Companies across the globe are rolling out work from home/remote work protocols amid the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Even if the number of new cases were to decline, chances are remote working may last for longer to ensure the health and safety of employees worldwide.
In these uncertain times, it is essential to keep your productivity at its highest to ensure business profitability and allow your business/employer to stay afloat. Lying in bed with your computer or simply sitting in any old chair will not lend any help to improve your productivity, and in the long term will definitely do more harm than good. A home office promotes an ideal working environment and is essential for any home regardless of the current crisis. That said, it has now become more relevant than ever to publish a guideline to setup a perfect home office environment. As such, this blog-post series will detail the aspects to consider when creating your ideal work space within your home.
All things considered, it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure the appropriate knowledge and adequate support is provided to employees working at home to ensure they are able to provide maximum productivity and further, the responsibility of the employee to follow guidelines recommended by the employers to maintain peak performance during these times.
As mentioned earlier, in this blog post we will discuss the various aspects one must consider when setting up an ideal work environment at home. This will entail topics related to ideal furniture or accessories to retrofit your furniture for office work, computer accessories to make working easier, etc.
With the need to work from home continuously for weeks on end, a makeshift home office setup may not be sufficient. A good work desk and chair is no longer a luxury but a necessity to perform well at your job. When aiming for productivity, working without a desk and chair is not an option. Postural problems and eye strain will not only set you back in the short term but they can also have long term detrimental effects. Please read the following sections to gain an overview of factors to consider when looking for the ideal home office furniture.
Office desks can be any work surface or makeshift space you use to conduct most of your work related tasks. There are many different options when on the lookout for desking solutions in the market these days. The various options include but are not limited to built-in desks, wall-facing desks, and free-standing desks. Built-in desks make the most use of a space as they will be custom-made to fit a space. Most ready-made freestanding rectangular desks normally has a range of preset width-to-depth combinations such as 120x60cm, 160x80cm, etc. and a height between 74 and 76cm. That said, office desks come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The ideal home office desk size would be the largest you can fit within your selected space. Keep in mind some space to move around a free-standing desk, and about 1m space behind any kind of desk to accommodate seating. Please look into the other factors discussed in the previous post regarding lighting, climate control and accessibility for help to decide on where within your home to setup your home office.
As is the case with desks, one can make use of any type of seating at their disposal to sit while working as long as it’s comfortable to sit long hours in. A chair that promotes poor posture can have very bad effects on your health both short term and in the long run. Not to mention its effect on your productivity.
A good office chair will have a headrest, arm rest, swivel, lumbar support, and good breathable fabric backing. While a headrest provides support to rest our head while performing repetitive tasks and arm rests provide support for our arms, a swivel allows us to have access to all areas of the desk so we don’t end up straining ourselves, the lumbar support relieves strain on the small inward curve in our lumbar spine, and a good breathable fabric material prevents the seat from becoming too hot and uncomfortable from sitting for long hours. A great office chair will have adjustability for every aspect ranging from the seat height, seat depth and angle, height and depth of the lumbar support, angle of the backrest, and finally the direction and height of the arm rest. These levels of adjustability ensures the chair can be customized to the users requirements and thereby reduce strain on any one part of your body diminishing long lasting aches, and injuries from strain. Above all, it is good practice to try out the chair before purchasing as seat widths and the level of cushioning are not easily adjustable aspects.
ZONING/ORGANIZING THE WORK SURFACE
Clutter hinders efficiency, so once you have figured out where to setup your workspace and have the right desk and chair picked out, look for ways to maintain a clean and simple work surface through easy and efficient tools. As opposed to the other elements, workspace organizing/decluttering provides more of a psychological relief than a biomechanical one. Highly organized workspaces have been found to reduce stress, save time, promote creativity, and increase productivity as a result. Above all, a clean desk projects professionalism.
For these reasons and more, it is highly recommended to firstly zone your desk/work surface to help organize it. The layout should leave aside the desk-space right ahead of you for a laptop/ monitor for the computer you use, some space on your dominant-side for items of most frequent use like a phone, or essential stationary, some paper-sized blank-space/unused real-estate on your dominant side for reading/reviewing/signing important documents, and some type of filing system/paper tray to store relevant documents that require review often. Any items that do not have frequent use when working should be stored outside the work surface but nearby, like documents, computer accessories, stationary, etc. Keeping your office storage organized is essential too when having to locate these items. Prioritize documents on the basis of their urgency and importance, and above all keep it relevant. Weekly or bi-weekly review of the items on your desk is what will maintain this organized layout and keep your productivity up. That said, one must be wary of going overboard as beyond a point the task of organizing itself may hinder your productivity.
Computers have vastly increased our ability to perform complex tasks with ease but with complex solutions arise complex problems. Although creating a world of opportunity at our fingertips, eventually making it the backbone of our daily work-life and allowing us to work remotely without much trouble, computers are mass produced and are not personalized to ensure the wellbeing of every user.
Over the decades mobile computers have become less expensive and more commonly available. So much so, that they are beginning to overshadow desktops, the original personal computers. Laptops come with a range of advantages including but not limited to the fact that they are mobile and do not always need a physical stand and other accessories to use. This along with the fact that they can are battery powered, allow users the freedom to use them without the need for any desk or chair traditional to work environments. The more people embrace this freedom, the more we tend to notice incidents of complex health problems and chronic aches among users. The main culprit for this is poor posture when using computers which arises because although most of us have learnt how to work a computer, not many have been educated on the rules to minimize risk when using a computer.
Working from home can be tempting to work from the couch or bed, but over time this can have devastating effects on you. Even working from a desk can lead to chronic neck/back pain through bad posture. Few basic computer accessories can make all the difference towards ergonomic computing practices that will significantly reduce lapses in productivity. Ensure the top of your screen/ monitor is at or slightly below eye level so you have to look slightly downward to read the middle of your screen. Ideally, the monitor must be right in front, at least 51cm (approximately at arm’s length) from your eyes, with larger screens being set further away. If you don’t already own one, invest in a monitor with adjustable height or a laptop stand to raise the laptop screen. A tilt-able screen would be even better to avoid glare. If you are working with a laptop stand, invest in a keyboard and mouse. Ensure the keyboard stays at a similar height to your elbows and look to invest in an adjustable keyboard tray for better flexibility. When using a mouse, maintain the same height as your keyboard and if you are a heavy user, alleviate the stress on your wrist by investing in an ergonomic mouse pad.
Ergonomics is the branch of science which deals with the design of spaces, products and systems to fit the people who use them. It uses data from a variety of fields ranging from anthropometry, biomechanics and environmental physics, to applied and social psychology. This branch of science helps reduce stress and strain leading to injury from the use of a space, product or system.
With the progress of ergonomics, there now exists off-the-shelf office furniture that would otherwise never allow customizability to suit each and every user. Ergonomic chairs will be sturdy enough to provide all the necessary support while being flexible enough to fit the user perfectly without hindering his/her movement. Ergonomic desks will allow users to fine tune its height to perfectly suit the user while keeping all the surface easily accessible without causing strain on the users arms and elbows. Similarly, there are a great deal of products and systems that are designed with ergonomics in mind, not all limited to furniture. These products will ease common injuries from poor working conditions and so keep ergonomics in mind when setting up your new workspace.
For ergonomic computing, one must ensure the monitor is directly in front of him/her, at arm’s length with the top of the monitor at eye level. The work surface and chair armrests must be at a height which allows your elbows to stay at 90⁰ when your arms are placed on the desk top. The seat height should allow your feet to be firmly planted on the ground with your knees bent at 90⁰. Ideally, you must be able to sit all the way back with the chair back firmly and fully supporting the back and shoulders without having the seat press against the back of your knees. Seat depth adjustability will help in this regard. When using a keyboard or mouse, ensure your wrists are in line with your forearms and not bent in any other angle. A keyboard should ideally be centered and right in front of the user, with any other items of frequent use within arm’s reach.
Overall an ideal ergonomic workspace must consider a neutral sitting position which exerts the least amount of stress on your body, promote voluntary movement to prevent stagnation and improve blood circulation, and account for regular short breaks involving stretching and relaxing eyes, back, neck and arms. These elements make a good ergonomic work environment.
Setting up a home office need not be an expensive affair. It is perfectly normal to repurpose existing furniture or computer accessories within one’s home to create a remote work space. The above information is merely a guideline on the parameters to pay attention to in order to prevent strain or injury that may affect productivity at work.
To summarize, look for the largest desk size that will fit comfortably within the selected space (opt for a custom built-in solution if space is limited). Ensure the chair used has the necessary neck, lumbar, arm, and leg supports with good cushioning breathable fabric. If working with a laptop, try to invest in a laptop kick-stand or an additional monitor, a keyboard and mouse as these computer accessories will ease stress caused from poor posture. Ergonomics is a branch of study that deals with the personalization of furniture and other daily use products to ensure prevention of injuries or strain from poor posture and repetitive use. Adjustability and well planned work surface arrangement promotes ergonomics within the workspace, i.e. - height adjustable desks ensure they can be customized to user height, similarly good ergonomic chairs will not only provide essential support for the user but also adjustability for maximum customizability to suit the user, ergonomic computer accessories will also alleviate any associated stress from using computer equipment, and lastly work surface zoning is also suggested to reduce user’s likelihood of strain or injury and further improve his/her productivity psychologically.
Additionally, if looking for even better options for desking, sit/stand desks or sit/stand work surface accessories will help address regular voluntary movement to improve circulation while working for better productivity. Innovative cable management techniques along with wireless computer accessories which exist now are also a good means to keep the work surface clean and organized. Last but not least, a good adjustable webcam, and noise cancelling headset/microphone combo may be a good investment for users that must engage in video conferences and virtual meetings often.
Keeping in mind these discussed aspects will help you setup the perfect home office that will keep you working through the week at maximum productivity without any discomfort. With the right considerations, you may even be able to rival your productivity from your actual office.
Does keeping track of all the variables overwhelm you? As an employer, do you feel the need to provide expert advice to customize remote work environments for your key employees to ensure their peak productivity through this crisis period?
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