Remote working is here to stay. As businesses begin the journey forward into the post-pandemic world, it’s likely that the traditional office environment will have changed significantly. Workers may not be rushing back to the office and employers may not be rushing to bring them back.
For many employers moving to remote working was done as a hasty, forced response to the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. They did not have the luxury of time to plan and execute. As such, many employees were sent home with their laptops and little else and asked to do their best to carry on working ‘as normal.’
Employers are responsible for the health and safety of their workforce while they are working, whether that work takes place in an office building or at home. Employers spend a lot of time and money designing workspaces that support productivity and focus and are ergonomically correct. As more employees work remotely some or all of the time, employers must now consider how to ensure that employees are set up in safe and healthy work environments at home, just as they would be in the office.
Employers spend more on musculoskeletal disorders than on any other chronic disease or condition, such as heart disease, diabetes, respiratory illness, and obesity. Direct costs are estimated to be as much as $20 billion per year, including both surgical and non-surgical costs, such as physical therapy, imaging, and pain medications. Indirect costs are estimated to be five times higher - a staggering $100 billion – in lost productivity, absenteeism, disability claims, misuse of pharmaceuticals, and behavioral health treatments.
Where to Start
Employers are faced with a ‘pay now or pay later’ conundrum. The short-term financial costs of providing a safe and healthy work environment may be far less than the long-term costs of addressing pain management and musculoskeletal disorders. To get started employers need to consider the following:
- The right gear. In a recent conversation with injury prevention consultant Dr. Naomi Abrams, I asked where employers should start to create the best work environment for employees working remotely. According to Dr. Abrams, “It’s not as simple as handing out laptops. Employers must take a step back and consider what other equipment is necessary for employees to stay productive. In addition to a laptop, a monitor, keyboard, and mouse are necessary to set up a good seated-at-a-desk or standing-at-a-desk workstation.”
- Education. Dr. Abrams emphasized that education is key. “Employers cannot rely on the internet to effectively educate their employees about health and safety. They have to provide information that is relevant and necessary for their employees. Do their employees spend a lot of time on the phone? Do they spend a lot of time in virtual conferences? Do they need a specific microphone or camera to make their job easier? Employers have to do a technological evaluation to understand their employees’ needs.”
- Encourage movement. With so many of us sitting in Zoom meetings for hours, it’s no wonder we have aches and pains. Making movement part of the day is an essential part of staying healthy. Establish a practice of setting a timer during long meetings to inspire attendees to stand up and take a short stretch break. Encourage employees who are no longer spending time commuting to repurpose that time for a family walk or exercise. Redirect your fitness reimbursement benefits to allow for the purchase of home exercise equipment.
- Offer ergonomic assessments. Along with education, offer the services of a qualified ergonomist to help employees assess their home office work setup. At a minimum, address posture, seating and display setups.
Employees will be happier and more productive in a setting where their safety, health, and well-being are not compromised. It is a worthy investment to take the steps now that will prevent bigger issues in the future.