Written by Angela Lau
The workplace concept has changed since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Remote work had been a growing trend, but the pandemic has made it the new norm. Pre-Covid research (link) from Harvard Business School had already shown that “work from anywhere” arrangements resulted in employees increasing their productivity by an additional 4.4%. Many workers perceived that having flexible schedules and locations were the most significant benefits of remote work. Even when an office opens post-pandemic, many companies have shifted the work model by allowing their employees to work from home at least a few days a week. Working from home is here to stay.
As someone who had worked remotely before, I found it hard to adapt to this recent era of remote work. I, like many others, can no longer draw a line to separate work and daily life, especially when all meetings have to be taken online. Fatigue grows as the period of working from home became longer and longer. People get drained and eventually begin to burn out. Even worse, people just settled into a poor work setup, working, for example, at a kitchen island, vanity table, dining table, coffee table, and even on an iron board. These substandard work surfaces and environments can cause extra strains on our shoulders, backs, joints, muscles, and spine. Repetitive stress and improper posture eventually cause injury to our bodies. All these injuries are side-effects not only in our daily life but also on our long-term physical well-being as we age.
In this article, I want to share some tips that I learned from the expert ergonomics advisors at SwiftMotion.io on how to create a suitable workstation for remote work.
Here are some general suggestions that I hope will make a difference to your work-from-home setup:
- Make sure that you are working on a desk set to an appropriate height
When you are sitting at a desk, your keyboard and mouse, which are key for your work function, should be at elbow height when you are seated. If your space and budget allow, you can consider getting an adjustable desk for both sitting and standing. Clearance for your knees, thighs, and feet under the desk is also essential to sitting. If you choose to stand while working, the work surface should also be at elbow level.
- Invest in a work chair that is suitable for your size
It’s important to sit pretty. Even if you have an adjustable ergonomically-efficient office chair, it doesn’t mean it’s adjusted correctly. How you sit should support your neutral spine and your feet should be flat on the floor. The legs should be at a 90-degree angle to keep your back straight. The proper chair height allows you to have a 90-degree bend at your knees and a 90-degree bend at your waist. The right posture is having the thighs and forearms parallel to the floor. If you find an office chair that fits your size and supports the spinal curve, you can sit in it for extended periods without neck and back issues.
- Keep your key objects close to your body
It is a great idea to organize the key objects within reach to minimize the number of times it is necessary to reach to get them. If you need something on the desk that can’t be comfortably reached, you should stand up to get it instead of sitting and reaching. If you choose to stand while working, make sure you can stand up straight with a neutral spine. A neutral spine is the one that maintains the natural curved shape (for more information, you can refer to the definition from Mayo Clinic).
- Pair your work laptop with an external ergonomic mouse and ergonomic keyboard
The risk of carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive strain injury is real if you type a lot and spend many hours a day in writing, coding, designing, or even gaming. Getting an ergonomic mouse and keyboard will reduce muscle strain on your hands and maximize comfort during periods of excessive use.
- Adjust the monitor to the right distance, height, and angle
You should keep a proper distance from the monitor. Also, raising your monitor closer to your eye level (though it may be lower for progressive lens users).
Good monitor(s) placement depends on how many monitors that you are going to use, and whether there’s a primary monitor you will use more often than the others. You should look straight at your primary monitor without craning your neck. If you wear bifocals, you may need to check with a professional ergonomist to see how to best tilt the screens. One screen should be in the center in front of you. If you use two monitors equally, with your head straight, both screens should meet in the middle of your sightline. If you have multiple screens, the main monitor should be in the middle where you can see it straight ahead.
- Have sufficient lighting for your workspace
Insufficient lighting hurts both your physical and mental health. People who work in a dim environment where there are not enough lights will feel more fatigued and stressed. This results in eye strain, and individuals with eye strain begin to lose their ability to focus. Research has also found that there is a correlation between good lighting and general mood. Moreover, natural light leads to higher productivity and provides the health benefits of Vitamin D.
Having a remote workstation that is ergonomically sound improves productivity, reduces stress, and prevents injury. The best way to personalize your ergonomic setup is to consult a professional ergonomist for a risk assessment and a custom recommendation. Implementing good work-from-home ergonomics is definitely worth the cost. Once you design a great home office, you will have better posture, reduce injuries, and improve productivity.