Clinton Grant

Community Stories

Creating an office away from the office

Clinton Grant, RGU’s Head of Occupational Health and Environmental Safety, shares advice on creating an office away from the office, that is still comfortable and healthy.

Following on from Scott Cameron’s update on adapting to homeworking, I hope to give some useful pointers to help us deal with some of the physical and ergonomic challenges this presents. 

For many of us, homeworking, at least on a continuous basis, will be a new experience and can present a variety of obstacles to overcome. Keeping cats and dogs out of video calls is one the practical difficulties I seem to encounter over and over, and of course there are the less obvious personal impacts on some staff who may not adapt well to the changes or the isolation when working from home. It’s a difficult time for those juggling childcare responsibilities and trying to maintain a level of productivity, and it may also be easy to overlook those who live alone and feel isolation most acutely. (Hardworking families isn’t perhaps the most inclusive political cliché.) 

Among all the pressures being experienced, no-one will welcome the additional pain or discomfort caused by a poor ergonomic setup, whether this is the aggravation of an existing complaint or that new shoulder pain that appears after a few days of working at the dining table. 

Breaks in Routine 

Whilst there is some benefit in maintaining a level of routine and avoiding the ‘always on’ culture that can creep in when working at home, I’m trying to make use of ‘microbreaks’ to get up and about as much as possible. This does spread my working day over a slightly longer timeframe, but these breaks are helpful in avoiding what ergonomists describe as the ‘static muscle tension’ most of us experience when working at a suboptimal workstation. Many staff won’t have the benefit of a perfect desk setup at home and may well be using a laptop from a table or other location (or may have been relegated there by another person in the household making claim to the only desk). In short, the less optimal the workstation, the more ‘microbreaks’ will be required to fend off stiffness and those grumbles we can all feel. This can be as simple as standing to stretch and walk about or brew some coffee – any means of getting up and about and avoiding the temptation to press on for hours at a time is going to be of benefit. 

Exercises 

The Occupational Health & Environmental Safety team has published guides on stretching exercises designed to avoid the typical musculoskeletal problems working at a desk can introduce. That said, some of these can perhaps be a little embarrassing to perform in an open plan office, however that excuse is gone in the home! If you are experiencing the early stages of discomfort, take a look at the workstation exercises relevant to the area of the body and perhaps consider if doing these now and again during the working day will help. 

They can be done in a few minutes. Of course, we have our daily exercise allowance to utilise and I’m finding a lunchtime break is a good opportunity to make use of this and get some blood flowing. Running and cycling has never felt safer and there is no ironed shirt to think about at the moment! 

Laptop and Tablet Guides

We also publish guidance on the use of mobile devices such as laptops and tablets, something which will be more relevant than ever at the moment. These devices are designed for portability rather than prolonged use, but the guides focus on small adjustments we can make to offset the potential problems. With laptops these tend to be the small keyboard and attached screen, usually inducing a posture with a downward tilt of the neck. Given the average head weighs near 5kg, it isn’t surprising we can develop a fatigued neck from supporting this weight without a neutral posture. Where possible, use a separate keyboard (or a docking station) and position the top of the monitor level with the height of the eyes to keep the neck neutral. 

Next Steps 

Each member of staff will shortly be assigned a display screen equipment training module and assessment by email. This will help identify where weaknesses in our current ergonomic setups exist. Given the position we are in, we may not be able to alter things to the extent that we all have ‘compliant’ workstations, but knowing where the main deficiencies lie should help us take some basic actions to improve comfort.

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