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Here's the next in our series of weekly managerial TIPS (Techniques, Insights, and Practical Solutions)
to help you better engage your team in the activities that lead to higher performance.

CORE Bites Issue #96
(October 13, 2020)

Is Your Stay-at-Home Work “Place” ... Still on First Base?

My commitment to you in each CORE Bites issue is to deliver something of value to help you better engage your team in the activities that lead to higher performance. This means the focus each week is on some aspect of management and/or leadership; or on some characteristic or angle relating to your managerial approach; or on coaching/tuning techniques that improve employee engagement and enhance productivity. My hope is to always deliver a nugget (or two) that is relevant and timely.

While this week's topic might appear to be a bit of a departure, it's really not. As a result of the pandemic, many of us—as well as many of our employees—were, quite literally, lurched from what we considered 'normal' and forced to adhere to shelter in place/stay at home orders. To get work done, some set up shop in the corner of a bedroom or, if available, a spare bedroom; for others, it was the dining room table; for some it meant commandeering a corner of the living room; for at least one person I know it meant getting creative by placing a door on two carpenter sawhorses to use as a desk (true story!). These less-than-optimal workspace examples were configured—in many cases—with 'spare parts and Duct Tape'.

I've had the opportunity to work with many of you during this challenging time by way of various virtual technologies. This means that while we've been on camera together, I've been able to see the variety of make-shift workplaces that exist. (Yes, I've been paying attention!)

Some of you have done an excellent job in simulating the ergonomic, functional, and productivity-enhancing configurations we were accustomed to back in the day when we worked in a building designed by experts for employee comfort, safety, and productivity.

However, some of you (no names mentioned) have overlooked—either through lack of knowledge or, more likely, because you "haven't had time to get to that yet"—some very important workplace configuration elements that are counterproductive to brain optimization and/or physically fatiguing, or worse, debilitating.

The High Value Activities (HVAs) listed below will cover many aspects pertaining to a proper home office set up. I'll even cover some of the poor design elements found in the photo at the top of this page. And, no, the poor design elements I'm referring to have nothing to do with our (often therapeutic) 'office pets' that we rely on (see my office-helpers below).

High Value Activity (HVA) Action Steps

This week (starting today), take a critical look around your home workspace and encourage your team to do the same. Use the list of HVAs below as your guide (feel free to provide these to your team members as well):

  • Screen/Window Glare: In the masthead photograph (top of this page) you'll notice that the individual has his desk placed up against a window. While this may be aesthetically pleasing, this, in addition to the brightness of a computer screen(s), can lead to serious eye strain. One of the phenomenon researchers have noted is when staring at a computer screen we dramatically reduce our blink rate and this causes a number of problems, including headaches and dry eyes. Natural light from outside can help enhance how you look on camera during a virtual meeting, however, it's wise to consider turning down the brightness on your screen, put some drapes over your windows, or maybe change the position of your computer. One technique that will keep your eyes relaxed and moisturized is the 20x20x20x20 rule: Occasionally look at something 20 feet away, blink about 20 times, for about 20 seconds, and do that every 20 minutes.
  • Proper Desk/Table Height: Another workplace set-up problem apparent in the masthead photograph (top of this page) is the proper working height to reduce fatigue and reduce repetitive strain injuries (RSI). The industry standard is 29 inches from the floor to the top of the work surface but that industry standard is based on writing on paper, not using a keyboard and mouse. That's why keyboard trays pull out from below the work surface and are typically an inch or two lower than the desk or table height. If you have space for a keyboard-and-mouse tray, I would recommend getting one (they are not very expensive). By the way, you'll know your work surface is at the correct height if, when you sit up straight, your forearms are parallel to the ground and your wrist is not bent up or down when you type or mouse (bending the wrists for prolonged periods is an easy way to cause injury).
  • Don't Have a 'Bad Chair' Day!: There are a lot of bad chairs that can cause discomfort and even injury over prolonged computer use. For example, dining chairs are rarely at the right height and rarely offer the correct (and needed) upright posture. Good office chairs can get very pricey and buying them off of a website is problematic because you'll need to test the chair in person to know whether it is perfect for you. Be sure to get one with adjustable height, one that can roll (get a chair pad if your room has carpeting), one that provides lumbar support for the lower back, and ideally has adjustable seat pan tilt, arm height, and lateral arm position. An arm rest is preferable, but only if you use it correctly (the arm rest should 'remind' your arm to stay in the right position, not support its weight).
  • Monitor Missteps: Many people working from home are using their office-issued laptop. Not only is this small display hard on the eyes but the screen is positioned at the wrong angle (see masthead photo at the top of this page) which can cause further strain and/or injury. It's highly recommended that you get a larger monitor (maybe two) for your home office. And, while this sounds like it might be a large expense, if you're purchasing this yourself, consider a local pre-owned reseller (we recently purchased several additional 23" monitors for our virtual studio for only $40 each). For optimal viewing, your monitor(s) should line up so if you look straight ahead when sitting straight, your eyes are at a height of 25% to 30% below the top of the screen. This way, you keep your shoulders level and don't hunch your back (two easy ways to cause injury).
  • Lighting Illuminations: It's very easy to underestimate the effects of lighting on your work environment and on your ability to work without eye fatigue. Ideally, you should have sufficient indirect light to illuminate your workspace, so you can easily read reports and spreadsheets. Overhead lighting is usually best, such as from a ceiling lamp or tall floor lamp. Indirect lighting means that light is not in your direct field of view or reflecting off your monitor. As stated earlier, natural light can be pleasant, but diffuse it with shades or curtains so it doesn't create glare. Also, don't place a lamp right next to a monitor because you'll end up with competing light sources and possible glare.
  • Internet Intricacies: It goes without saying that you should shoot for the fastest Internet connection available that you (or your company) can afford. But this is where many people make a big mistake. They then connect wirelessly within their home which dramatically reduces the bandwidth capability. The best connections are wired Ethernet connections, so if possible, connect your computer to your router via an Ethernet cable. Wi-Fi is fine for basic office work, however, if you're doing important virtual meetings (via video) and/or other bandwidth-intensive work, consider running an Ethernet cable (even if it's only temporary during these bandwidth-intensive time periods). The difference is astounding.
  • Audio Atrocities: Stop using your built-in computer microphone! Paradoxically, the worst thing about joining everyone on a video call isn't the visuals; it's the audio. Audio is what makes the video worth watching and when there are gaps, pops, clicks, whistles, static, background noise, etc., people tune out. Getting a good microphone will do wonders for how you come across on those calls.
  • Camera Calamities: Similar to the audio recommendation (above), stop using your built-in computer camera. While I understand that some people think this is more about vanity, I disagree because we all know that a professional image is critical to how people perceive you. Terrific cameras that give you high-resolution and self-adjust for varying room light (as the day progresses) can be purchased very inexpensively today.
  • Movement is the Magic (to keep the blood flowing): One of the things we underestimate is how much movement occurred in our traditional office space. Traversing the stairs and hallways, traveling between meetings, and movement during breaks and lunch, all gave us a chance to keep the blood flowing. Too much sitting is currently being blamed for health ailments such as weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other chronic conditions. The answer? MOVE! Make sure every hour of your day includes some aspect of getting out of your chair and doing something. I keep a set of free weights and a push-up board right by my desk so I can do a quick set or two between virtual calls and desk activities. Here are a few recommended exercises that can be done either at, or by, your home workspace: Triceps Dips, Arm Pulses, Arm Circles, Chair Squats, Calf Raises, Seated Bicycle Crunches, Lower-Abs Leg Lifts, Neck Rolls, Chest Stretch, Wrists and Fingers Stretch.

I'd love to hear how these HVAs work for you!

Neil Dempster, PhD, MBA
RESULTant™ and Behavioral Engineer

Quote of the Week

"What you're supposed to do when you don't like a thing is change it.
If you can't change it, change the way you think about it."

— Maya Angelou —