Ergonomics: How to hack your home working setup
“In a world where we are campaigning for mental health awareness, creating sugar taxes to minimise the obesity crisis and lining the streets about climate change it is staggering that ergonomics and human factors, the very science that impacts how humans interact with their environment has yet to be fully in the limelight, certainly as it relates to the workplace.”
These were my thoughts in a world that existed prior to COVID-19. Since the announcement of lockdown in the UK and what has forced a nationwide transition to home working, we have seen a massive shift in the perception of ergonomics and the reality of how important a good work setup is to the health, comfort and performance of us all.
Ergonomics is the science of work and a story of interactions. It’s the science that understands how we interact with each other, products and any environment that we find ourselves in. It’s a proactive discipline where we look to design issues out to optimise health and enhance performance.
With that in mind I have curated my top tips to get you in fighting shape so that you’re not just surviving your workday but thriving in a time of so much uncertainty.
There are three themes that I’d like to highlight, and these include;
- Work setup
- Ambient Environment
Of course, the first thing to do is consider where you will be working from and how to encourage your body to be in a neutral posture as much as possible. A neutral posture is a position that supports the natural curves of the spine and maintains your body in good alignment.
You can watch a short video of me working in different areas of my home here:
If you’re unable to find yourself working with a desk and chair and you only have a sofa or a soft chair there are still ways to set yourself up better. This setup isn’t ideal, and you should always aim to work with a proper desk and chair but sometimes needs must.
If you’re working from your sofa, have your feet planted on the floor and back supported. If you can’t reach the back of the sofa, add cushions until you feel supported in an upright position but slightly reclined also. Place your laptop in your lap and put a cushion or a tray between your laptop and the tops of your thighs. This will help to raise the height of the laptop but also keep your shoulders down and relaxed, elbows by your side and wrists straight.
In this position I would recommend moving more regularly than usual as your head may be flexed forward and outside a neutral range. Every 10-15 minutes will help to reduce any unnecessary strain on your body.
That brings me to the second theme: movement.
No matter how well set up you are and even if you have the most ergonomic equipment, if you don’t move regularly you are putting yourself at an increased risk of discomfort and/or injury and we don’t want that.
Joan Vernikos, a former Life Scientist at NASA has highlighted the importance of the human body working against gravity with low intensity high frequency movements. When you work in sedentary postures for long periods it can have adverse effects to your body which could include;
- Loss of muscle mass
- Reduction in balance and coordination
- Immune system suppression
- Impact on blood pressure regulation
- Cardiorespiratory fitness affected
As we have transitioned to working from home, our movement everyday may have decreased significantly because everything is in such close proximity. We no longer have to commute, walk down the hall to a meeting, walk to see a colleague, head to the communal printer or café. Everything is a mere hop, skip and a jump at home.
Joan Vernikos’s work showed that it takes at least 32 times (spread throughout the day) from sitting to standing to help reduce some of the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
It’s not how long you sit or stand for; it’s how often you interrupt sitting or standing that is important. If you can move 2-3 times per hour for 30-60 seconds this is great. If you find this might be too much distraction, then 5-10 minutes every hour is recommended.
If you’d like to break up sitting with some standing work the easiest and most cost-effective way to do this is to grab the ironing board. It’s a flat surface and height adjustable! Otherwise you could take your calls whilst standing up or implement standing breaks in your video calls. Make it a team activity between topic discussions.
10-15 minutes of standing every hour can be useful to interrupt sitting, stretch your body, increase blood circulation and get your muscles working. You should though, take some time every day to take a walk and stretch. Dynamic and functional body movements are a great way to warm up the body before you tackle your day ahead.
Whilst getting your body into a neutral posture and moving regularly are vital for your health and comfort there is one last aspect of your workspace to consider and that’s the ambient environment. Things like lighting, temperature and biophilia.
Working in a lovely space can have a very positive impact on your productivity.
I hope those three themes will help you to create a healthy home working setup.
Wellbeing to me is all encompassing in terms of physical, mental and social. It’s a positive notion so not just the absence of disease. It’s a state where people thrive. So, after reading this I urge you to take a moment and consider your workspace and if it’s not quite right, try and change at least one thing today. Small steps will eventually turn into big outcomes and if those include more comfort, better health, and improved performance then it’s certainly time well spent.
Kirsty Angerer, fondly known as The Travelling Ergonomist works with SMEs, Corporates and Large Industrial Facilities all around the world implementing ergonomics programs. She is also a Fitwel Ambassador, 2020 Movement Concept Advisor with IWBI and co-lead of the Workplace Sector group within CIEHF. A self-confessed ergonomics nerd.
For more information:
The way we work is changing rapidly. Companies need to continue to adapt to a more flexible way of working.
- Download ‘The flexible future of work’ research report. This shares what we learned about the expectations of the UK workforce, and shows our initial findings for how these new restrictions on movement have affected the reality of flexible working.
- Find out how O2 can help your business be more flexible