An office environment is designed so we don’t have to think about the little things, all we have to do is go into our space and get the work done. When working from home, however, all of a sudden we find ourselves having to think what equipment is available, what is the best worktop and chair to use and how to overcome all the other challenges like limited space, extra people in the house and privacy. Let us take a look at what working from home entails and what we might be doing wrong –
THINGS WE TAKE FOR GRANTED
In terms of office equipment, it really is the case of ‘we don’t realise how much we miss it until it’s gone’. The quality of our chair and desk is something that has become so important to us when we realise that they are no longer available. What most people have done in this situation is to put the equipment first, rather than their body position. What this means is, if the screen is too low, then they will lower their neck and head to the screen; if the chair is too low for the table, people will try and to sit the edge of the chair and straighten themselves up to reach the keyboard and mouse.
By trying to force ourselves to fit the workspace, we create excessive tensions in other parts of the body that will manifest themselves as aches and pains. For people who may have been experiencing a few issues in the regular office, these problems are often amplified in the home office environment.
Knowing where to start is the best approach. Instead of changing your body position to suit your work area and equipment, put your body position first and move everything around you. When setting up a workspace, most people consider the feet flat on the ground to be the number one consideration. Unfortunately, it is not.
The most important consideration is the position of the elbows. This means that the elbows should not be below or above the level of the desk. They should be in line with the worktop. If the elbows are too low, then we have to shrug the shoulders up and this can lead to a lot of tension building around the neck and the tops of the shoulders. We simply cannot hold our shoulders that high for 8-10 hours per day. Our muscles will fatigue and then give out!
In the home environment, we often have to get creative and make adaptations that we wouldn’t normally have to in the office space. Knowing that we have to put ourselves first and make changes around this is the best place to begin our understanding. So with this in mind, follow these 6 steps to set up your Home Office:
HOME OFFICE PITFALLS
Hoping that our bodies stand up to the extra pressures of home working is not the best approach. We need to take the necessary steps to ensure that utilise what we have and maintain our health. Two of the biggest issues that are recurring in the workspace are:
- Using a narrow desk or work area
- Unsuitable equipment
Firstly, we find many people short of space in the home environment. This means they will maximise their space by trying to work on small surfaces. The most important workspace dimensions are the depth of the desk (at least 80cm) and the width (at least 100cm minimum). The desk depth is so important because you need the desk to support your arms. If the desk is too narrow, people will often move themselves back and reach the keyboard leaving their arms unsupported. This can have a very negative effect on the neck, shoulders and mid-back area and they will get very tired, quickly. The arms are about 8% of our body weight. The further they are away from the body and the less support they have, the more pressure they exert on us, especially over an 8-10 hour workday.
Desk width has a similar importance. 100cm is recommended because this is the space required to comfortably fit a standard keyboard and mouse side by side and fully support the arms. Anything under this will often mean squeezing these items into an area and then moving the mouse or keyboard further away to accommodate the other. What is most commonly the effect of this is one-sided neck pain or shoulder pain. In the regular office, we normally don’t have to think about the dimensions of our desk. In the home office, we must. If we deviate from them, it can lead to negative consequences.
Secondly, we have to be very conscious of the equipment we use at home. We need to be creative at times and use what we have available to the fullest rather than put it to the back of our list of priorities.
In many cases when we are experiencing an issue, we are quick to think about changing our pillows and/or mattress before we consider that it might be how we sit and work at our desk. We spend anything up to eight hours sitting at desk per day, it stands to reason that it could be a big contributor to any problem that we are having.
Purchasing equipment is the same as buying a good mattress or a comfortable pair of shoes. It is an investment and so if your choice is correct, it can have very positive effects and a high return on your investment. We feel the effects of sleeping on a bad mattress or walking in a pair of shoes that don’t fit, show very quickly. But often, using equipment that doesn’t suit us takes longer to show its effects but the end result is often the same. So if you are going to work from home in the future, it is worth getting it right.
“Over 60 per cent of the people say that they’d see a significant increase in their work-life balance if they were able to work remotely.”The Irish Times 2019
Going forward, working from home will become a much bigger part of our working lives. Now that we have shown that it can be done – people have seen the benefits of avoiding the long commute, utilising video call meetings and all the other technologies that are out there – we just need to give the home office the same care and attention as the regular office. Learning how to set up your home office space, investing in the equipment that you need and most importantly putting your health and wellbeing first is the best approach to this new practice.
MEET OUR GUEST BLOGGER: BRIAN CRINION
Brian is a chartered physiotherapist specialising in Workplace ergonomics. He is the founder and Director of Spectrum Optimise, a physiotherapy led service delivering standard and specialised workstation assessments to over 50 companies in Ireland. Having carried out over 5,000 standard and specialised workstation assessments, Brian finds that there is much crossover between the disciplines of Physiotherapy and Ergonomics. When working in physiotherapy clinics, it became very clear to Brian where the root of a lot of people’s pains and aches were coming from in modern society and so he created this service to help people in the working environment and at their workstations.