Ergonomics for Telecommuters, Part 2: The Work Environment

In Part 1, we looked at the Ergonomics for Telecommuters. Today, we slightly shift the discussion to the Environment, specifically how to ‘hack‘ comfort, no matter what type of environment you are working in.

How Telecommuting Can Be Uncomfortable

Imagine how you would feel in this scenario: You have an easy-to-operate smartphone that is also aesthetically pleasing, you are sitting in an extremely well-fit train seat… but you forgot your reading glasses. Do you feel satisfied?

If you are like me, my ability to actually use the device would be severely limited, so it wouldn’t matter if I was even in the most ideal setting on this planet, I would still not be satisfied because I wouldn’t be able to see the screen! This brings me to the point of today’s post and it’s all about the most under-rated aspect of work – the environment. When under ideal circumstances, we never give the place where we work a second thought. But, as soon as something is ‘off”, like the temperature in the office, it can be incredibly difficult to focus.

Your satisfaction with your workplace emerges from several interelated factors in the environment. These are where the is being completed (whether the person is working from home, a co-working centre, or a train, for example), what type of gadget is being used for the work (smartphone, laptop, etc), and of course…You! Just like our first example, how you determine the fit between you to the environment is via two factors: the physical and psychosocial environment elements.

  • Physical: Things you can ‘touch’ in the environment, including the traditional sense of the term environment (including smell, light, noise, vibrations, and climate), and the user’s physical capacity (or anthropometry).
  • Psychosocial: Traditionally are some of the most overlooked items in the working environment. They refer to the non-physical aspects of the job. There are a number of inter-related social factors that can affect and impact the user’s psychological response to their working environment. Specifically, the factors that can influence this are the features/aesthetics of the device, and the user’s emotions and expectations.

Discomfort Pyramid (*by Bubb, 2008)

Have you ever noticed that even the slightest disagreeable smell, or irritating noise can really throw off your groove? Well, there is a reason for that. We tend to give certain things in our environment more of a priority than others. As shown in the graphic below: Smell > Light > Noise > Vibrations > Climate > Anthropometry, so with the items lower in the pyramid, only a little amount of unwanted disturbances will be enough to ‘throw off’ even the best working environments.

Smell

Light: Although natural light is always paramount in an office setting because it can reduce discomfort, sitting too close to light, or windows, etc can result in thermal and glare problems. And, this can result in eyestrain overtime.

Noise: Too much noise can be considered to be distracting! Have you ever experienced this before? I bet you have, and it’s actually the worst because most of the time its completely out of our control. To read more on this, check out our previous post here.

Vibrations: If you have ever worked while sitting in a car, you will find that the vibrations can have an effect on the comfort experience.

Anthropometry: Research indicates that there is an increased ergonomic risk to the neck, thumbs and hands when using mobile devices (especially the touch screen!) for extended periods of time. Hand size, relative to the device can also affect user performance and the development of ergonomic strain. PRO-TIP: Simultaneously supporting a device while tapping on its touchscreen using one hand is more ergonomically risky than using a two handed grip. This is because the task requirements can be shared and less overall hand strain.

 

The Role of Organizational Support To Enhance Health

The shift towards work outside of work, presents a unique challenge to the organizational dynamic. For more information on the surprising effects of psychosocial stressors, then check out this post about the psychosocial causes to lower back discomfort. Organizational social support is associated with positive wellbeing outcomes, and more support is associated with increased job satisfaction and reduced psychological strain. All of these factors effect worker performance. And, let’s face it, the bottom line is all about worker performance. Being a telecommuter physically isolates the worker from the rest of the office staff. While some people may prefer this, others may want to feel more connected to the organization.

PRO-TIP: Organizations who work with the telecommuting system should play close attention to the type of support given to staff. Where, the support should be proportional to the amount of telecommunicating that the employee is doing.

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Source

Bubb, R. (2008). Sitting Comfort. Paper presented at IQPC aircraft interior innovation. 11 November 2008. Hamburg.

Kamp. I., Van Veen, S. & Vink, P. (2015). Comfortable mobile offices: a literature review of the ergonomic aspects of mobile device transportation setting.Work. 52 (2), 279-287

Through the administration of countless assessments in both private and public sectors, Darcie has gained a wealth of knowledge and built a successful practice in the field of ergonomics. She has extensive expertise in conducting office ergonomics assessments in large scale workplaces for all different types of scenarios, from simple adjustments to incredibly complex cases. Darcie also has vast experience in delivering training presentations on the various aspects of ergonomics “best practices” in the workplace. Darcie is a Certified Professional Ergonomist through the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics, as recognized by the International Ergonomics Association. She also has a Masters of Science, specializing in ergonomics. A little known fact about Darcie is that she once scored from half, off a free kick, in a university varsity soccer (football) match!

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