People carried out office supplies, computers and furniture. It wasn’t a going-out-of-business sale, but under any other circumstance it might have looked that way. Last spring when COVID-19 shutdowns hit, employees located at Avery Dennison’s Label and Graphic Materials North American facility in Mentor were transitioning to home offices and taking what they thought they needed from their workplace.
“We allowed them to take their equipment, including monitors, desk chairs and even their standing ergonomic desks. We wanted to make sure they had what they needed to be comfortable, safe and productive,” says Lindsay Flannery, vice president, human resources, for Avery Dennison, which has 1,581 employees in Northeast Ohio and 32,000 globally.
Sixty percent of her local company’s employees were deemed essential manufacturing employees and remained onsite. The remaining 40% of office-based workers have been given the option of returning to their familiar work environment following safety protocols. But as of May, Flannery says the “majority of office-based employees continue to work from home, some returning to the office periodically.”
“The office has a new meaning,” says Flannery. “I see it as moving into a more hybrid model. We have local and global teams trying to find a balance between what the company needs and individuals need.”
Some of us will never go back to a formal onsite office. In some cases, it’s a matter of company economics. Research about Work From Home employees (WFHers) has exploded, but results about productivity and worker satisfaction are conflicting and change weekly as we navigate through phases of the pandemic.
Progressive Insurance, with corporate headquarters in Mayfield Village, has 42,000 employees nationwide. As of March 2021, 95% of its employees were WFHers, and in May a company spokesman said “future plans were
evolving.” Things did change, of course. Network connectivity increased from 18,000 connections a day to more than 33,000 “to support sending people home.” The second “piece of the puzzle was to procure and configure computers for those employees set up in the office to use at home,” according to the source. Progressive declined to comment on whether there are advantages and disadvantages to a business that supports WFH employees, citing that “each person’s situation is different.”
But whether employees work 20, 40 or 60 hours remotely, the home office has changed for better and for worse. Take employees’ physical health. Health providers agree that unhealthy workday habits and awkward home office furniture can result in eye strain, migraine headaches, degenerative changes of the spine and loss of strength.
“I can’t describe to you the amount of headaches and neck and shoulder issues I’ve seen over the past year because of home offices,” says Erica Gaitley, DC, a chiropractic physician with University Hospitals of Cleveland. “But if you make small ergonomic changes, you should be able to correct things before there is any lasting damage. I believe things can be reversed. There can be amazing results if people balance physical and emotional aspects.”
Gaitley doesn’t endorse any particular office furniture brands and doesn’t say anyone must have a “$1,000 electronic sitting-to-standing desk.” She says she believes most people can do with what they have with a little modification if necessary. That can mean rolling up a bath towel and placing it against your lower back or using a throw pillow when sitting to provide lumbar support. She also suggests portable desktops that can be raised and lowered when placed on a dining room table, coffee table, poolside or wherever.
“I have one patient who uses an adjustable ironing board. She can bring it down to a sitting height or raise it up when standing,” says Gaitley. “Transitional desks have the ability to reduce strain on the back and neck.”
The center of a computer screen should be at eye level or “just a hair below,” says Gaitley, so you are looking slightly down. But not so low “you are in a hunched position.” Your workspace at the office might have been customed designed for you, but most us of are pretty much on our own at home.
Gaitley is also a promoter of the 20-20-20 rule: for every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen, take a 20 second break to look at something 20 feet away. WFHers also may have more opportunities to exercise during the day or privately meditate.
WFHers also face mental challenges that range from isolation, depression, anxiety to frustration. (Will someone please tell that nosey neighbor that some of us are working even if our cars haven’t left the driveway?) Francoise Adan, M.D., is the chief, whole health and well-being officer for University Hospitals. Dr. Adan says different people have different reactions to working remotely. The only one-size-fits-all rule is to pay attention to self-care by eating right, getting enough sleep and managing stress.
“It’s very easy to blend work and home when you are working from home in a small space,” says Adan, noting the cross pollution isn’t the best environment. “You need to create a separate workspace, even if it’s just a counter.”
Most people don’t want to turn a space into a replica of their corporate office, even though additional electronics (think high volume printer, etc.) may take up more space than in pre-pandemic times. But the familiar keyboard borrowed from your “old” office means “work” and not just endless hours of online searching to figure out why Archie isn’t a prince (yet). So making the space look “professional” does have its incentives.
But make it your own. Limited to one family photo in your normal cubicle at your on-site work? Or one small plant? Jars of Swedish Fish aren’t allowed? If it makes you happier to be a remote worker, hang bulletin boards and thumb tack your kids’ images and artwork, work among a jungle of unruly plants or let the chewy candy swim on your desk in glass containers in your work space.
“Because it is your home you have more flexibility, and enjoying a space is important whether it is for sleeping, eating or working,” says Adan.