Ergonomics challenge many remote workers: Survey

‘Companies will need to provide proper accommodations, otherwise, the widespread discomfort will progress into more detrimental conditions such as musculoskeletal disorders’

Ergonomics challenge many remote workers: Survey
Home offices will need to incorporate sound ergonomic concepts to ensure the long-term health of the workers, says a university report.

Many remote workers do not have the tools they need to be comfortable working from home, according to a report by the University of Cincinnati.

While the majority (58 per cent) have some type of office chair, 27 per cent use dining chairs while 15 per cent work sitting on beds or couches.

Many chairs were also too low (41 per cent), which resulted in poor body or poor head position, while 63 per cent sit on chairs with a hard surface, found the survey of 4,300 staff and 4,200 faculty members at the university.

More than half (53 per cent) of the workers have armrests on their chairs, but many people do not use them (32 per cent) or the armrest is improperly adjusted (18 per cent). This can cause contact stress on forearms and strain across the upper back, according to the report. Also, more than 90 per cent of workstations have a hard, sharp edge.

Also, 69 per cent of workers do not use the support of the back of the chair and 73 per cent oftentimes do not have any lumbar support (73 per cent).

“Home offices will need to incorporate sound ergonomic concepts to ensure the long-term health of the workers,” say the authors of The Home Office: Ergonomic Lessons From the “New Normal.”

“As the home offices become a permanent option for many workers, companies will need to provide proper accommodations with respect to ergonomics, otherwise, the widespread discomfort will progress into more detrimental conditions such as musculoskeletal disorders.”

Sarah Dobson, editor of the Canadian HR Reporter group, recently talked about the ergonomic challenges of working from home during the pandemic.

Computer challenges

More than a quarter (29 per cent) of remote workers use laptop monitors, 39 per cent use a combination of laptop and external monitor, 17 per cent use external monitors only and 10 per cent use multiple monitors, found the university survey.

Three-quarters of the monitors were laptops, which were too low relative to the workers’ eye height.

External monitors are also set up too low (52 per cent) or too high (four per cent). There is also a lack of the primary screens centred in front of the workers (31 per cent), resulting in twisting of the neck or back to view the monitor.

Fifty-four per cent use laptop keyboards while 46 per cent use external keyboards.

“You can use your laptop from home, but it is designed to be a short-term option. It should be used for a few hours while travelling. It is not meant to be used for eight or nine hours each day,” says Kermit Davis, an expert in office ergonomics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Potential solutions

There are several ways to address issues with the workspace at home, according to the report:


  • Put a pillow on the seat to elevate the seat height.
  • Put a pillow or rolled-up towel behind the back to provide lumbar support and back support.
  • Wrap the armrests when they are low and not adjustable. 
  • Move the chair closer to the desk or table to encourage having the back against the back of the seat.


  • Place a lap desk or large pillow under the laptop to raise the monitor when using it on the lap.
  • Use an external keyboard and mouse, along with raising the monitor by placing a stack of books or a box under the laptop when using a laptop on a desk.
  • Use an external monitor at the right height (top at eye height) and centred on you.
  • When using dual or multiple monitors, keep the primary monitor directly in front of you and place the secondary monitors to the side of the primary monitor


  • Place a folded towel over the edge on the desk and in front of the keyboard.
  • Use pipe insulation from a local hardware store, or a pool noodle, which can be split down the seam and placed along the edge.

Randstad and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety also recommend these health habits:

  • Stand up, stretch and move one to three minutes for every 30 minutes you spend sitting.
  • Use an alarm to remind yourself to get up throughout the day.
  • Stand up when you're on the phone and move around.

Musculoskeletal conditions have the most impact on employers’ overall health-care costs, according to a North American survey released in late 2019.

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