The Coronavirus pandemic has forced a lot of workers to set up a working from home ‘office’. As we approach the one-year-on mark, from when the government ordered people to stay at home, some people may have adapted well to the change. Whereas others may still be struggling with an unsuitable working set up, perhaps working from the kitchen table or with a laptop precariously balanced on the sofa.
Whilst we hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight, thanks to the nationwide roll out of several vaccines. Some workplaces may have taken the decision to continue working remotely for the foreseeable future. Now is a great time to check in on your working from home set up and assess whether it could be improved.
What is ergonomics?
Ergonomics is the scientific study of interactions between humans and other factors (environment, task and device) that can play a part when attempting to complete an activity. When thinking about ergonomics for our jobs, whether they be at home or in an office, it aims to fit the job to the person, rather than the other way round.
Good ergonomics brings together the task, environment and the equipment being used. Your at-home workstation set up can have a significant impact on how you feel and your productivity levels. A well adjusted at-home work station has the potential to increase productivity and even decrease sick days.
It’s not practical to think that everyone has the space for an office within their home. But trying to carve out a practical space is a good idea. Working from your bed or sofa could disrupt your posture and thus impact your productivity.
Aim for a neutral sitting position
A sofa or a bed will not allow your body to maintain a neutral sitting position. This is where minimal strain is placed on any of your muscles and joints.
To achieve a neutral sitting position, you should ensure:
- Feet are flat on the floor.
- Legs are not crossed.
- Feet and knees are hip width apart.
- The back is not rounded or overextended.
- The head, shoulders and hips form a vertical line.
The position you hold your body in when working can significantly impact how you feel on a daily basis. Good posture can reduce the risk of aches and strains and may even contribute to a better mood.
Setting up your work from home space
If you are using a computer or laptop at home for hours at a time then it is important that you take steps to ensure that you have the best possible work area, under the circumstances. Workstations that are poorly set up can lead to injury or long term pain.
Let’s take a look at the different components that you may wish to think about when setting up your work from home station:
A good quality chair should support the curves of your back and be comfortable to sit on. Ideally you should be able to adjust the chair height so that your thighs are parallel to the floor, knees are at approximately 90 degrees and that your feet rest flat on the floor. Not everyone will have access to an office-style chair but something sturdy and with a back support is a good start. Dining chairs can be suitable and made more comfortable with cushions.
If your chair has armrests they should not force your arms out of the neutral position.
Keyboard and mouse
Input devices that are frequently used with your computer, such as keyboards and mice, should be within easy reach. Lots of people will be using laptops and it’s still important to use them without impeding your neutral body position.
Your keyboard and mouse should be positioned so that you can use them with your forearms parallel to the desk, with an approximate 90 degree angle at the elbow. If possible alternate your mouse between the left and right sides.
Your computer screen should be well lit and allow you to focus on the words and images without having to strain your eyes. The lighting in the room should not cause glare on your screen. The screen should be approximately an arm’s length away directly in front of you. The top of the monitor should be level with your eyes.
If you use more than one monitor, the screens should be placed close together and at the same height. This should help to minimise head and neck movements.
Focusing on your computer screen for hours on end can lead to eye fatigue and headaches. You should aim to look away from your screen, and focus on something that is at a different distance from your eyes, every so often.
If you use a telephone on a regular basis, or have to talk and type at the same time, then you may benefit from using a headset device. If a headset is not available you should refrain from holding the phone between your shoulder and your neck, as this could lead to repetitive strain injury.
Your telephone should be within easy reach to prevent overstretching.
The space underneath your work area should be clear. It should allow you to comfortably fit your lower body when you are seated on your chair. The desk should be big enough to accommodate the input devices you use as well as any other important items.
How to maintain health when working from home
When working from home it can be all too easy to stay rooted to your desk. But it is very important to take regular short breaks away from your screen, throughout the day. Stationary positions can inhibit blood flow and lead to aches and pains.
Movement and stretching can help to alleviate potential musculoskeletal problems and prevent repetitive strain injuries. You should try and move about and stretch different muscles every hour if possible.
This can be as simple as getting up and walking to get a drink, taking some rubbish to the bin or having a nosey at what your neighbours are doing.
Why having a good workstation set up is important
You should feel happy and comfortable when you’re working, especially during these stressful and often testing times.
If your workstation is not set up with you and your task in mind then it is possible it could lead to injury and/or ill health.