President of the Canadian College for the Certification of Professional Ergonomists (CCCPE)
President of the Association of Canadian Ergonomists (ACE)
The Presidents of CCCPE and ACE sit down to discuss good ergonomics and the human factors to lead a successful hybrid workplace
As we look to the potential for a return to the office, many companies are considering hybrid working models. Hybrid work typically refers to having employees working part-time in the office and part-time from home.
The subtext of hybrid working models is that for many, the office environment will look different. If only a portion of employees are in the office at any given time, companies can save money by reducing the square footage and, consequently, the number of computer workstations. While this concept makes sense for financial reasons and for the flexibility it provides employees, there are some real concerns from the point of view of ergonomics and human factors.
Addressing potential pitfalls
When employees begin sharing workstations, employees’ workstations become less customized to their own abilities, needs, and preferences. This goes beyond the ability to keep a desk lamp on the table and favourite snacks in the drawer. We need to consider how we’re going to accommodate a 5’2” and 6’2” employee at the same workstation using the same equipment. As ergonomists, we’ve all taught employees how to optimize the fit of their office chairs, only to have them stick a “do not touch” post-it on the back of the chair. Employees aren’t confident in their ability to optimize their set-up on their own, and many won’t even bother to make these adjustments when they’re only going to be sitting at a workstation for a single day. Furthermore, prolonged work on a laptop isn’t recommended, because laptop screens are too low, resulting in the potential for neck strain.
If employees are expected to dock their laptops with external keyboards and mice, will they have to carry this equipment back and forth with them each day? If they’re sharing equipment, how will it be sanitized? If we look beyond the physical workstation and consider that many jobs involve collaborative work efforts that have suffered from absences from shared workspaces, how is this work going to be promoted in an office where an employee might end up sitting in an available seat that isn’t next to their colleague’s?
Working toward solutions
How do we go about designing these hybrid work environments to promote good ergonomics, good human factors, and, overall, a comfortable and productive workspace? Consider consulting with a Certified Ergonomist to ensure that you’ve selected equipment such as chairs and monitor arms that are easily adjustable and will fit a range of employees. Height-adjustable workstations are a great way to eliminate the need for things like footrests and keyboard trays. Ensure employees have access to external keyboards and mice. Finally, ensure that you train employees to use the equipment that you’ve provided in order to get all the benefit you can from your efforts.