture, which is the goal of proper ergonomic desks.
Further, if your work involves using a computer, be sure to adjust your workstation based on distance and height. The perfect distance is one in which your extended hands can touch the screen of your computer. At this distance from your monitor, you can work without craning your neck. Likewise, the perfect height of your computer allows you to work without raising your arms or angling your elbows too wide.
If you are working from cramped apartment spaces, you may use standing desk converters like Ergotron’s WorkFix-Z Mini or wall-mounted desks that optimize floor space. As the Marketing Director of Corporate Health & Wellness Association and Corporate Wellness Magazine, I have had the opportunity to use a variety of ergonomic desk solutions. I have a WorkFit-Z Mini in my home that is setup downstairs as an alternative to working at my office desk upstairs, and I appreciate its small size, being that I live in an apartment. It has become a primary location for me to work, as someone who suffers from various spinal problems. Other options, such as mobile desks, may allow you to move quickly and comfortably from one part of your home to another to further boost productivity.
Business leaders are beginning to infuse these ergonomic strategies into the workplace to optimize the new models of work.
According to a survey conducted by the Corporate Health & Wellness Association in October 2020, 52.7 percent of employers are offering special wellness benefits and services that were not previously offered before the pandemic, and 48.6 percent of those companies are offering work-from-home office equipment and furniture. The survey also found that 81 percent of employers are open to investing in standing desks for their remote workers.
Employers also need to train their workers on ergonomic principles, educating them on how to identify postures and risk factors that may lead to musculoskeletal disorders. The training covers postural education, general fitness recommendations, and safety guidelines at the workplace.
The coronavirus pandemic has upended business and the workplace, pushing business owners and workers to find different ways to stay healthy and safe in the current reality. While employers redesign the workplace to limit potential exposure to the contagion, the critical need to improve workplace ergonomic conditions has become obvious. During this time of heightened anxieties, setting up a comfortable workstation for your workers not only improves their health and wellbeing but also enhances their productivity.