According to recent reports in the WSJ and the Huffington Post, workers displaced to home offices due to Covid19 are reporting an increased volume of MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders) due to ill-conceived work setups. This correlates with anecdotal data I am hearing from my chiropractic and OT/PT referral sources. Despite the myriad of ergonomic advice available through employers, insurers and online resources, workers are still using their laptops on their dining room tables, living room floors, kitchen counters, sofas and worst of all, beds. Lack of a dedicated office, the need for privacy to take that Zoom call or needing to be in the same room to watch the kids, supersedes a worker’s thoughts of their own long-term health.

These poor ergonomic conditions coupled with long periods of sedentarism and in some cases, longer hours of work, eventually become pain causing postures.  As companies announce WFH (work-from-home) initiatives may last through the rest of the year or longer, we may be setting up for an epidemic of a different sort.

Employees may be reticent to report any sort of musculoskeletal discomfort as job losses continue to mount (Statistics show that work comp claims decrease in periods of joblessness). Others may not want to jeopardize their future work from home flexibility. There is a definitive fear that seeking out a clinician to treat one’s discomfort may possibly increase their risk of contracting the virus. Whatever the reason, ignoring the signs and symptoms will lead to a greater severity of the eventual treatment and thus a higher level of WC (worker’s comp) claim in the future.

To combat this, many companies who are embracing WFH as the new normal are also investing in ergonomic equipment for their employee’s home offices. It has been shown that ergonomic interventions such as external monitors and keyboards for laptops, supportive seating and height adjustable desks (along with proper training) reduce the number of WC claims, the average claim value and also improve productivity. But we also know that these interventions only work when 1) they are used and 2) they are used properly.

But now that the workforce is primarily working remotely, how do we know if our ergonomic interventions are being used properly? That’s where a relatively new concept called “Office Telematics” may come into play. Telematics refers to the use of sensors to collect data and the transmission of that data over long distance for review and analysis. The hybridization of telecommunications and informatics if you will. This concept has been used for years in the auto and transportation industries for both monitoring of fleet vehicles and individual driver habits for insurance purposes (think DriveWise by Allstate).

There are now Office Telematics systems that have been integrated into sit-stand desks for the monitoring of their vertical position and occupancy. From this data you can gather information about how often an individual is changing postures as well as the positions the desks are in when the user is sitting and standing. By providing this insight into their ergonomics, a corporate entity could mitigate risk with push emails and gentle nudging.  You would not want your 5’1 employee using her desk at 29.5” for example.  Similarly, you do not want an employee sitting or standing for 2 hours straight without a break. These apps that deliver the metrics also can provide feedback and education to the end-user to help maximize proper utilization and overall effectiveness.

In a pilot program conducted pre-pandemic, one of my customers was able to use an “Office Telematics” system integrated into their sit-stand desks from StanData to determine;

  • 90 percent of the users were using their desks at the appropriate height for their stature,
  • of the 10 percent that weren’t, all of them reported increased discomfort and musculoskeletal issues (which were then quickly corrected),
  • only 25% were transitioning as frequently as we wanted to see.

With this information we are now able to provide an intervention to facilitate an increase in transitions (upon their return to the office).

This same concept can be applied into home offices in the same way, as location does not matter. Principles of group game theory can also be used to encourage positive behavior thru goal setting and achievement. This also stimulates a level of connectedness and team, despite working remotely and being isolated.

For companies that are returning to the office, Telematics sensor data can be used to monitor occupancy rates of desks in the workplace, which could be valuable information for re-opening  protocols. As an example, knowing which desks have been occupied in a given day could generate guidance for nightly maintenance staff for desk cleaning and disinfecting. This occupancy data could also be used for contact tracing should an employee be diagnosed with covid19 or otherwise.

Pre-pandemic, Office Telematics has also recently been providing insight into real estate utilization and space allocation, using the data to make determinations about optimum square footage and ideal layouts. As the IoT age expands, sensors will continue to pervade the workspace and provide big data to drive business decisions.

To learn more about Office Telematics feel free to reach out to me at dbernardi@summitergo.com