Working from Home – What ROSA can teach us

Taking a ZOOM call with your kids having a home-schooling meltdown, or the dog making an appearance to ask for dinner used to be one of the simple charms of working from home – but with the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us find ourselves living this reality every hour of our workday. When you are rapidly forced to change working environments, some of the productivity tools we have become so used to now are no longer available – and this includes our ergonomic chairs, mice, and keyboards. Lots of highly qualified ergonomists have written great posts about how to set up your office at home – plugging in keyboards and mice, while putting your laptop on a riser to keep your neck from being too flexed.  What happens when you don’t have access to secondary monitors, a mouse, or a keyboard? Using the Rapid Office Strain Assessment (ROSA), I tried to see what the best possible work from home (WFH) office configuration was for those who might not have access to dedicated equipment.  

A bit about ROSA 

For those of you that are not familiar with the Rapid Office Strain Assessment, ROSA is a self-guided office ergonomics assessment tool, which helps provide a score indicating the overall level of risk an office contains related to possible discomfort. ROSA has been put through its paces in the scientific community, with over 150 citations on Google Scholar. ROSA’s scoring system lets us instantly capture a risk level of an office – but also lets us easily compare any two offices to see how they might be beneficial or detrimental to a worker. In this experiment, we relied on the ROSA final and domain scores to capture risk to the overall office, as well as the chair, monitor, telephone, mouse, and keyboard. 


To examine some common work from home situations, 11 MyAbilities employees completed ROSA assessments while they were working in the dedicated home office, sitting on their couch, their bed, and at their kitchen or dining room table. We all assumed for the assessment that we had the same duration working in each of the four configurations, so the ROSA scores were primarily coming from the risk factors related to set up and not duration. 

In each of the four set ups, the ROSA final score was calculated using our online software, along with the chair, monitor and telephone, and mouse and keyboard domain scores.  

Average ROSA Final and Domain Scores by WFH configuration
ROSA Scores by Domain and WFH configuration

Not surprisingly, the home office score was the best for all of our workers – with a ROSA score of 3.5. Back to our original ROSA experiment, a ROSA final score of 5 is the threshold for increased risk of discomfort. If we were to rank the other offices based on risk, the dining room table (average score of 5.5) was second best, followed by the couch (6.2), and bed (7.1). Looking further into these numbers, you can see that a lot of this risk is coming from elevated ROSA scores in the chair section – not only are the couch, dining room table, and bed not adjustable, they very rarely have any form of lumbar support, have seat pans that are not of the appropriate distance, and don’t allow workers to have their back, knee, or hips in the appropriate position.  

When we look at the other components of the workstation, you can see mouse and keyboard are likely the next biggest culprit for discomfort – using your laptop on your lap typically causes your wrists to be extended and deviated to the sides. Getting the computer off of your lap and on to a table that lets you work while your shoulders can stay relaxed is a good ergonomic boost.  

The relative risk levels do increase from the optimal home office situation, but as we can see here – if you don’t have access to any sort of dedicated ergonomic equipment – the dining room table is likely your best bet for a temporary ergonomic workstation.  

Something to note here though – when we did our experiment, two of our highest scores actually came from the dining room configuration – and this is when our workers were at a kitchen island, or a bar height table. In that situation, we see very high scores coming from the high seating – not allowing for proper foot support on the floor, and even less back support than a normal chair would provide. If that’s your working situation in your home, you might be better to look at different options.   

Relative risk for different WFH configurations compared to home office set up


As we get settled into our home offices for the foreseeable future, most people are having to use what they currently have laying around their houses to get working. With our findings, we are recommending that you work at your dining room table instead of your couch or in your bed, at least until you can get make the changes necessary to set up your home office to more resemble your regular office. Above all else – if you are having to work on your laptop for a long time – moving around and changing your posture is your most important step.    

Other References for Work from Home Ergonomics

Dr. Michael Sonne, PhD, CCPE
Dr. Michael Sonne, PhD, CCPE

Mike is the creator of the Rapid Office Strain Assessment, or ROSA, which is being taught at numerous universities around the globe.

Improve Office Ergonomics

Office ergonomics can improve (or hurt) well-being

Did you know that over 60% of office workers are feeling discomfort? Or that musculoskeletal disorders (MSD’s) account for a third of workers’ compensation claims? Improving office ergonomics is quickly becoming a necessity.

This inspired the creation of the Rapid Office Strain Assessment, or ROSA. This online tool guides users through an office ergonomic self-assessment. ROSA provides immediate recommendations on adjustments that will reduce their risk of discomfort and eventually injury.

ROSA has been around for a few years and is a science-based process that has been peer-reviewed. For example, there are over 170 citations around the globe of the original paper. The methodology is now being taught at several universities. It has also been translated into several languages.

Development and evaluation of office ergonomic risk

Cited over 170 times, this paper demonstrates ROSA’s efficacy.

Actual Results in the Office

There are also real-world examples of how ROSA has improved office ergonomics with tangible results. In fact, a Top 20 globally ranked university has been using ROSA for their office ergonomics program for a few years.

As a result, 87% of their users were able to make meaningful changes to their workstations. Discomfort levels have steadily dropped, reducing the risk of discomfort or MSD’s by ~20%.

In another example, Hamilton Health Sciences achieved similar results. In a one year time period, they completed 431 assessments and noted a decrease of ~45% in computer workstation MSDs.

As a result, Lisa Gilmour, Manager Health, Safety & Wellness Initiatives said, “The results provided meaningful change and helped improve the wellness of our colleagues.”

The Impact of Office Ergonomics

Each MSD incident can cost thousands of dollars. These are meaningful results that can improve the well-being of your employees and their productivity. So your business saves money and increases productivity.

To learn more about ROSA, click here, or contact MyAbilities here.

Dr. Michael Sonne, PhD, CCPE
Dr. Michael Sonne, PhD, CCPE

Mike is the creator of the Rapid Office Strain Assessment, or ROSA, which is being taught at numerous universities around the globe.

Research Review: Is physical capacity associated with the occurrence of musculoskeletal symptoms among office workers?

Injury occurs when the demands of a job exceed the capacity of a worker. Primarily, the capacity of a worker is focused on the physical strength that they possess – how much muscle force can be generated by the muscles of the lower back, shoulder, etc. However, other factors inherent to the job can also reduce the worker’s physical capacity – including the mental capacity of the worker. In assessing the ergonomics of a workplace, both the mental, and the physical demands must be assessed to determine the true risk of injury that a job inherently has.


The DOL Strength Levels – does oversimplifying job demands increase exposure to injury risk?

Written by: Mike Sonne, PhD, CCPE

Summary: The DOL strength levels classify jobs into 5 separate categories defined by force/weight, and frequency of exertion. The classification system leads to a broad oversimplification of the demands of work, which in the worst case can lead to over and under estimates of physical demands of over 500%. A much more granular system is needed to better understand the different physical demands of work, and how that  can be used in return to work, and injury prevention.


Video Kinematics Produces Physical Job Demand Descriptions on Steroids

March 26, 2019 BY AMAXX / Michael B. Stack

How familiar are you with the physical demands of every job in your company? That may sound like a loaded question, but the more understanding you have of each job, the better you’ll be at preventing injuries, reducing workers’ compensation costs and improving your bottom line.

However, many companies face the challenge of lack of time or resources to do a thorough and complete job of developing a physical demands database. The development of technology and artificial intelligence now makes this easy.


Unlocking the potential of your Physical Demands Descriptions

Welcome to MyAbilities! My name is Mike Sonne, and I am the Vice President of Innovations and Research. I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of MyAbilities, and develop new, well-researched ergonomics tools, that will make workers lives better.

I have worked in ergonomics for the past 10 years, where I completed doctoral research on automotive manufacturing ergonomics, and a masters thesis on developing developed the Rapid Office Strain Assessment. After nearly 2 years of engineering, the MyAbilities team is excited to be bringing you our platform’s first offering – the digital job profiling and physical demands analysis tool. Every ergonomist probably started their career conducting physical demands analyses – the process of meticulously detailing every demand of a job. With a good PDA database, your company builds up a cook book of the physical requirements needed to perform the individual recipes of jobs in your organization.