October 18th, 2002

Stress-less Homework Anyone?

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If taking the work home with you seems like a stressful idea, think again. Recent studies show that it can mean exactly the opposite.

According to an European Union survey of telecommuters at BT, more than 90 percent of the respondents said they experienced less stress and greater productivity because of telecommuting. The survey, reported on ZD Net UK, asked 2000 of BT’s telecommuting staff for their opinions, both good and bad, on telecommuting. In addition to a less-stress environment, other benefits the respondents listed included the ability to multitask, the lack of commuting time and the flexibility of choosing when to work. Drawbacks were isolation, increased working hours, and lack of visibility by higher management.

It is estimated that 20 million people in Europe telecommute at least one day each week, accounting for 7.4 percent of the work force. In 2000, an estimated 16.5 million workers in the United States also regularly telecommuted, although, more recent studies suggest that the number could now be upwards of 28 million people. For those ever-present skeptics who claim teleworkers don’t get anything done, a study by the International Telework Association and Council reported that nearly three-quarters of all teleworkers said once they began teleworking, their productivity increased, while only 6.5 percent reported a decrease in productivity.

But is stress alone enough reason to trade in the pumps for slippers and the morning commute for a programmable coffee maker? According to Ergoweb President and CEO, Peter Budnick, the answer might be no. “Home offices are often thrown together with whatever desk, chair, and other furniture that’s available — and usually cheap. If we do go out and buy something, we usually forego adjustability and other options that would make the furniture more flexible for our different body sizes, task needs, and individual preferences. We select the $150 products because we can afford them, not because they best fit our needs,” Budnick says.

Yet there is hope. Budnick suggests following in-office ergonomics principals and applying them to the home front. “There are a lot of things that can be done without spending a lot, or even spending a dime,” he says. “Heights [monitors, desks] can be modified using wood blocks or books. Footrests, if desired, can be fashioned out of boxes, phone books, etc. It may not be pretty, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. The primary goal is to reduce awkward postures like reaching too far for your mouse, reaching too high for your keyboard, working with your monitor to the side so that you have your head turned all day, every day.” The rule, says Budnick is to listen to the body. “Pain and discomfort are warning signs that something is wrong with either your work area set-up or your work habits. You aren’t performing at your best when things are wrong,” says Budnick.

But there’s little recourse for the stubborn home worker who insists upon setting up shop with a laptop on the kitchen table, and who then finds him or herself with a work-related injury. “At home, the burden is on the worker, not the employer,” says Budnick. While threats of regulating home offices, thus making the employer responsible for what goes on behind the employee’s doors, have reared their pesky heads in the past, none of the regulation attempts have been successful.

Sources: ZD Net UK, International Telework Association and Council



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