Avelene Adler, Ergonomic Program Coordinator at UW–Madison, has created a self-directed course hosted on Canvas for employees to use while setting up their home workstations. The course is available at https://canvas.wisc.edu/enroll/636BDX.
Adler said that regardless of location (onsite vs remote), the goal of incorporating ergonomics is to prevent injuries, improve working comfort and promote wellness. “It’s also nice to have people actively participate in improving their work setup by doing this self-guided training,” she said.
“During the pandemic, a lot of us have had to turn our home spaces into offices—which were not necessarily designed to serve as workspaces,” Adler said.
She noted that people have reported fewer opportunities for movement, more computer use, and increased discomfort from working in awkward work setups.
Initially, she said, most people thought they could make any setup work for a few months, no matter how uncomfortable.
One of those people is Noelle Wilharm. In mid-March she left her office on the second floor of Agricultural Hall to work at home. Wilharm, an accountant in CALS Business Services, packed what would fit in her backpack – her laptop and a few files. She thought it would only be for a short time – long enough to avoid the rising number of cases of COVID-19. She put her laptop on the coffee table, got comfy on the couch and called it good.
“I had been using the coffee table and my lap and sitting in different rooms but then I would sit on the floor and move back to a chair and it just was not a great fit. When it became more than a couple of weeks at home, that is when I moved to the dining room table,” Wilharm said.
Eight months later, sitting on an uncomfortable chair with no support, surrounded by newspapers and the day’s mail, the dining room table is no longer working for her. Wilharm decided to move her office to one of the upstairs bedrooms.
Wilharm said she knew she needed to make some changes to her setup, but what? All she knew was that she felt uncomfortable, but wasn’t sure how to address that. She suspected it was all related to her chair.
“The big thing is sitting,” she said. “I have a really hard chair with no adjustments, and I’m always too short for the chair and desktop. I end up sitting forward on the chair with no support for my back.”
After going through the course, which took about 15 minutes, Wilharm said she realized there were several changes she should make and paused to consider them.
“Ever since I watched the video I have been thinking about where I put my feet,” she said. Because she is short, she said she has trouble adjusting any chair to a point where she can put her feet on the floor under her desk.
“I need something to put my feet on,” Wilharm said.
In addition, she realized that she does not get up from her desk often enough. She said that she will switch from her large Hydro Flask to a smaller glass of water, so she must get up to refill it.
Wilharm works with her laptop and a second monitor and said she now sees that they need to be adjusted. Her laptop, which sits on the desk, is considerably lower than her second monitor.
“I can use a couple of books to raise the laptop,” she said, “and bring it up even with the monitor. That will allow more room for my keyboard and mouse.”
As for her chair, she has ordered a special cushion and a pillow to put behind her back for support.
In addition to the course, the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health also offers consultations. At this time, employees may request a virtual consultation via https://uwmadison.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_0lfAdKwOaomqwGF.
Moving to a bedroom will have other advantages, as well, she said, like adding a white board to write things on, something she said she cannot do in the dining room.
“I am looking forward to it being a dedicated space that I can walk away from,” she said. “I am just trying to achieve a work/life balance.”