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The Ergonomics of Telecommuting

Telecommuting has become increasingly popular among employers and employees. It can save some employers money and space, and can be an attractive option for employees seeking a more fulfilling work-life balance.   Our own CEO is a “virtual executive,” working from various locations on the road or around HNI.Colorful Paper Clips

With this boom in employees working somewhere other than the corporate office, companies face a new problem: workplace safety for telecommuters. If an injury occurs in the course of an employee performing her job duties, even if at a home office, it is a compensable injury.

Ergonomic Concerns for Telecommuters

Ergonomic risks can be even more problematic for telecommuters. While this group is not inherently more prone to ergonomic injuries, but they may not be provided the same ergonomically-friendly equipment as employees inside a company’s four walls.  In most cases, telecommuters are often left on their own when it comes to setting up their workstations.

Consider the following potential ergonomic concerns for telecommuters:

  • Chairs - If employees do not have proper chairs, they risk injury from poor fit, lack of lumbar support, missing or poor armrests, or even sitting on a hard surface such as a dining room chair.
  • Laptops - A laptop keyboard could be too high, creating a risk for shoulder injuries.
  • Monitors - A monitor that is either too high or too low can cause a risk for neck or shoulder injuries.

Telecommuters, like onsite employees, need a good chair, an external keyboard and mouse, and a monitor, in addition to a laptop or desktop computer. Then, they must be given guidance for how to set up their workstation for maximum ergonomic safety.

How Can Employers Monitor Ergonomic Conditions of Telecommuters?

The best thing employers can do to mitigate the potential for injuries is establish a formal telecommuting policy upfront, and then provide for ongoing evaluation of offsite employee workstations.   

Besides showing up at employees’ homes, there are a variety of less intrusive ways for employers to provide guidance/monitoring of ergonomic conditions for telecommuters.  For example:

  • Digital pictures/remote assessment – have employees take photos of the workstation setup to evaluate how the employee is working, then make appropriate adjustments.
  • Web cameras - a live display of the employee at his or her workstation allows for real-time demonstration of proper posture and equipment positioning.
  • Home office safety checklists - offsite employees can complete a checklist for an evaluator, who can review the situation quickly and make adjustments based on the answers.
  • Online self-evaluation - employers and employees can make use of online tools that combine employee training with safety checklists. These tools can provide immediate feedback to help the employee adjust the workstation.
  • Phone evaluations - employees and safety evaluators can discuss the situation over the phone and make immediate adjustments.
  • Pre-established vendor and equipment lists - providing telecommuters quick reference, easy-to-order standardized equipment takes away much of the risk for offsite employees to set up unsafe workstations.

With telecommuting and “virtual workers” becoming more common, the ergonomic risks associated are something to keep in mind!


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