With COVID-19 causing the government and many businesses to operate under social distancing measures, working from home has become a new normal for many Army Materiel Command employees, who are being innovative in setting up personal workspaces.
A snapshot of teleworking employees across the AMC headquarters staff shows employees who are taking benefit of their personal environments to create inspiring and creative workstations. For instance, one employee works at her kitchen table set in front of a bay window, taking full advantage of both internal and natural lighting, and being inspired by a woodsy backyard view. Another employee has hung new light-blocking drapery over his home office window to better view his computer screens. Yet another employee has personal desk space in her bedroom that faces a window so she can enjoy the view while working and has added a side table raised slightly to accommodate the addition of her work computer.
AMC Industrial Hygienist Penny Pietrowski says the importance of setting up a dedicated workspace that allows for maximum productivity and efficiency reduces unnecessary stress and strain to the body.
While the best work from home setup is a designated work space with a fully adjustable ergonomic chair and desk, this is not always feasible. Pietrowski suggests maintaining a neutral posture by choosing a comfortable chair that allows your feet to rest on the floor while your pelvis and lower back fit snugly across the back of the chair. Small pillows or rolled up towels can provide lumbar support, while shoulder rolling relaxes the shoulders and relieves tension in the neck.
Hunching over a laptop can lead to neck pain and backaches, said Pietrowski. “It can be very tempting to sit on that cozy bed or couch with your feet up and laptop on your lap,” she said. “Unfortunately, it introduces risks that aren’t present in the typical office setup.”
However, if your workstation is your couch, bed or other location other than a desk, there are ways to improve ergonomics.
“First, sit with your back to the wall or headboard, with one pillow placed horizontally behind you lower back for support and one vertically along the length of your spine for cushioning. Put a pillow underneath your thighs, to reduce pressure on your lower back. Then, make a desk by either using a tray or other surface placed on top of a pillow,” Pietrowski said.
If you choose to stand while teleworking, it should be on an even surface with supportive shoes. A footrest can be used to shift your weight from foot to foot.
Pietrowski warned that static positions are harmful to the body and should be avoided.
“It is important to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine,” she said. “You should sit for no more than two hours at a time and walk during breaks for at least 10 minutes.”
Noise and insufficient lighting pose additional challenges when teleworking. To avoid eye strain and mental fatigue, Pietrowski recommends setting up your home office in a well-lit area with ambient lighting as it has been proven to have a positive effect on mood. Noise can be controlled by using headphones or listening to background music.
The stress of the COVID-19 crisis and acclimating to a telework schedule can cause employees additional distress. Pietrowski recommends AMC employees establish a routine while working from home.
“Establish a routine during your work-from-home day, just as you would at the office. Take micro-breaks throughout the day to get up and stretch and adjust your position. This maintains a sense of normalcy,” she said.
According to the Army Standard Ergonomic Tip sheet, suggestions for arranging a telework desk area include:
•A low desk can be raised by by placing stable wood or concrete blocks under the desk legs or using a desk leg stand.
•The desk surface should be deep enough to provide at least 15.7” between an employee’s eyes and the monitor screen.
•Avoid sharp edges. Rounded or sloping edges are preferable.
•The desktop should be large enough for work objects and should prevent the sliding of these objects.