With countless numbers of people forced to work from home with far from ideal work setups, many of us are labouring in unhealthy and uncomfortable environments. Avoid the common pitfalls that thousands and thousands of people face with these work at home ergonomic tips – dos and don’ts.
It’s jam-packed with tips and facts that you need to know to prevent yourself from experiencing pain, discomfort and fatigue. What’s more, these 8 dos and don’t can be applied to most environments, whether you’re someone forced to work remotely, a student at home, or someone working in an office that hasn’t yet adjusted their work space.
Either way, you’re guaranteed to learn some tips for life with this quick and easy to follow guide.
Do create a space room which you can classify as a work area
Choose an area where there is limited traffic and interruptions. It is fine to work from your kitchen if the house is empty during the day. However, if people are in the house while you are working, it can cause significant disruption especially during feeding times. Other options could include your bedroom, living room, spare room or if you are lucky enough to have a home office, this would be an ideal location to set you up for productive day.
Once you have settled on the location to work in, make this space your own. Take some time to set the area up so that it can be as comfortable and ergonomic for you to work in as possible. Remember that you will probably be working here for 40 hours a week and this is a significant amount of time at any place for your body to sit. For that reason, it is essential that it is organized in the best way possible.
Tip: The area that you choose to work in should be set so that it does not have to be adjusted every evening. For example, if you are working from a kitchen table, you will probably need to remove items every evening to free up space, whereas if you work from a table in the sitting room, it could be left as you set it up.
Do take regular breaks from your desk
Long hauls at your desk can be not only mentally draining, but also physically draining and can lead to tiredness and reduced productivity. Sitting or standing in the one position for long periods of time can be detrimental to your body. For this reason, it’s recommended that you take regular breaks away from your desk. This could include standing up to read some documents or get some water or fresh air. It is also useful as a mental break so that you are not reaching fatigue faster.
Tip: If you have a sit-stand desk setup, rest breaks apply too. Regularly alternating between sitting and standing is strongly advised; ideally every 20 minutes is optimal as it encourages changing posture, optimizes blood flow and reduces tiredness and fatigue.
Do set up your work area to be as ergonomically designed as possible
Taking as little as 5 minutes to organize your screen, chair and computer equipment into the correct position for your posture is something that nobody should skip doing. Not only does it promote a more efficient and comfortable environment for you to work in, but it can also drastically reduce the risk of developing pain and the onset of injury.
How much is your health worth to you?
If this isn’t something you think that you have time to do, then scrolling your phone aimlessly shouldn’t be something you have time to do either! At the end of the day, it’s both your short-term and long-term health and comfort that’s at risk.
As stated above, avoid busy areas which will require you to move or disrupt your workstation setup. The last thing you want to do is invest time in organizing your work area so that it is adjusted to your comfort and optimal posture only to have your efforts undone every day. It’s not efficient or effective.
Let’s be honest, you and I both know that you probably won’t spend the time readjusting your work area every day. So, if at all possible, choose a location that is only for your desk work.
Do take your office equipment home if you are allowed
Every employer has a duty of care to their employee, be it in the workplace or when working from home. Most employers do have the interests of their employees in mind and will often allow you to take office equipment and furniture home so that you can work in a safe and efficient manner.
If you don’t have a home office, office furniture or equipment at home, then it may be worth asking your supervisor or manager if you can borrow it while you work remotely.
Remember, if you don’t ask, the answer will always be no!
If you are constrained by the amount of equipment you can bring home, then at a minimum, a separate keyboard and mouse are cheap and small items that can greatly enhance your posture, especially if you work from a laptop.
Tip: If you need to work from home, especially for an extended period, ask your employer if they would consider purchasing you equipment so that you can work in a safer and healthier manner.
Do invest in an office chair if possible
Not everyone owns an ergonomic chair, and it may not be possible for you to take your office chair from work. Fortunately, adjustable chairs can be purchased at a reasonable price. They are an investment at the end of the day, so if you purchase a decent chair that’s comfortable and even a little aesthetically pleasing, you could easily find yourself using it regularly.
Plus, it’s much better for your back and posture than sitting on a couch!
Do use a separate mouse and keyboard if working from a laptop
The issue with working just from a laptop is that you need to deviate your neck downwards to view the screen. Or if you have the laptop propped up, you’re putting your hands, wrist and upper body at an awkward angle. Either way, neither option can achieve a neutral posture, nor is it comfortable. With a separate keyboard and mouse, you can achieve a more comfortable and ergonomic posture.
Simply prop your laptop up on something so that the top of the laptop is at the same height as your eyes. This could be something basic lying around the house, such as a stack of books or a box. Then position your keyboard and mouse beside the laptop.
You now have a workstation that could save you from turning into the hunchback of Notre Dame.
Do set a structured time plan for starting time, break times and finishing time
When you don’t have set routines, such as driving to and from work, it can be very easy to forget to log off in the evenings. Additionally, some people may feel that the lack of a commute means that they need to commit this extra time to working.
Before you know it, you’ve racked up an hour overtime over a couple of evenings and possibly skipped your lunch as well. It’s important that there are set hours in the day which you start and end work at.
Tip: An excellent way to use the time that you now have saved on commuting could be to take a walk after work. Not only does it get you out of the house, which you have spent a significant amount of extra time in, but it also gives you the impression that you are finishing work and means that you can close your laptop and leave.
When you arrive home from the walk, it resembles you coming home from your commute from work.
What’s more, you are likely to feel refreshed and less likely to saunter over to the laptop to check on emails.
Do follow the 20 / 20 /20 rule
With the amount of time spent staring at screens constantly rising, eye strain is becoming a condition that people are experiencing more and more often. Fortunately, a simple technique to minimize digital eyestrain is to adopt the 20 / 20 / 20 rule.
What is the 20 / 20 / 20 rule?
Essentially it means that every 20 minutes, you stare at something for 20 seconds that is 20 feet away. Just ensure that what you look at is not a digital screen. It does not have to be an unproductive 20 seconds either. This could be anything from signing or reviewing a paper document to reading a few notes that you have on a whiteboard or in your journal. It could even simply comprise of looking out the window.
I personally incorporate the 20 / 20 / 20 rule when I’m getting up from my desk to change my posture or to get a drink.
Tip: Setting a timer can be a useful aid to remind you to look away from your screen every 20 minutes.
Don’t use your couch or your bed as a workstation
Tempting and all as it may sound, using your bed or couch as a place to work is an ergonomic mortal sin that should be avoided at all costs. Your bed should be a haven dedicated to 2 sole purposes, intimacy and sleep.
When your bed starts to become associated with other activities, such as work activities, it mentally creates associations of you literally bringing your work to bed. This can make it difficult to turn off and forget about work when you eventually do use your bed for sleep.
From a posture perspective, it is very difficult to adopt a neutral posture. Whether it’s your neck being tilted forward by pillows, your legs lying flat and creating strain on your lower back, or worst of all, your back arching as you prop yourself up against the headboard of the bed, none of these positions are ideal.
Similar concerns arise when you use the sofa as a workplace. Sitting or lying on a soft, uneven surface offers little to no support for your back or limbs. Additionally, it can become tiring rather quickly to sit on a couch and you’ll regularly find yourself feeling the need to change position.
Keep reading to be treated to a guide where I share with you a cheat sheet to swiftly setting up your home office in just a matter of minutes.
Don’t take your breaks at your desk
Breaks are an excellent opportunity to take a quick stroll or even to get some jobs done around the house and get some time away from the screen to reduce eye strain.
I personally use my breaks to make food that I wouldn’t normally be able to have at work.
Don’t sit hunched over your laptop
It might sound tolerable, but after a couple of hours or even days in this posture, your body will likely give out signals of pain and discomfort. Remember, you might not experience pain straight away, but each time you embrace a poor posture, it can lead to microtraumas which build up over the years and potentially inflict pain or injury on you.
Don’t let your feet dangle
If you find that your chair doesn’t allow your feet to adequately reach the floor, this can lead to straining the back. If the height of the chair can’t be adjusted, you can avoid this common pitfall by finding a sturdy box to rest your feet upon.
Don’t work in a cold or poorly ventilated room
Working in cold rooms or areas with draughts compromises overall productivity, comfort, and most importantly, your health. You may even find that you are adjusting your position in an attempt to retain heat and this can lead to you deviating away from your neutral posture.
If the room you have chosen is cold or has draughts, consider investing in a portable heater and sealing any draughts. Additionally, find a section of the room that has fewer draughts; avoid setting your work area up near windows or doors as these areas are prone to being colder.
Don’t work in a room with inadequate or excessive lighting
Adequate lighting is essential to promoting a healthy posture. When there is poor lighting in an area, it can increase the risk of eyestrain. Furthermore, it can lead to poor posture as you may find yourself bending or leaning in to read a document or to see the buttons on your keyboard.
On the other hand, excessive lighting can also create a glare on your screen and can make it difficult to perform your work if the sun is shining in your eyes. You may also notice yourself bending or leaning to the side or forward to dodge the rays of sunlight beating into your eyes.
Tip: If you don’t already have blinds or curtains that you can close to block out the sun, consider investing in them. Alternatively, considering moving the orientation of your desk so that the sun doesn’t affect your work.
Don’t work in a cluttered environment
Messy or overcrowded work areas are not conducive to an inviting or comfortable work space. Clutter instills feelings of stress and anxiety which can in fact result in back pain. A portion of the time you dedicate to setting up your work environment should be assigned to tidying the area and putting your own stamp on it. This includes identifying items which could detract from you being able to achieve a neutral posture.
Considerations to bear in mind include the posture that you will need to adopt to reach items and documents, desk space available to you as you type and perform routine duties, e.g., reviewing documents.
Don’t ignore pain
The first couple of hours or days working at a new work space can dictate if the area is adequately organized to suit your body. Pay attention to any cues which may indicate that you are experiencing pain. In addition, if you find yourself becoming frequently tired in a certain position, examine the area setup and make some adjustments to improve it.
Tip: Ask somebody to observe you seated at your workstation and identify if there’s any deviations away from your neutral posture while in that stance. It can sometimes be difficult to spot this yourself.
With these 8 dos and don’ts of home office ergonomics, you are on a straight path to ergonomic success!
If this is your first time setting up your home office (or any work area for that manner), or even if you are simply looking for some cues to teach you all that you could possibly need to organize your area, then this cheat sheet will be your best friend:
Do you have a home office? Have you ever experienced pain or fatigue from sitting at your desk all day? Or have you any questions on any of the above content? I’d love to hear your queries and feedback in the comments below.