Thanks to improved remote working technology and 24/7 connectivity, employee demand for flexibility, and cost-savings opportunities, 60 percent of companies offer to telecommute, working remotely from home on an occasional or regular basis, according to the latest benefits survey from the Society for Human Resource Management.
Two decades ago, only 20 percent of companies offered it. And American employees are taking advantage. A 2016 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that more employees are working from home than ever before.
In a Gallup poll released earlier this year, 43 percent of Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely. Combine this with the increase of entrepreneurs and people that run an online business out of their home; it seems this trend will only continue to grow.
However, it is important to consider that working from the comforts of your home is not always comfortable. We have spent a lot of time discussing workstation ergonomics, whether it is in previous articles and blog posts, in our podcasts, or in our clinics with patients. The majority of those discussions were geared towards office workstations where the employee likely has a designated workstation with a desktop computer and comfortable (or not so comfortable) office chair.
But proper ergonomics should not be exclusive to an office and should extend to wherever you work from, whether it be your home or the neighborhood coffee shop. Most of the concepts on proper ergonomics we have previously discussed can be applied to any workplace. However, there are some important things to consider when working from your home.
When we ask our patients that work from home to describe their workstation setup, very few tell us that they have a separate home office with a desk. A more typical reply is them slouched over a laptop on their couch or at the kitchen table. We’ve even had patients tell us they work on their laptop while lying in bed. Laptop use can lead to an array of both immediate and long-term injuries.
Home Office Ergonomics Part 1
Thus, perhaps the most important tip we can offer when working from home is to have a designated workstation with a comfortable office chair. While this would preferably be a height adjustable desk, not everyone has space or budget to have a freestanding desk in their home. If that is the case, then set up your workstation on a stable flat surface such as a kitchen/dining table or a countertop.
It is also important to have an adjustable office chair to get the proper body positioning and height when sitting, especially if you’re using a surface that is not height adjustable.
If you have a desktop computer at home, then follow the ergonomic guidelines we have previously discussed in the following post “What is Ergonomics?” But fewer and fewer people have desktop computers outside of their office as laptop computers have become more ubiquitous for their portability.
Home Office Ergonomics Part 2
Unfortunately, certain ergonomic features are compromised for the sake of portability. Keyboard spacing, screen size and positioning, and pointing devices are all poorly designed when it comes to laptop computers. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to have good posture when using a keyboard fixed to the laptop.
The laptop is always a challenge when trying to sit ideally when working. The challenge lies in the fact that the keyboard and monitor are attached to each other, so it is difficult to maintain proper ergonomics.
The first challenge is that the screen tends to be lower than a traditional monitor and you have to look down on your screen. As you learned previously, you need to maintain the monitor level, so your eyes are in line with the top portion of the monitor while maintaining proper posture.
Secondly, as laptops tend towards smaller and smaller devices, the keyboard gets smaller and is not ideal for typing, and can place undue strain on the hands, wrists, and forearms.
Lastly, people tend to want to keep a normal distance from their eyes to the laptop screen, so they sit a certain distance away from the laptop, but then need to reach for the keyboard to type. This causes the reaching position of the arms and shoulders that inherently forces you into a rounded sitting posture and excessive stress on the upper body and neck.
Despite the poor ergonomics inherent to laptops, there are certain steps you can take to improve your ergonomics when using a laptop.
• If your laptop is your main computer, use a keyboard that you link to your laptop, instead of the laptop’s keyboard.
• Place a stand underneath the laptop so that the screen/monitor is at the optimal height that aligns with your eyes.
• If the laptop is your secondary computer, use a stand for the laptop so that you don’t have to look downward to see the screen. Then when you need to type on it briefly, move the laptop to an optimal place in front of you to type.
Creating a better ergonomic home environment is easy if you follow the steps we have outlined above. Doing so will help improve productivity and the quality of your work, but will also help prevent stress and injury, improving the quality of your mind and body.