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In today’s digital age, the concept of the workplace has undergone a substantial transformation. With the rise of working remotely, many individuals find themselves adapting to the home office environment. While this shift offers flexibility and convenience, it also brings attention to an often-overlooked aspect: remote work ergonomics.
The essence of ergonomics lies in its definition as “an applied science dedicated to designing and arranging items used by people to ensure the most efficient and safe interaction between individuals and objects.”
The crucial aspects highlighted in this definition are efficiency and safety. Imagine yourself seated at your desk, engrossed in typing, and suddenly experiencing a sharp pain in your neck or back. Instantly, your focus shifts from completing the task to alleviating the discomfort.
An ergonomic setup is geared towards enabling you to work “efficiently and safely.” By safeguarding your body against injuries or recurring pain, you’re better equipped to concentrate on your tasks, consequently enhancing your efficiency and productivity as a worker.
Why Is It Important to Have Good Ergonomics When Working From Home?
Good ergonomics is vital for maintaining physical health, productivity, and overall well-being while working from home. Ergonomics is the science of designing and arranging things so that people can interact with them efficiently and safely. In remote work, this involves creating a space to work in that minimizes physical strain and promotes comfort, ultimately reducing the risk of musculoskeletal disorders such as back pain, neck strain, and repetitive stress injuries.
What Are the Ergonomic Hazards of Working From Home?
Extended periods of sitting in uncomfortable positions can result in poor posture, leading to discomfort in the back, neck, and shoulders. Additionally, utilizing improper or poorly adjusted furniture and equipment, like chairs, desks, or monitors, can contribute to strain and discomfort.
Furthermore, engaging in repetitive tasks without breaks or in awkward positions can cause strain on muscles and joints, exacerbating the risk of discomfort and injury.
How Do You Set up an Ergonomic Work Surface From Home?
When creating a home office setup while working remotely, starting with an actual desk simplifies the process. Yet, in the current scenario, many individuals employ makeshift work surfaces due to unconventional work-from-home situations. Whether it’s a dining table, TV tray, or kitchen counter, it’s crucial to ensure that your chosen “desk” does not induce posture problems.
Work Surface Height
Your desk should ideally allow comfortable accommodation for your knees, and thighs underneath without necessitating pressing your legs together or causing knee collisions. If your current setup doesn’t facilitate this comfort, experimenting with various “desk” options until finding the right fit becomes essential.
If the feet fail to fully rest on the ground after adjusting the seat height accordingly, a footrest might be necessary. This footrest should offer adjustable height and inclination, along with a nonskid surface area spacious enough to accommodate it comfortably, preventing any slippage off the footrest.
The keyboard and mouse should align with your seated elbow height. The ASDF row should be at the elbow height for a sitting or standing workstation. Sit at your designated workspace, let your arms rest naturally by your sides, and then flex your elbows.
Typing with your arms extended (elbows slightly in front of your body yet close to your sides) defines the suitable height for your work surface. Your forearms should be approximately parallel to the floor, make sure to adjust your setup accordingly.
Certain desks offer height adjustment features, but in the absence of an adjustable desk or while improvising, using books or a sturdy box to elevate your work surface suffices. Conversely, if the work surface sits too high, adjusting your seat upward or using a cushion or books to elevate your seating aids in achieving the desired alignment.
Having an adjustable office seat while working remotely is advantageous for optimizing your work-from-home ergonomics. However, merely having such a seat doesn’t guarantee it’s adjusted correctly. If you lack an office seat, there are alternative ways to enhance the ergonomic quality of a kitchen or dining room seat.
Prioritize Spinal Support
Regardless of the chair type, prioritize a seat that supports your spine’s neutral posture, a natural S-shape. Start by ensuring proper seating alignment from bottom to top.
Attain a proper posture while performing sitting or standing work; a neutral seated posture should include sitting with the neck straight, shoulders straight down loosely at the sides, elbows at a right angle, wrists, and low back supported on the backrest of the chair, 90 degrees at the hips, 90 degrees at the knees.
Your feet should be leveled on the floor and your thighs should be approximately parallel to the floor while maintaining an even sitting position without tilting to either side. Strive to keep your thighs parallel to the floor or position your knees at hip height.
However, adjusting the seat height for proper arm alignment with the keyboard might leave your feet hanging. In such cases, explore solutions like using shoes with flat heels to achieve a balance between chair height and foot support.
Properly adjust the seat back to provide ample support for the lower back (lumbar area) and mid-back. Make necessary adjustments to the seat back height, angle, and tilt tension, then sit back in the seat to ensure comfort and support. Alternatively, consider a footrest, step stool, or stack of books to maintain optimal sitting posture.
While an ergonomic office chair often features lower back support, typical kitchen chairs lack this feature. For a neutral spine, try placing a rolled-up towel or small pillow in the lower back area for additional support.
Set the chair or seat height to ensure that the thighs are roughly parallel to the floor, allowing the feet to lay leveled either on the ground or on a footrest. Ensure the seat pan does not compress the back of the thighs. The depth of your seat pan should allow the backs of your knees to extend beyond the edge of your seat.
Properly adjust the seat back to provide ample support for the lower back (lumbar area) and mid-back. Make necessary adjustments to the seat back height, angle, and tilt tension, then sit back in the seat to ensure comfort and support.
Although laptops offer portability, they lack ergonomic advantages and proper support. The inherent issue with laptops is the inseparable connection between the display and laptop keyboard, preventing ideal ergonomic arrangement.
While short-term laptop use is acceptable, extended usage throughout a workday can be detrimental to your body. Nevertheless, several adjustments can enhance laptop ergonomics during prolonged usage. Even with a desktop and separate keyboard, external mouse, and monitor, correct positioning remains crucial to prevent strain.
The placement of your external monitor(s) in your remote work office varies depending on the number used. However, specific guidelines apply irrespective of the monitor count.
Primarily, the monitor’s top edge should align with or be a little below eye level. When focusing on the screen’s center, your gaze should naturally angle downward, allowing a straight neck while viewing the top third of the display. If adjusting causes nape bending up or down, reassess the display’s placement.
If your monitor lacks height adjustability or reaches its maximum height, a laptop stand, monitor riser, books, or boxes, can assist with proper monitor alignment. Place the monitor between 20 to 40 inches away (roughly at arm’s length) from the face so the top of the screen is at or below the level of your eyes.
Make sure to give the eyes frequent breaks. Conversely, if the monitor is too high, raising your seat or altering seating elevation assists in achieving the appropriate alignment.
Maintain an arm’s length distance from the screen to enable a comprehensive view without head movements. If visibility remains an issue even at this distance, consider enlarging the text or adjusting your glasses.
Additionally, tweak the display tilt to reduce glare and ensure proper head positioning. A 10 to 20-degree tilt typically suffices, although bifocal users might require a 30 to 40-degree tilt to utilize their lenses comfortably without straining the neck.
Avoid Direct Light in Your Set-Up
Avoid direct lighting on the computer screen to minimize harsh glare. Opt for indirect lighting positioned to the side for a gentler and less straining illumination. For setups involving multiple monitors, specific positioning principles apply:
- For a single computer screen, center it directly in front of you.
- For two screens, align them side by side without gaps. If both screens are equally used, they should meet at your eye level’s midpoint. In case of varied usage, offset the less used screen to the side while slightly tilting both displays inwards.
- For three computer screens, position the primary display centrally, flanked by the other two without gaps, all lightly angled inwards.
Laptops make monitor arrangement a challenge, so if possible, connect the laptop to an alternate screen.
Laptop Screen Arrangement
When using a laptop in your work area, aligning the screen at the right ergonomic level becomes crucial. Elevate the laptop to eye level by placing it on a support. Those who must work off a laptop directly should take more frequent periodic microbreaks to avoid prolonged typing.
However, this might affect typing comfort, necessitating the use of an external keyboard and mouse during long periods of laptop usage. Make sure to connect your laptop to an external display whenever possible. If you do not have a monitor at home, discuss bringing your computer monitor home with your manager. This allows the laptop display to be positioned and elevated to eye level.
Get an External Keyboard and Keyboard Tray
Setting the keyboard at elbow height is just the initial step for proper ergonomics. To ascertain the correct height, place it in the space that you work in and type a few lines. While typing, keep your wrists straight and keep your upper arms close to your body without strain.
Upon achieving the correct height, adjust the keyboard for optimal distance. Avoid placing it too close or requiring overreaching. Typing should allow your elbows to hang naturally without discomfort. Employing a wrist rest or improvised alternatives like a rice-filled sock might aid in achieving a suitable arrangement.
Use a leveled or “negative tilt” keyboard. Many keyboards tilt upward, causing wrist strain. Flat keyboards facilitate straight wrist alignment, while negative tilt keyboards slope away from the user, enhancing wrist placement.
Position the mouse within easy reach near the keyboard without necessitating body overextension. Preferably, place it adjacent to and slightly ahead of your dominant hand while avoiding keyboards with attached numeric keypads.
Consider acquiring a mouse riser to elevate it without occupying desk space or affecting keyboard placement.
What Are Three Good Ergonomic Practices for Working in a Home Office?
Proper Chair and Desk Setup
Invest in an ergonomic chair for your work area that supports the natural curve of your spine and ensures your feet rest flat on the floor. Adjust your desk height so that your arms form a 90-degree slant when typing, and your monitor is at eye level to reduce neck strain.
Take Breaks and Move
Incorporate regular breaks into your work routine. Take micro-breaks and follow the 20-20-20 rule. i.e. take a 20-second break every 20 minutes by looking at things at least 20 feet away. Stand up, take stretch breaks, or take short walks to prevent stiffness, reduce eye strain, and improve circulation.
Maintain Proper Posture
Sit upright with your back against the seat, shoulders relaxed, and elbows close to your body. Avoid slouching or leaning forward to minimize strain on your muscles.
Prioritizing good ergonomics when working from home is crucial for fostering a healthy and productive work environment. By implementing ergonomic practices and setting up your home office thoughtfully, you can mitigate the risks of discomfort and injury while optimizing your performance and well-being in the remote work landscape.