Health is coming from a camera near you


I enjoyed a very successful online meeting with some of my human factors friends a couple of days ago and it was a first-time experience using that videoconferencing format for at least a couple of the participants. Some of you out there will be spending time in teleconferences, and more recently meetings online using tools like GoToMeeting in your day-to-day work. Some of you will even be seasoned pros. As the software needed cannot always be downloaded onto work computers due to IT limitations, it's not uncommon to hold the event at the time of day when some of the participants are in a home office, and many of us work in a home office anyway. But don't get me started on home offices, I want to talk about what the cameras might tell us.

If you get a group of people lined up on the screen, and the software I use will take up to 25 people, you get up to 25 glimpses of how people work. The interesting point here is that everyone in that meeting was an ergonomist with more than the usual amount of knowledge about how to setup screen based work. Now I did get a conducted tour of one or two people's desks and I offered to show mine. We could have gone into some depth about why we had everything set up as we did. That's another story.

What I did notice though with how each of us sat, from a posture perspective, for the hour of the meeting. Some research you might be interested in has shown that self-modelling posture using pictures taken from a web camera placed side on to someone sitting at a workstation can positively affect posture. The study, done by Taieb-Maimon and colleagues (2012), compared three different groups, one which was given conventional office ergonomics training, one which had this traditional training plus the self-modelling photo-training, and a third group which had no intervention. The group which had photo feedback about how they were sitting over the day made sustained changes in their sitting posture at the computer, and the traditional training group made positive changes that weren't  sustained past the initial period. The women benefited more from the photo-training than the men.

Going back to my comment about the online meetings, it seems that more and more we are using our web cameras to interact with others. The cameras used in this research are not unlike the ones you can get which can be operated over the internet so you can take a photo when your alarm goes off when you're at work. All burglars reading this, please smile for the camera!

It seems that the technology that binds us to the desk, can also help us change what we do to become healthier, and that this doesn't need to cost a lot of money.

This might be a problem for some people, at least at the start. Many of us are camera shy. Some of us would even consider photos taken of us at work as an invasion of privacy and personal rights. It's an interesting question, because if how we sit has implications for pain in joints and muscles and we are not able to correct our own posture using personal body memory and physical feeling WITHOUT a photo we'll have to look for other options? In other studies, ongoing feedback on posture and work style seems to be useful even if it is a reminder by email. The more frequent use of cameras for doing office-based work might  open up some effective options for improving the posture of the sitting (or standing?) office worker. I'm not really that worried that Big Brother, might be watching, are you. I would certainly like to avoid more email though!

By the way. here's that reference:

Taieb-Maimon, Meirav, Cwikel, Julie, Shapira, Bracha, & Orenstein, Ido. (2012). The effectiveness of a training method using self-modeling webcam photos for reducing musculoskeletal risk among office workers using computers. Applied Ergonomics, 43(2), 376-385. doi: