Many people are starting to find out that the remote work arrangements they once thought were temporary are becoming more long-term, and in some cases, maybe even permanent. With an increasing number of companies making telecommuting a part of their new normal, it's more crucial than ever that workers and managers alike realize the importance of ergonomics in their workspaces at home. Here, we'll explain what ergonomics is and provide examples of ways to make your home office safer, comfortable, and more efficient.
What is ergonomics?
The dictionary defines ergonomics as "the study of people's efficiency in their working environment." It's a process that involves retrofitting a workspace according to what the user needs, with an aim to enhance efficiency and productivity, as well as to reduce discomfort.
Today's computers and technology may claim to be designed for the user, but the statistics say otherwise. In the U.S., ergonomic disorders are the fastest-growing category of work-related illnesses. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that they account for 56 to 63% of illnesses reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
You may not think about how you work because you're too consumed in what you're doing, but neglecting to take ergonomics into account may lead to soft tissue injuries and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The Center for Disease Control notes that these are caused by sudden or sustained exposure to force, vibration, repetitive motion, and awkward posture, all of which we're susceptible to often during workdays.
How to make your workspace more ergonomic.
The last thing you want is to incur an injury because you're using the wrong tools and falling prey to unsustainable habits. It's imperative that you create a sound work environment not only to be more productive but also to maintain your overall wellbeing. Here are some steps you can take:
Invest in a good chair.
You may feel comfortable working from the couch or dining area (and occasionally, your bed), but doing so is not conducive to your productivity and health. Sitting on a stool and on your sofa won't do your back any good, and will only cause you to start feeling pain after a few hours. Pain-Free Working suggests that you invest in a chair with a backrest of 90-95 degrees to give your back the sufficient support it needs to endure prolonged sitting. And when you're sitting, see to it that your back is in contact with the backrest to maintain a straight and healthy posture.
Take a break.
As mentioned in our interview with Acceleration Partners CEO Robert Glazer, many remote workers find it difficult to unplug, take breaks, recharge, or decompress during and at the end of the workday. But our bodies are designed to move, so you have to make it a point to take breaks now and then. It doesn't necessarily have to be long — ergonomics expert Lisa Schuiteboer recommends following the 20-20-20 rule, which requires you to look away to something 20 feet for at least 20 seconds, every 20 minutes. Try setting a timer so you get reminded when to look away. It would also be best if you stood up from your seat and did something else, as your body needs a break from the chair as much as your eyes need an escape from the screen.
Remember that positioning matters.
You may be more comfortable putting your feet up while working, but you should pay attention to how you position your body throughout the workday. Ideally, your hips and thighs should form 90-degree angles when sitting, and that your feet are flat on the ground. If they don't, you can place a stack of books or boxes underneath so your thighs are parallel to the floor, and your hips are higher than your knees.
Sally King is dedicated to exploring new ways to make work engaging across different industries. She loves to bake and decorate her space, which she shares with her poodle, Molly.
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