4 Ergonomics Tips on Setting up a Home Office for Remote Work

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many companies to roll out mandatory remote work policies in order to protect their employees and prevent the virus from spreading – something that the majority of organisations weren’t prepared for, and are now struggling with.  

For many businesses, this is their first time working at home for a sustained period, and they aren’t entirely sure how to go about setting up a home office for remote work – especially one that is ergonomically friendly. According to recent developments, country-wide working from home policies could last up to, or beyond six months, which is why we’ve compiled our top 4 ergonomic tips for setting up a home office for remote work that’s built for the long haul – without compromising your health and wellbeing. 

Use a desk 

When working from home, it’s easy to fall into bad habits from the beginning (such as working from the comfort of your bed) – but this isn’t a good idea. Where possible, you should always work from a desk, or an area similar, such as a dining table. Working at a desk – even if it’s a makeshift one – is the best area to sit and work for long periods of time, because it’s where you’ll be able to maintain the best posture.

However, sitting poorly at a desk is just as bad, if not worse, than not using a desk in the first place because it can cause long term health problems. In order to sit properly at your desk, your feet should be flat on the floor, your back eased into the back of the chair so you’re sitting comfortably, and your hips should be slightly above your knees. This way, there’s less strain on your back, neck and shoulders.

Ergonomic tips for working from home

Think of your desk as the resting place for your equipment (your laptop, monitor, mouse and keyboard), and in order to sit at it properly you must ensure that everything is situated at the correct height in order to maintain a good posture. If you have a monitor, the top of the screen should be at your eye level, and you can rest your monitor on boxes, books or other items you have in order to achieve this. However, if you’re working solely on a mobile device such as a laptop, still try and use a desk whenever possible – your back, neck and shoulders will thank you for it! 

See how agile working can help you create a more ergonomic office space in our free guide: Agile Work Zones 2020

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… But keep moving

This may seem contradictory at first, but while it’s correct that you should always work at a desk when working for long periods of time, you should also ensure you’re taking regular breaks away from it. When working from home, it can be tempting to sit at your desk all day without moving or taking a lunch break. However, this is strongly discouraged. Not only is skipping a break bad for your physical health, it can affect your mental wellbeing too. Learn more about how you can support your mental health while working from home in our article from a mental First Aider.

The current global situation can be mentally exhausting, which is why it’s now more important than ever to get time away from your computer screen. Take advantage of being in isolation and do activities on your break that you may have not considered while you were working in the office, such as going for a walk on your lunch break – it’s surprising how much a simple activity such as this can positively impact both your mental and physical health.

Another way to keep your body moving is by changing your working position regularly. This means while you may do the bulk of your work at a desk, you could change position by moving to other rooms in your home, or working while standing up. Standing while working has multiple health benefits, and ensures that your muscles don’t sustain the damage that comes with sitting in the same position all day. 

Quick Tip: If you struggle with remembering to change positions or move, there are a number of applications that can help such as Big Stretch Reminder, a free reminder tool. 

Make sure your posture is correct – wherever you are

A running theme throughout this blog is posture, but it bears repeating. No matter where you choose to sit throughout the day, it’s extremely important to ensure that your posture is always correct in each position your body is in. Here are some actionable tips on how you can keep your posture correct while working from home:

  • Always sit up straight

This is a fairly obvious tip, but one that everyone seems to forget. You should never hunch over, as this can damage your back, neck and shoulders. Also, where possible, don’t work for extended periods of time with your laptop on your knees, as this forces you to hunch over even without realising. 

  • Use the right chair

This can be difficult while working from home, because you may not own a chair similar to the (hopefully) more ergonomic task chair you would normally use in your office. If possible, you should use a chair with arms, as it relieves pressure on your shoulders, neck and wrists  and helps you sit correctly in a more relaxed position. However, when using the arms on a chair, they must be at the correct height – if they’re too low, they force your arms downward which causes pressure and pain. A chair without arms is better than one that causes poor posture, so don’t use one unless it is at a good height or adjustable.

Home Ergonomics - wrists
  • Support your wrists

If you rest on your wrists while working, over time it will start to cause long term health issues, such as repetitive pain and strain. Where possible, rest on your lower arms between your elbows and wrists, and if you have a keyboard, ensure it’s situated in a lower position so your hands essentially hover over the keyboard. It helps to have a separate keyboard and mouse, but this may not be possible if you’re working solely on a laptop. In this instance, be sure you aren’t laying your wrists flat on your desk or laptop. Where possible, position your laptop further onto the desk, this will allow you to place more of your forearms on a flat surface. This uses the soft tissue area of your arm to rest on, elevating your wrist and relieving pressure. Also don’t forget to take regular breaks to prevent repetitive strain.

Natural light is a must while working form home
Appropriate Lighting

When setting up a home office for remote work, it’s essential that you take lighting into consideration. Poor lighting can reduce your overall energy, dampen morale, cause repetitive eye strain and headaches, and ultimately prevent your ability to work effectively, so it’s important to make sure that no matter where you’re working, you have the right lighting. 

Always work near natural lighting when you can by sitting close to a window. However, be wary not to sit directly in front of it, or directly behind it as this can cause screen glare and further eye strain. Where possible, utilise different lighting, such as an overhead lamp when you’re working directly onto paper and need to focus. Always try to avoid strong artificial lighting, as this can impact negatively on your overall mood and productivity. As it’s likely you’ll be working from home for a while, it may be worth changing your lighting set up where you can, mirroring best practices for office lighting into your home. 

When it comes to setting up a home office for remote work, implementing these 4 tips is essential. However, they can also be applied to your office setting once you return as a way to actively improve your overall efficiency, productivity and health. While most businesses are working from home for the foreseeable, once you return to the office it’s likely that adopting this more agile way of working will be a key way to prevent this kind of disruption affecting your business in the future. 

To learn how ergonomic your current workplace is, and to find out ways to improve while adopting a more agile approach, check out our free guide: Agile Work Zones 2020. You’ll learn what the typical features of an agile workspace are, as well as how they can work for you and your business.

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