Why The Ergonomics of Working From Home Are So Important
Ergonomics isn’t the sexiest of topics for many people, but bear with me here...
Good ergonomics could be the difference between a healthy, happy and productive tenure of working from home and a variety of nasty problems, including eye strain, back and neck problems, repetitive strain injuries and more.
This guide will help you understand how to make your home working set up safe and comfortable over longer periods of time.
The Shift Towards Working From Home
The seismic shift to working from home, or “remote working”, in response to the ongoing COVID-19 danger was as rapid as it was life-changing for many businesses, particularly in the service sector. One look at Google Trends gives you an idea of how big this issue has become:
Needless to say, interest in “Working From Home” spiked in a big way around this time, as workers up and down the country realised remote working would be their reality for the foreseeable future.
The good news is working from home can be a rewarding, productive and enjoyable experience. Some influential business people believe it is the future.
Remote Working May Be Here To Stay
Many influential and successful business people believe working from home will become more and more centralised in the Western workforce, particularly within the digital and service sectors.
Matt Mulleweng, chief executive of WordPress and Automattic (owner of Tumblr), speaks highly of the long-term benefits of remote working, and predicts the workforce may develop a taste for it:
“This might also offer an opportunity for many companies to finally build a culture that allows long-overdue work flexibility. Millions of people will get the chance to experience days without long commutes, or the harsh inflexibility of not being able to stay close to home when a family member is sick.”
Mulleweng was a keen advocate for working from home long before the COVID-19 outbreak forced it into the mainstream consciousness.
This doesn’t just apply to the USA either. According to Alex Hern, technology editor at the Guardian, “it looks increasingly as if the situation will not ever go back to how it was: many employees for companies who have sent all staff home are already starting to question why they had to go into the office in the first place.”
If the future of working from home is more than a social distancing measure to tackle the COVID-19 virus, now is a great time to think about the long term suitability of your home office or workspace.
So What Is Ergonomics & Why Should You Care?
Ergonomics refers to the engineering and design of products and processes to reduce human error, increase productivity, and enhance safety and comfort.
In short, it focuses on making stuff easier, safer and more comfortable. In some cases, bad office ergonomics can cause the following problems:
- Headaches and migraines
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Back injuries
- Stiff neck
- Tendon issues
- Joint problems
- Eye strain
That’s right, even working from home can be a pain if you don’t do it right.
Your Workspace Matters
A well furnished and safe workplace will have had all hardware and furniture tested and certified to ensure it is suitable for multiple hours at work. Working from home may require you to make use of equipment, furniture and other resources which aren’t really designed for extended periods of work.
A few examples of this could be…
- Your Chair
- Your Desk
- Your computer monitor, size and positioning
- Your keyboard and mouse
- Your lighting
This guide will take you through each of these areas, explain why they are important, and help you improve your setup for a lengthy stint of working from home.
1. Ergonomic Office Chairs
DID YOU KNOW...?
Chairs are designed to withstand different uses and usage durations. Some offer better back, neck and lumbar support than others, and some are just much more comfortable for longer periods.
A wooden dining chair, bench or stool, for example, might be fine for a couple of hours at your desk for projects, gaming, dining and other activities - but if you're on it for seven to eight hours of a working day, they may start to cause you issues.
An ergonomically-efficient office chair will offer means-tested back and neck support, meaning you can sit in it for extended periods without back or neck issues.
It is not advisable to work from your sofa. While comfortable for the short term and great for lounging, it might start to give you problems when working upright, typing and operating a mouse for longer periods.
Another ergonomically designed home working seating solution is the variable kneeling chair which, according to Shape Seating, "encourages your body to move and reacts to every one of its movements, and is the perfect instrument for supporting your posture without the need of a backrest."
2. Ergonomic Desks
You can get away with much more when it comes to a desk or table for your workstation. The most important thing to consider is its height relative to your seating position. More specifically, the height of the things on your desk (computer, monitor, keyboard, etc.).
If your desk is too low, you will likely find yourself hunching over to view your monitor properly. If it is too high, you may need to exert extra effort to keep your eyes in line with your computer monitor.
If you are unable to adjust your desk or get a new one, this is also fine; you can remedy any height issues by placing your monitor or other hardware on homemade platforms to elevate them to the correct height. Hardback books are great for this.
If you found yourself shopping for a new desk following the UK government’s lockdown announcement, you weren’t alone!
3. Correct Monitor Height & Angle
This one is particularly important, because it affects how you interact with your entire workstation.
As a rule, your eye-line should ideally be level with the top of your screen when you are sitting upright. There are a number of ways you can help with this, whether through specifically-designed hardware or home-made means.
- You can buy adjustable monitor and laptop stands for you to easily change the height and angle of your screen to make it more suitable. These vary in price, but there are plenty of affordable options available.
- You can also create a makeshift stand out of household objects, such as boxes, books, magazines and anything else that gives you a flat surface and sufficient stability for the weight of your monitor.
4. Ergonomic Keyboard & Mouse
Depending on your line of work, your keyboard and mouse could make a big difference to your physical comfort and health.
If you spend multiple hours a day writing, in particular, an ergonomic keyboard is generally accepted to help reduce muscle strain, as well as the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome or other kinds of repetitive strain injury.
Ergonomic keyboard types include “fixed-split keyboards”, which allow the user to interact with the keys at a more natural and comfortable angle. More advanced ergonomic keyboards include an "adjustable split keyboard" which works in a similar way, but gives the user the ability to adjust the angles to their own preferences.
Just like an ergonomic keyboard, an ergonomic mouse is designed to maximize comfort during heavy use, and helps prevent similar conditions, strain or injuries from excessive use. They are designed to work better with the natural range of motion of your hand and wrist.
Ergonomically efficient mice are very popular among gamers, particularly for games that involve a lot of clicking over extended periods of time. They are, however, very useful for the workplace too.
5. The correct lighting for your workspace
While not an ergonomic factor, the lighting of your workspace is very important to get right. According to Forbes:
“Bad lighting is associated with a range of ill-health effects, both physical and mental, such as eye strain, headaches, fatigue and also stress and anxiety in more high-pressured work environments.”
Bad lighting in the workplace is bad for productivity, morale and general wellbeing. Many experts consider cool and gentle lighting to be beneficial, whereas natural light (where available) is always best.
Most probably aren’t in a position to install variable lighting in their homes; but you can improve lighting conditions by working close to a window during daylight hours.
Research shows that there is a relationship between good lighting and other wellness factors, including quality of sleep and general mood.
Other things to consider for your home workspace
Beyond ergonomics, there are lots more things you can do to make your home office or workspace more comfortable, safe and user friendly for an extended period of remote working.
Tidy Up Your Wires
Your cables should all be tidy and well out of the way. You can do this using shop bought cable tidies. This is important for a few reasons.
- Untidy wires can cause a fire hazard if there are a number of machines with tangled cables, gathering dust and generating heat.
- Tidy cables make your workspace look cleaner and more spacious.
- They also keep things in order; this is helpful if you want to move, unplug or rearrange your hardware. Tangled or messy cables can make this a nightmare.
- By keeping your cables tidy, you can reduce the risk of catching them and accidentally dragging your monitor or other hardware off of the desk.
- Untidy cables, if along the floor, can create a tripping hazard.
Invest in an External Keyboard & Monitor for your Laptop
If you are able to, we strongly recommend an external monitor and keyboard if you normally work with a laptop. Laptops are super versatile, but aren’t ideal for consistent use for 7-8 hours a day.
Due to the attachment of the keyboard to the screen, finding an ideal and comfortable typing position will mean having to bend your neck forward to get a clear view of the screen.
Possible configurations to try here could include:
- Getting an external keyboard and elevating your laptop to the right monitor height.
- Getting an external monitor so you can keep your laptop at a comfortable typing height and position.
- Getting both for the best of both worlds (though that depends on your budget)