Ergonomic design has received plenty of attention in relation to traditional workplaces, but what about home offices?
Over the past decade, factors like faster, more reliable internet and increased use of independent contractors by businesses have meant that more and more people are working from home.
If you have a home office, it means you’re in control of how it’s furnished and organised. At least in theory, you could design your office so it suits your needs exactly – a luxury that’s not available to traditional office workers.
However, the truth is that most people working from home invest little thought in the design of their workspaces. They may also fail to relate the ways they work to the aches and pains they experience after long hours at the grindstone.
Overcoming bad habits
The majority of people who work from home aren’t on fixed salaries. Many also have to juggle work and family responsibilities. One result is that people working from home tend to be highly driven – and constant deadline pressure is easy to use as an excuse not to sort out a healthy work environment.
Those working at home also face temptations, such as working in bed or working continually for a 15-hour stretch, that don’t apply in traditional offices.
Working on the floor surrounded by papers, on your old, lumpy sofa or seated on a bed is fine for a few hours. Continue this day in, day out for months or even years, and you could do serious damage to your health. These conditions put unnecessary pressure on your spine, muscles and joints, and prevent proper circulation to your lower legs.
Instead it’s vital to invest in an office chair that provides proper support for your lower back and legs, and that can be adjusted to the right height for your work surface. Similarly, invest in good lighting and a large enough computer monitor to prevent putting unnecessary strain on your eyes.
Compensating for lack of movement in a home office
Often a home office is set up in the smallest room in a house or in a room that’s also used for other purposes, such as storing fitness equipment, bookshelves or other bulky items. The result is that many home offices are in cramped spaces.
Another important consideration is that if you’re in a home office, there’s little need for you to walk.
Contrast this with an average day in a traditional office. Even if you did most of your work in a cubicle, you’d probably still walk between your desk and a shared printer, to meeting rooms and bathrooms some distance away, to a kitchen area and perhaps to a nearby café at lunchtime. You’d also walk between work and your car or public transport.
In a home office, your longest walk might be between your room and the kitchen next door.
The usual recommendation for designing an ergonomic workspace is to make sure that things you use often, from stationery items to the phone, are within easy reach. In a home office, it’s still important to position items so that you don’t have to twist or stretch unnaturally to reach them, but also consider how you can force yourself to move more during the day.
For example, consider putting your phone in another room, provided it’s on a loud enough setting for you to hear it. You can do the same with a printer and certain stationery supplies.
It’s also important to force yourself to take regular breaks, and to use this time to move around. Instead of standing and waiting for a kettle to boil, for instance, spend this time walking around. Other good tips are to stretch regularly and schedule an exercise break for the middle of the day, rather than working for a full day before heading outdoors or to the gym.