The personal computer might be the most important productivity tool of our time, but that productivity can come at a cost to organizations that require their workforces to use a computer for increasingly long hours.
Extended computer work is associated with various types of musculoskeletal discomfort that can lead to reduced productivity, reduced work quality, absenteeism, and in severe cases, worker’s compensation and other medical costs.
In fact, according to OSHA, "the direct costs attributable to work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) total $15 to $18 billion per year, with indirect costs (such as resulting management costs or the cost of production losses) increasing the costs to employers to more than $45 billion."
To combat these alarming statistics, solutions such as sit-stand desks, wearable technology, and movement-positive ergonomic software, are becoming more ubiquitous in the workplace. These types of solutions decrease sedentary time, motivate employees to engage in a more active lifestyle outside of work, and modify poor ergonomic behavior through software.
However, while most organizational ergonomic programs focus on improving posture, workstation positioning, and office-based environmental factors, there is another key aspect of the ergonomic solution equation that is often overlooked – reducing exposure.
Ergonomic software can make it possible for employees to type and mouse less, while still accomplishing the same (or more!) work. The final piece of the ergonomic risk mitigation puzzle is an additional software solution that allows employees use their keyboards and pointing devices more intelligently. In most cases, when an employee performs a repetitive task, there are opportunities to have the computer perform the repetition for the employee – generally much faster than the employee would have been able to do manually.
Here are three examples of hotkey capabilities that leading ergonomics software solutions can utilize to decrease mouse and keyboard usage without negatively impacting job performance:
1. Create hotkeys to type text using logic, context, or user-input.
If an employee types specific text repetitively (i.e. an address, a commonly used phrase in emails, etc.), then assigning that text to a hotkey can drastically reduce the keystrokes needed to create the text. Beyond just fixed text, employees can do more complex typing with a simple press of the hotkey. For example, relevant dates can be automatically substituted into common text strings like: “Sit-stand desk request was received on X. You should receive your desk by Y.”
Forms with repetitive content can be completed with a hotkey that enters common information (i.e. typing ‘first name’ and ‘last name’ in the adjacent fields of the form and then advancing to the next field). Where there are minor variations, customized form completion can be enabled via simple user interaction (i.e. asking the user to press 1-5 to select a value) or formulaic typing (i.e. based on date, other values, etc.).
2. Program hotkeys to open multiple applications, websites, and/or files.
Instead of mousing, clicking, and typing to open work-related web pages every day, hotkeys can be used to open one or more websites, as well as common applications and files. In addition, instead of the employee using the mouse to choose where to navigate to next, a solution can present the employee with a popup window to assist in navigation. Furthermore, configurable logic can allow users to set a hotkey to open different applications, web pages, and files based off of a dynamic parameter, like the day of the week.
3. Automate a series of mouse and typing events.
To create maximum efficiency, you may want to go beyond the creation of a simple hotkey that enters text, clicks a mouse, or opens applications. With leading software, you can automate a series of mousing, typing, and opening events to create real efficiencies. For example, an employee may need to open MS Outlook, create a new email, type a phrase in the email, and locate the Send button to deliver the email to the recipient. In this example, the solution needs to be able to locate a button or image on the screen which may not be in a fixed location and then know what to do next. The leading ergonomic software solutions encompass visual recognition tools that enables the software to find buttons (graphical objects) on the screen, and identify fields to type into that are not always at the same coordinates of the screen.
These kind of exposure-limiting solutions are a good fit for many organizations’ ergonomic programs which typically include objectives of actively preventing employee injuries, increasing employee productivity, and reducing employee risk in the office environment.
One ergonomic software product that includes these types of exposure limiting solutions is Enviance’s RSIGuard. This solution includes AutoClick and KeyControl, features that ergonomists can utilize to reduce keystrokes and mousing.
If a user opts to enable it, AutoClick changes the mechanics of moving the pointer over an item and clicking. By automatically clicking once whenever the pointer is moved to a new location, you can eliminate the need for the employee to click. This process change ensures that the employee, first, does not need to hold his or her finger in the “loaded”, ready-to-click position. Second, the employee can lightly slide the mouse around rather than having to grip it. Finally, the employee does not need to do the “repetitively straining” action of pressing the pointing device’s click button. Therefore, in using AutoClick, employees with significant mouse-related injuries will likely be able to return to useful computer work sooner rather than later.
KeyControl provides the ability to create powerful hotkeys like those described above (i.e. to open a web page, double-click, type text). By assigning a set of keyboard and mouse activities to a simple hotkey, computer-related functions can be performed more efficiently, which is good for both the employee’s health and productivity. If an organization wants to get even more use out of KeyControl, ergonomists can also make hotkeys perform complex and/or multi-step processes. This can be done using RSIGuard’s built in scripting language, RSIScript. RSIScript is very flexible, and almost any repetitive process an employee does can be automated.
Used together, KeyControl and AutoClick are a powerful combination that can make it unnecessary to use the pointing device’s left and right click buttons at all – thus avoiding the associated postures entirely.