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Mobile working: Different work locations - different requirements

Recommendations for the selection and design of the location of work on the way

Work locations on the way, i.e. outside the company, often mean working in poor environmental conditions. Employers and workers can improve the working environment through smart choices and agreements.

Mobile working outside the workplace (workplace according to the Workplaces Ordinance (ArbStättV)) is characterised by the fact that the workplace is not set up by the employer, but usually only the (digital) "work equipment)" is provided. Mobile working must be recorded in a risk assessment. When drawing up the risk assessment, it must be taken into account that the employer always has the possibility of influencing the place design of he work location by means of operating instructions and other company regulations, e.g.:

  • by agreements with the management of other company locations, company partners and customers,
  • on the targeted selection of co-working spaces, hotels and train journeys (class, ICE etc.),
  • by supporting the employees in setting up the workplace at home and choosing the workplace (if needed: financial, counselling or mediation, furniture, etc.).

A man sits in a train working with his laptop which is placed on a small table. © Uwe Völkner/Fotoagentur FOX, Lindlar

Employees can set up their workplaces in their private rooms, i.e. for working from home, according to their own needs. The possibilities are limited by the space available in the home and technical facilities such as the internet connection. Outside the private rooms, employees usually lack the means or the authorisation to design workplaces. However, they can choose their place of work depending on what is on offer and their financial leeway (e.g. window seat in a quiet café, lounge at railway stations, workplace in a library).

In terms of design options, mobile workplaces can be divided into:

  • Places that are more suitable for longer work such as working from home, co-working spaces or workplaces at different company locations and
  • Places that are more likely to be used for short work (in the order of 1-2 h max.) while travelling, such as hotels, cafés, transport etc., as well as at customers' premises.

Work locations such as hotels, libraries, cafés, means of transport, etc., as well as at customers' premises, are usually not primarily designed for the purpose of work on Visual Display Units (VDU) and their possibilities for ergonomic workplace design are limited. The activities performed there are characterised by the fact that employees interrupt the input into the VDU, move around and continue working on the VDU as part of their work task. Depending on the spatial equipment, employees should only work temporarily at these locations. This work is mainly comparable to the mobile use of visual display terminals according to "ArbStättV".

Work outside the workplace in the commercial permanent establishment that is not only carried out sporadically and lasts longer should, if possible, take place in places with a high degree of influence on the design. If the employers rent objects such as office space (co-working spaces), they must ensure that the ergonomic requirements for VDU workplaces according to ArbStättV are met (see No. 4.2.2 of ASR V3 Risk Assessment). Only then are these rented office spaces suitable for VDU work within the meaning of the ArbStättV. In addition, the employer can support the interactive exchange and concentrated work of his employees by selecting the premises according to whether there are areas for confidential exchange, concentrated work and meetings.

Room size

In order to avoid accidents, the movement area should not be obstructed by objects such as bags, waste paper baskets, etc. in places where it is possible to have a concrete influence on the design. Cables and supply lines should be laid safely and without tripping.

  • Working from home: A separate room or at least a separate work area is ideal for separating work and private life. If possible, when setting up the workplace, make sure that there is sufficient space for changing working postures of approx. 5 m² in the area behind the work surface.
  • Co-working spaces: When choosing a co-working space, it makes sense to ensure that the space is comparable to that of office workstations (at least 8-10 m² per workstation), especially to ensure privacy. If the workplaces are located in a communal area, the space requirement should be increased due to the larger escape routes. When choosing a co-working space, the height of the room should also be taken into account.
  • Working in an external company and at different company locations: For longer periods of concentrated work at VDUs that do not require direct customer contact or a view of objects such as production facilities, it should be possible to go to separate work areas with sufficient space for changing working postures, or even better, office rooms.
  • Hotels and libraries: The space requirements of employees depend on the activities to be performed. Even if only time-limited preparatory and follow-up work for meetings, discussions, examinations, etc. takes place without paperbased documents and with the use of a small screen, employees should at least have space for a work surface to rest the palms of their hands and for changing postures.
  • Cafés, seating units in halls etc.: Cafés and similar common rooms are usually rather unsuitable for concentrated work. In addition, care should be taken to ensure data protection. Where space is limited and there is no freedom of movement, work should only be carried out for short periods.
  • Means of transport: For work in means of transport, spacious spaces should be preferred and the work should be reduced in time.
  • Meeting rooms: In meeting rooms, there should be sufficient space for movement, also to ensure privacy.
  • Working while standing or walking: Whether on a company premises or on the move in public places, railway stations, halls etc.: Especially due to the risk of accidents, work on display screen equipment should not be carried out while walking. For short-term work while standing with "hand-held devices" or at storage areas, there should be sufficient space to maintain privacy and sufficient safety distance from sources of danger such as traffic routes, machinery, fall hazards, etc.

Lighting

  • Working from home: During working from home, employees should ideally ensure that lighting conditions prevail that come close to the conditions in the office room. Rooms with a good supply of daylight and a line of sight to the outside should be used. When setting up the workplace, the desk and monitor should be positioned so that they are free from disturbing reflections and glare. Daylight should come from the side and not from windows in the back or front. Sunshades can assist. Sufficient artificial lighting should supplement daylight when needed. In most cases, three LED lamps of approx. 10 watts are sufficient as ceiling lighting at a height of 2.5 metres.
  • Co-working spaces: When selecting the co-working space, make sure that the following aspects are taken into account: Daylight through window frontage parallel to the line of sight with sun protection device, selection and arrangement of luminaires against reflected glare, sufficient illuminance (min. 500 lux) in the workplace area as well as balanced luminance distribution in the room.
  • Working in an external company and at different company locations: Work areas for longer concentrated work with VDUs ideally have a line of sight from the side to the outside with sun protection and artificial lighting that ensures an illuminance of at least 500 lux at the workplace.
  • Hotels and libraries: The workplace should be selected so that the screen is free of glare and reflections and the lighting conditions allow for comfortable reading (preferably daylight from the side supplemented by sufficient artificial lighting). If necessary, table lamps should at least sufficiently illuminate the desk surfaces.
  • Meeting rooms: An illuminance of at least 500 lux should be achieved at the places in meeting rooms. If necessary, protection from sunlight should be provided.
  • Other work locations on the way and in the company: If no places with lighting conditions that allow comfortable reading without glare and reflections are available, then this work should only be carried out for a short time using "work equipment with an adapted luminance", screen brightness and contrast)". Bright environments with daylight also require higher luminances of the monitor. In darker environments, the eye is dark-adapted and too high a luminance tends to have a blinding effect.

Noise

For concentrated work, quiet places with a low noise level should be selected. For simple routine activities, e.g. checking e-mails and similar recurring tasks, a slightly higher noise level is more acceptable. For activities where mainly language-dependent cognitive tasks have to be solved, workplaces should be provided without exposure to background speech.

  • Co-working spaces: The ArbStättV and the requirements of ASR A3.7 apply to workplaces in co-working spaces rented by the employer for its employees.
  • Hotels: For concentrated work, hotels with quiet rooms, e.g. without increased street noise, should be selected.
  • Libraries: Experience has shown that there are sufficient quiet areas in libraries that are well suited for concentrated work.
  • Meeting rooms: In meeting rooms, particular attention should be paid to speech intelligibility due to, among other things, low reverberation time and low sound pressure level of existing background noise.
  • Other workplaces on the way and in the company: For concentrated work, quiet rooms such as quiet compartments in the German high-speed trains should be used. Work in noisy places should be kept to a minimum.

Climate

  • Places whose design can be concretely influenced: Care should be taken to ensure that the air temperature at the workplace in enclosed spaces is generally at least 20 °C and does not exceed 26 °C. When working in enclosed spaces, the room ventilation should be designed in accordance with ASR A3.6 Ventilation. The simplest form is window ventilation. It has a high acceptance rate if the opening of the windows can be determined by the employees themselves. Room ventilation systems (RLT systems) may be necessary if ventilation via windows, shaft ventilation, roof-top ventilation, chimney ventilation, etc. is not sufficient. Draughts must be avoided at all workplaces.
  • Hotels, libraries, meeting rooms: The optimum air temperature in closed rooms is generally at least 20 °C and should not exceed 26 °C. Ventilation mainly via windows is better than room ventilation exclusively via air conditioning. Draughts must be avoided.
  • Other working places on the road and in the company: For longer work, wind-protected (temperature-controlled) working places should be chosen. Work in draughty places should be limited in time.

Work table with work chair in well-designed places

It should be possible to work in a seated position, or better still, alternatively in a seated and standing position, in places where it is possible to exert a concrete influence on the design. For this purpose, work surfaces with matt surfaces are needed for placing the display screen equipment. Glossy work surfaces made of glass and metal are less recommended because of heat dissipation and disturbing reflections. The work surface, work chair, keyboard and screen should be coordinated so that employees can adopt an ergonomically favourable posture:

Schematic illustration of the ergonomic design of a seated workplace with a monitor and seperate keyboard on a desk. Seated Workplace (Larger version opens in new window) VDU workplace, © BAuA

If the work table cannot be adjusted in height, smaller persons need a footrest so that the upper and lower legs can assume an angle of 90° to each other with the feet fully upright.

When selecting a work chair, the following should be considered in particular:

  • stability and tilt resistance,
  • rolling resistance adapted to the floor covering,
  • light cushioning when sitting down,
  • sufficient seat support,
  • sufficient height and seat depth adjustment,
  • backrest adjustable in inclination,
  • the shape of the backrest should support the back well (adjustable if necessary),
  • adjustable armrests.

An optimal office swivel chair has five castors to ensure tilt resistance. The castors are also adapted to the floor covering (soft coated for hard floors such as parquet, hard outer layer for soft floors such as carpet).

The seat depth is adjusted so that the full seat surface is used when sitting on the chair; the distance between the front edge of the chair and the lower leg should be about a hand's width.

The armrests are adjusted in height so that the forearms can be placed at the height of the tabletop. This helps to avoid neck and shoulder tension.

  • Working from home as well as working in another company and at different locations of the company: The working surface of the desk at home should be sufficiently large in order to be able to arrange the necessary equipment and documents flexibly and allow sufficient legroom. The height of the desk and seat should be coordinated so that the forearms rest on the desk top at an angle to the upper arms that is greater than or equal to 90° (i.e. shoulders and upper arms hang down loosely).
  • Co-working spaces: A sufficiently large work surface with adequate legroom should be available at the workplace, which should preferably be height-adjustable due to the changing users and to improve sit-stand dynamics. Tables with matt surfaces and rounded edges are suitable. Furthermore, an ergonomically designed, easily adjustable office chair with a wide adjustment range should be available to allow for optimal adjustment to different body sizes. Workstation users are encouraged to use the adjustment options to adopt an ergonomic working posture.

Placement of visual display units in well-designed locations

In places where the design can be influenced, the screen should be tilted so far back that the employee's gaze is perpendicular to the screen with a slight head tilt. A head tilt of 15° and a lowering of the gaze to the centre of the screen of up to approx. 35° is optimal. The top line of the screen should be below eye level to prevent unnecessary strain on the neck from looking upwards. Input devices (e.g. mouse and keyboard) should be arranged ergonomically, i.e. physiologically favourable. The mouse is placed in front of the body or directly in front of the shoulder. The keyboard should be placed centrally in the gripping area so that work can be done with loosely hanging upper arms and horizontal lower arms.

  • Co-working spaces and Working from homes: The viewing distance to the screen should be at least 500 mm. If several visual display units or screens are used, they should be positioned in such a way that the viewing distances to all screens are approximately the same and that excessive head and eye movements are avoided.

Storage and seating in mobile locations

Studies have shown that during prolonged typing on hand-held "visual display terminals", employees adopt ergonomically unfavourable postures that can lead to musculoskeletal complaints. For this reason, especially when working with text input, workplaces with a work surface for placing the VDU down or putting it down and seating should be sought out. Shiny work surfaces made of glass and metal are less recommended because of heat dissipation and disturbing reflections.

  • Hotels and libraries: For working in hotels or libraries, there should be a sufficient working surface for placing the hands next to the keyboard of the display unit and, if necessary, for filing documents. The height of the work surface should be approx. 740 mm. A conference chair, visitor's chair or similar should be available as seating.
  • Cafés and seating areas in halls: For work with VDUs, especially notebooks, it is recommended that places with visitor chairs and sufficiently high tables or standing tables be sought out that allow comfortable working in an upright posture.
  • Meeting rooms: In meeting rooms, there should be a work surface per seat so that a monitor with input devices and documents can be flexibly arranged. The table height should be approx. 740 mm. Conference chairs should be available.
  • Means of transport: In public transport, seats with storage areas should be chosen for all work with a notebook. On long-distance trains, it is advisable to choose seats with tables for longer work sessions.
  • Work while standing and walking: For longer work periods, e.g. in the production plant, areas with storage surfaces and also, if necessary, seating contribute to the physical relief of the employees.

Setting up or holding portable display devices (notebooks, tablet, smartphones)

For notebooks and hand-held display devices without a separate keyboard, the viewing distance should be at least 300 mm - with a separate keyboard at least 500 mm.

  • Notebooks: The screen should be tilted so far back that the employee's gaze is perpendicular to the screen when the head is slightly tilted.
  • Arrangement of input devices: Separate input devices (if available, e.g. mouse and keyboard) should be arranged ergonomically, i.e. physiologically favourable, on a work surface. The mouse is placed in front of the body or directly in front of the shoulder. The keyboard should be placed centrally in front of the user in the grasping space, so that work can be done with loosely hanging upper arms and horizontal lower arms.

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