As businesses continue to create hybrid working spaces, the time spent working from home increases. Therefore, creating a functional space that is efficient and healthy is essential.
According to research from Microsoft in association with the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development), almost 9 out of 10 (87%) say their businesses have adapted to hybrid working. Most leaders have evolved their work from home policies to support staff and their wellbeing, which has required looking at everything from employee benefits to training to roles and responsibilities.
These new policies should also include how their staff work from home. Traditional office spaces could be designed to support workers, but when individuals are also working from home, they must have safe and healthy working spaces. Working efficiently means working smarter and choosing the right components to create the ideal working environment.
How to set up your workstation
Workers that spend extended periods at their desks risk MSDs (Musculoskeletal Disorders) which can include RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) and lower back and neck pain. Setting up a workstation is critical to avoid these risks. The Health and Safety Executive has information about mitigating risks and an employer’s responsibilities.
Ergonomics is the application of psychological and physiological principles to the design of products. In practice, this means choosing the right keyboard, for example, but also learning how to use each device to minimise the potential negative impacts they can have on a worker’s health.
Regardless of how good your posture may be, sitting still for long periods isn’t healthy. It would help if you made minor adjustments to your posture about every 15 minutes by changing the height of your chair slightly or leaning back a little further into the backrest. More significant changes in posture are also important. For example, stand up and stretch or walk around for one or two minutes every hour. If you forget, set a reminder on your phone.
When considering ergonomics, simple changes to how a worker behaves can often deliver the most dramatic results. For instance, wrist posture may be incorrect when using the keyboard or mouse. The keyboard angle may be too acute, forcing wrists to be compressed, and causing discomfort. A wrist support or an armrest attached to a chair or sitting to gain more support from your desk will help.
This kind of discomfort that could be felt can be related to overreaching from a sitting position or due to the incorrect height of your keyboard or mouse. It’s vitally important to invest in an ergonomically sound chair. Just think about the hours workers will sit at their PCs or laptops. An adjustable chair with good lumbar support set at the correct height is a must. This is one of the most important tools for home-based workforces. Muscle cramps, aching or numbness could also be caused by an inappropriate seating position and may call for a footrest or more legroom under the desk.
Creating a comfortable environment with artwork or using colour in a working space can also be beneficial. Music, plants or an aquarium all help to enhance the environment. Ensure that a worker’s desk is positioned at right angles to the window in their workroom. If this can’t be done, locating the desk in front of the window and controlling the light level with a blind or curtain will also work well.
Clutter in a working space can, in itself, become a distraction and a source of stress. Organisation is a skill that can be learnt. It comes down to having a system for where items or materials should go. When arranging office shelving, place those items used most frequently nearest the work area to reduce the amount of frequent, awkward overhead reaching.
It is easy to underestimate the amount of space you need to create an ergonomic working environment at home. Even if a worker’s primary computer is a laptop, they will need several square metres of space to design a good ergonomically sound working area. Standard computers with a separate monitor and keyboard typically need two square metres of space to be correctly set up.
Remember adequate lighting and temperature controls. Lighting should be between 2-500 lux for PC use. Adequate lighting helps to reduce eyestrain, neck pain, headaches, and fatigue. Temperature is an important variable. Excessive temperatures can have an impact on the body and its fatigue levels. A recommended office temperature is 20-21 degrees C in the summer and 22-24 degrees C in the winter. And a humidity of 40-60% is also recommended.
The workstation that you have set up at work or home should be looked at closely if you are to design a healthy working environment that will allow you to avoid contracting any MSDs. If you have dismissed some neck, back or arm ache as just part of your job, think again. Paying attention to these issues now will ensure you avoid more serious – and potentially chronic issues – in the future.
With so much equipment to choose from, it can be challenging to locate the ideal peripherals to create a productive and healthy workspace at home. Therefore, silicon has gathered the best of the current hardware that can be used to create a comfortable, productive and healthy working space at home.
Over the last few years, there has been a trend for sit/stand desks that allow you to adjust the height of these desks at the touch of a button. Sit/stand desks can be beneficial, as standing for regular periods has been proven to help support long-term fitness.
I chose the Ikea Bekant desk as it fitted in the space my old desk occupied and was economical to buy. Having read several conflicting stories about the benefits of a sit/stand desk, I decided the only way to know for sure was to test it myself.
As a veteran Ikea builder the desk was fast and straightforward to put together. Once completed, I thought about cable management, as this is a constant problem in my office. The desk comes with a hammock that fits under the desk to route cables away from your feet, avoiding trip accidents.
Of course, the critical aspect of this desk is how the sit/stand mechanism works. This is smooth when moving up and down. Simply pressing and holding the control buttons activates the motors built into the table’s legs. The first time you move the desk is a revelation, having not stood at a desk to do any work before.
My desk has two 31″ monitors on it that I used as dual monitors – more about monitors later. The desk is solid enough to support them without any issues. When seated at the desk with the lifting mechanism closed, the desk behaved like my old Ikea desk. And if you can’t use a sit/stand desk, you can augment a static desk with a platform that can be raised and lowered.
Also, this desk is ideal for me as I am 5′ 7″ tall. The desk’s maximum height is well within what I call a comfortable height when standing. However, if you are over six-foot tall, this desk might need to go higher for you to work comfortably, which would defeat the point of having the desk. And at its maximum height of 125cm, it might be too unstable if you have large monitors on your desk as I do. Try and test in person any sit/stand desk you are considering buying before committing to it.
Having used the desk for over a year, I have been steadily increasing my time standing at the desk. I am more comfortable seated when I need to type for more extended periods. But when I am doing general work at my workstation, I stand.
The question, of course, is, do I feel any fitter? I believe my overall fitness is much better than it was. Less back and neck pain for sure. The sit/stand debate continues, but the current setup is a vast improvement over a static desk.
A chair should be height adjustable and fit easily under the desk. The chair height should be adjusted so that your forearms are horizontal with your elbows. In addition, your feet should be squarely on the floor, not dangling from your chair. Buy a footrest if your feet don’t touch the floor after adjusting the chair for your ideal typing position. Also, ensure that your lower back is properly supported when you sit upright in the chair.
I have been working as a journalist for over 35 years. During that time, I have owned many chairs. As a result, the ergonomic furniture market is awash with chairs that all state they can help with posture.
My current choice once again comes from Ikea. The ALEFJÄLL. A straightforward design, yet the chair has all the adjustments needed to ensure I can sit for long periods. The construction is solid, with quality materials used throughout. The comfort level is excellent. Chairs are, of course, highly subjective to the user. Try and test any chair you are considering. Buying online without seeing how the chair feels to you, could mean lots of returns until you locate a chair you like.
Also, depending on your height, using a footrest may be vital. For example, I use a footrest when seated to ensure my feet touch the floor. This is essential to minimise potential issues with back aches. In addition, the footrest gives your feet a platform to rest on, relieving stress and tension in your joints.
For years I have used a dual monitor setup. My current configuration is two 31-inch LG monitors linked to an M1 Mac Mini. Two monitors give more real estate allowing multiple windows to be open at once. This saves hours of time opening and closing windows and enables you to develop a working process that uses the ample monitor space.
The ergonomic aspect of larger dual monitors should be considered. Once set up correctly, fatigue and eye strain are kept to a minimum. And the Ikea Bekant desk is deep enough to move the monitors to the correct user position. LG also have their Ergo Monitors, which offer masses of flexibility that you need to create an efficient working space.
For none touch typists, a split keyboard can be helpful and also reduce the risk of RSI. The Microsoft Ergonomic keyboard is a good example. The idea is that you learn how to divide your typing between both hands, which reduces the strain on your wrists.
Others favour mechanical keyboards that have keys that travel much further than Chiclet keyboards, such as those from Apple and Logitech. And some designs are very unusual, including the Kinesis Gaming keyboard and the Moonlander keyboard from Ergodox.
How you interact with your PC via a mouse and keyboard should also be paid attention to. All mice and keyboards are not made the same. Also, many of us were not taught to touch type. Choosing the right keyboard that is comfortable will be a personal choice.
As keyboards come in all shapes and sizes, the mouse you use will also be a personal preference. But when it comes to ergonomics, it’s important to ensure you are not using a mouse that is more form over function, which is a criticism levelled at some peripheral developers.
Traditional computer mice, such as the MX range from Logitech, have evolved over several years. Also, vertical mice are available. However, many users favour trackballs over traditional mice. And some users prefer a trackpad. As with any peripheral, it’s a personal choice, and how these devices perform will lead you to the perfect mouse.
For many remote workers, their primary computer will not be a desktop. Notebook PCs now have massive power, can easily replace their desktop counterparts, and are, of course, portable. However, using a notebook PC for long periods can also increase your risk of MSDs. Attach a full-sized keyboard and larger external monitor to reduce these risks. Also, use a separate mouse instead of the trackpad.
The recent CES saw developers such as Lenovo unveiling their next-generation notebooks. Their Yoga Book 9i sports dual OLED screens. Powered by the latest generation of Intel Core processors, these thin and light laptops, built on the Intel Evo platform, are designed and engineered to provide seamless communication experiences across a wide range of apps while minimising the impact on responsiveness, battery life, and connectivity.
Laptops, of course, are designed to be portable. If you must use one on the move, try avoiding using the PC in your car. Twisting your body so you can type with your laptop on the passenger seat is a recipe for chronic MSD problems. And if you need to input large quantities of text into your phone, invest in a Bluetooth keyboard.
Ultimately, creating a productive and safe working environment at home means paying attention to many factors. Every aspect of your working space, from lighting to the colour you paint your walls to the technologies you choose, are all elements when designing an ergonomic space.
Take your time to test the critical pieces of hardware you need to use daily. Ask yourself if they are comfortable and don’t cause issues when you finish work. If you have eye strain, or any pain in your neck, back and limbs, you need to make some changes today.