Working remotely can be an ergonomic and injury prevention challenge both for remote workers and employers with a remote workforce.

Remote workers have varying preferences on location. Some have a dedicated office space in their home, others prefer a co-working space, many spend hours on end in a coffee shop and some travel the world. Many individuals work in a combination thereof.

Most remote workers tend to use laptops because they are light and mobile. But without peripherals, laptops can never be ergonomically correct. On its own, a laptop can have the keyboard so that shoulders are relaxed and elbows are at 90 degrees to avoid wrist and shoulder strain, but the screen will be too low causing neck and upper back pain. You can raise the laptop placing the top of the screen at eye level, but then the keyboard is too high. Poor postures are inherent with a laptop sans peripherals.

Here are some tips to help you avoid ergonomic hazards as a remote worker.

Dedicated Home Office
The home office setting is the easiest to make ergonomically correct.  It is best to use a dedicated room with a desk, adjustable chair, a desktop computer or a laptop with a separate keyboard, mouse and/or monitor.  Peripherals added to laptops will correct ergonomics and save your body with improved posture. A standing desk is ideal to change postures during the day. The literature indicates awkward postures are a big factor leading to back pain when seated too long. Also, protection from screen glare is one step to avoid eye strain. Place any screen at 90 degrees to the light source.

On the Move
However, dedicated office space is a dying trend.  People work on their couch, in a coffee shop or in a co-working space. Many travel and work in airports. Variable locations lead to variables in lighting that can cause increased glare and eye strain, chairs that do not adjust to your body size, and fixed table heights. One way to minimize stress to your body when “Out of the office” is to place your laptop on a book or object to get the screen top to eye level. Ideally, add a wireless mouse and keyboard when possible.  Take breaks every 20 minutes to stand, stretch, and re-correct your posture.  Without peripherals, mix it up: alternate between having the screen at eyelevel and the keyboard with elbows relaxed at 90 degrees.

The Human Factor
The key to injury prevention in all situations is the human factor. Remote workers should have a basic knowledge of common musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). It’s key to know when to get professional intervention to prevent minor symptoms from becoming a more chronic and costly problem. Remote workers need to move, stretch, and be in the best postures to avoid undue stresses to the body. Static postures, even if ergonomically correct will eventually lead to MSDs. Pay attention to your work space, take breaks, get healthy, and get moving.

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