Reaching the Ergo-Isolated Office Worker (AKA as the Home Worker)

As technology advances, allowing for flexible work spaces, companies around the world are embracing “work anywhere” programs.   And while these programs have terrific benefits with regards to cost savings, reducing carbon footprints and attracting talent, these programs are also presenting very real ergonomic challenges for both the end user and ergonomic program administrators.  

We have invited Craig Chasen, author of Safety Manager’s Guide to Office Ergonomics and the Ergonomics Program Coordinator at Oracle America to share his views and recommendations.

 Reaching the Ergo-Isolated Office Worker

By Craig Chasen

One of the many benefits in being the lead ergonomist for a company that has offices across the US, and promotes “Work From Home;” is connecting with the dedicated and diligent workers who do not have access to ergonomic expertise. More often than readers here might realize, ergo-expertise is less necessary than a very rudimentary knowledge of ergonomics, and how it underlies worker comfort and productivity.

If ergo-mindedness was universal, than I would not see the proliferation of executive style office chairs that recline with the greatest of ease as they inherently repel any support to the back.  And, with their limousine-like armrests, these lumbar deficient dinosaurs define non-adjustability as they disregard any anatomical variance between us.

So, while many US employers can conveniently connect their employees to the commercial world of fully adjustable, functional, and really healthful chairs; it is still the case that many employees still fall through the cracks.

Also as employers have offered more web-related ergonomic resources it still remains the case that one-on-one interactions – even electronically over many miles – may surpass the effectiveness of any “ergo app”.

And through my direct exposure to that widening workplace transformation, I have learned that virtually “everyone has access to a digital camera.”  Concurrently, I believe that social networking has made the world’s population astonishingly more comfortable in taking and sharing photos of themselves, electronically.  I initially treaded tenderly in remote evaluations of the ergo-castaways I cite, as I made my requests for “shots of their actual working postures.”  But, I have observed – quite literally, that employees today have NO reservations about revealing their postures (or their distance from a dress code) when discomfort drives disclosure.

With those obstacles surmounted, the remote evaluation can acquire most of the posture and positioning observations needed for an ergonomist to effectively examine.  A sharp eye in the “ergo photo review” can also ascertain contributing factors – when bowling trophies adorn the shelves of your client having dominant side shoulder discomfort.

Even a comforting “deskside manner” can be delivered across a phone and through email, but the challenge is “connecting” the ergonomist with an employee that works “in the guest room,” or in some arcane and isolated office like American Panascope (Joe and DeDe’s employer in: Joe versus the Volcano, 1990)

In corporations that promote working from home, the challenge is nothing more than making the home worker aware of their ergonomist’s extended reach.  Besides, this enhanced ergonomics outreach will confirm that the pajama-clad employee knows they are still connected to the business core, even when the typical employment umbrella perforates at the rooflines.

Expectedly, the exact execution of the Remote Ergonomic Evaluation takes more than a pair of paragraphs to explain, and it continually changes, just as technology does.  But, the resounding rejoice in my theme, is that there is a huge and hungry attentive audience easily within our reach!  And, the remote personal ergonomic evaluation can enjoy a simple “down the hall” dynamic that will greatly reward both sides of the deal.

Ergonomic Evaluation Guidelines for Your Home Workers:

  • If employees are working on computers from home, promote remote evaluations as part of your company’s safety program
  • Actively utilize digital photos to display postures, aid medical providers, and help analyze any equipment issues
  • Stay current with technology and try Skype, video conferencing, and any tools that can personalize the evaluation process

Craig Chasen, CEES is the Ergonomics Program Coordinator for Oracle America, and the former president of The Chasen Group, ergonomic consultants, in Boulder, CO.  He has performed more than 6000 ergonomic evaluations in the last 15 years and authored the book SAFETY MANAGER’S GUIDE TO OFFICE ERGONOMICS, published by John Wiley & Sons.  A chapter of his book is devoted to his development of the Remote Ergonomic Evaluation, which he has used to perform long distance evals in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, India, Mexico and the United Kingdom.  Craig employs a colorful light-hearted approach for his global deskside manner, in his dynamic training programs, and throughout his entertaining articles on ergonomics.


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