The Hybrid Workplace Evolution: Ergonomics and Wellness Considerations
While many employers and employees felt that working from home would be a temporary situation, more and more people are now accepting that working from home is here to stay and that the old workplace model is evolving. Employers are shifting to hybrid workplaces, allowing employees flexibility on where and when they work. While developing these new workplace structures, there are many important things to keep in mind, including ergonomics and employee wellness.
In a webinar moderated by Kylle Barrieau, Ergonomics Service Line Lead, two ergonomics specialists from Antea Group discussed the importance of keeping ergonomics and wellness top-of-mind when shifting to the new hybrid workplace models. Colleen Brents, Associate Ergonomics Professional, and Jenna Hetherington, Working from Home Lead, cover topics ranging from hybrid work models, the home workplace, hybrid work and wellness, and more.
Why is Ergonomics Important?
Before we jump into hybrid workplaces, let’s review why ergonomics is so important. Ergonomics focuses on how the worker interacts with their surroundings. Good ergonomics means designing the job to fit the worker to maximize productivity while reducing discomfort, fatigue, and preventing injuries. Ergonomics helps prevent the development of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as carpal tunnel, tendonitis, epicondylitis, lower back injury, and more. Good ergonomics can also improve productivity and employee morale.
Shift to a Hybrid Work Model
A hybrid work model is one that allows employees a combination of working from home and working from an office. A hybrid models means that employees may not be working together all at once with some employees working in the office full-time, some employees working from home full-time, and others working at home and coming into the office a few days a week. With a hybrid model, there are several pros and cons to keep in mind.
- Lack of planning and coordination of in-person meetings can lead to reduced collaboration if people are not in the office at the same time.
- May need to make additional investments in equipment to ensure employees have proper home workstations.
- The lines between work and home can become blurred, leaving employees always feeling “at work.”
- Potential for cybersecurity threats if employees are working on unsecured networks - I.e., coffee shops.
- May have additional regulations for permanent remote workers.
- Having a distributed workforce will lead to a wider talent pool for hiring.
- Reduced business costs due to the lesser need for large office space and supplied amenities.
- Employees can foster a better work-life balance with the option to choose where and when they work giving them flexibility in their work schedule and reduced commute.
- Potential boost in productivity with employees being more intentional with work time - I.e., days in office designated for meetings and days at home dedicated to solo work.
When evaluating hybrid work models, the impact on ergonomics must be considered. With the workforce potentially splitting time between the office and home, most employees will not be using the same desk every day, meaning that each day they will have to adjust the desk to their personal needs. Therefore, there will be an increased need for adjustable equipment as well as training and guidance to ensure proper use of the equipment. Important pieces of office equipment to have include:
- Adjustable chairs
- Adjustable monitors
- Keyboards and mice
- Adjustable desks or footrests
- As well as guidance and reminders on how to achieve a neutral posture while working.
The Home Workplace
Providing training and guidance on how to establish and maintain a proper workspace is crucial. Not all employees have easy access to a proper home workspace set-up, which should include the following:
- Enough space
- A clean and organized area
- Limited distractions
- Proper lighting
- Safe workspace and a clear exit path
Employers can help employees optimize their workspace ergonomics through equipment packages, preapproved lists, or by providing employees with stipends to purchase equipment. If providing a stipend, employers should provide guidance to help employees purchase the proper equipment. Remember that different countries have different regulations and requirements so guidance may need to be location-specific.
Hybrid Work and Wellness
Shifting to a hybrid work model will have an impact on employee health and wellbeing. Working from home can increase stress and negatively impact mental health and wellness, which can even lead to physical symptoms. And while work-life balance can improve with hybrid work models, employee health and wellbeing could also be negatively affected if employees don’t set boundaries and disconnect from work. Some employees even feel isolated from their coworkers who are gathered in the office.
An important element of working from home is sticking to a routine, which can greatly improve mental health and wellness. “It's important to consider how to keep remote workers engaged and connected,” said Colleen Brents, Ergonomics Safety Specialist. Below are some suggestions to help employees maintain a routine and stay engaged:
- Take a “commute time” walk at the start and/or end of the day.
- Create a schedule with designated work hours and stick to it.
- Set up a designated work area in a room with a door (if possible).
- Take regular breaks, including lunch breaks, to take time away from work.
Along with a routine, employees should practice the same wellness techniques as they would in the office. This includes taking hourly breaks, focusing on maintaining physical and mental health, and staying in touch with coworkers to feel connected.
Remote Worker Regulations
Another important consideration with hybrid work models is how regulations differ for remote workers. Oftentimes some regulations will apply to permanent remote employees only, and not temporary remote or hybrid workers. Different countries have different regulations, so doing your research (or hiring local professionals) and understanding the location-specific requirements will be essential.
Risk assessments and workplace inspections will still need to take place for remote workers. Some countries even require individual workplace inspections or home risk assessments while others are utilizing self-assessments which will be reviewed by health and safety professionals. These assessments can help identify risks and the need for more training. Consider implementing a remote work/telecommuting agreement to help mitigate risks by documenting the rules which the employee has agreed to implement in their home.
In addition to the previously mentioned regulations, most health and safety requirements are still in effect and need to be evaluated for your hybrid workforce. Incident reporting is a good example. If a remote employee is injured while working from home, that injury could still be considered work-related and require reporting. Safety committee requirements will also remain as they are often based on headcount and do not differentiate between remote and in-office employees.
At the end of the day, we can expect to see more and more companies shifting to hybrid work models. These models can offer employees more flexibility, provide a greater talent pool for hiring, save money on office space, and so much more. However, to have an effective hybrid work model, employers must take many EHS factors into consideration, including ergonomics and wellness.
It may feel like an overload of information to consider when preparing for a hybrid work model, the good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. Antea Group Ergonomics experts have the experience and knowledge to help make the shift to a hybrid work model seamless.
About Antea Group:
Antea Group is an international engineering and environmental consulting firm specializing in full-service solutions in the fields of environment, infrastructure, urban planning, and water. By combining strategic thinking and multidisciplinary perspectives with technical expertise and pragmatic action, we do more than effectively solve client challenges; we deliver sustainable results for a better future. We serve clients ranging from global energy companies and manufacturers to national governments and local municipalities. Learn more at https://us.anteagroup.com.