Working from home: Ergonomic considerations

Working from home: Ergonomics

Today’s world of constant digital contact has forever altered the nature of work. According to the latest benefits survey from The Society for Human Resource Management, 60% of companies now offer some form of telecommuting.  This might include working remotely on an occasional or regular basis. Two decades ago, this was 20 percent. And American employees are taking advantage.

In a Gallup poll this year, 43% of Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely. Combine this with entrepreneurs, people that running an online business out of their home or other side hustles, and this trend will only continue to grow.

However, it is important to consider that working from the comforts of your home is not always comfortable. Much has been said regarding professional workstation ergonomics. The majority of these discussions are geared towards office workstations where the employee likely has a designated workstation with a desktop computer and comfortable (or not so comfortable) office chair.

Working from home: The problems

Proper ergonomics need not be exclusive to an office. It should extend to wherever you work from, whether it be your home or the coffee shop. Most of the concepts on proper ergonomics can be applied to any workplace. However, there are some important things to consider when working from your home.

When we examine the average home workstation, very few have a separate home office and desk. A more typical set up is them slouched over a laptop on the couch or at the kitchen table. Maybe they even just work on their laptop while lying in bed. Laptop use can lead to an array of both immediate and long-term injuries.

People tend to want to keep a normal distance from their eyes to the laptop screen.  So they sit some distance away from the laptop, and then reach for the keyboard to type. This reaching position of the arms and shoulders, forces you into a rounded sitting posture.  This weak posture puts excessive stress on the upper body and neck.  What we feel here is that the muscles being loaded, are constantly loaded.  They become hypoxic, too tense to allow oxygenated blood in.  They turn acidic and ache.

Work from home: Ergonomic Solutions

Modern laptops feature a tradeoff, a smaller tighter keyboard in exchange for improvements weight, size and battery. This is a great deal for the casual user, but the frequent user in a home workstation situation would seriously benefit from a few simple changes.  A dedicated separate keyboard and mouse, and an elevated screen can go a long ways.

It is nearly impossible to have good posture when using a keyboard fixed to the laptop. If the budget allows, a larger dedicated monitor can easily be used to mirror the laptop as well. Our bodies might like carrying a 13in laptop, but our eyes might prefer a considerably larger screen.

Thus, perhaps the most important tip we can offer when working from home is to have a designated workstation with a comfortable chair. While this would preferably be a height adjustable desk, not everyone has space or budget for a freestanding desk in their home. If that is the case, set up your workstation on a stable flat surface such as a kitchen/dining table or a countertop.  It is ideal to also have an adjustable office chair to get the proper body positioning and height when sitting, especially if you’re using a surface that is not height adjustable.

That is not to say there are not MASSIVE benefits to working from home.  I’ll always argue that the worst posture is the one you linger in for too long.  Working from home allows to you to comfortably take breaks, change positions or knock out some quick home exercises and stretches, relieving postural strain.  But those are all “positive things.”  If we don’t control and mitigate the negative stressors, we are always playing catch up!

Despite the poor ergonomics inherent to laptops, there are certain steps you can take to improve your ergonomics when using a laptop.

  • If your laptop is your main computer, use a keyboard that you link to your laptop, instead of the laptop’s keyboard.
  • Depending on your usage patterns and eyesight a dedicated mouse and monitor might be worthwhile
  • Place a stand underneath the laptop so that the screen/monitor is at the optimal height that aligns with your eyes.
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