Office Ergonomics for Your Post-COVID-19 World
Author: Don Lustenberger
Amidst the abrupt closures of offices last year, many of us found ourselves working from home on a newly fulltime basis. For some of us, this was an abrupt change that had us hastily carving out a space in a guest bedroom, at the kitchen counter, or perhaps on the family-room couch to use as a makeshift office (one of a litany of changes we had to make to adapt to living through a pandemic). We needed somewhere just to place our laptops and set to work; comfort, ergonomics, and our physical well-being associated with our workspace might not have been a priority at the time.
As restrictions are lifted, organizations are beginning to consider whether and when to reopen their offices. So, we may be reacquainting ourselves with our old commutes or perhaps learning that telework will be a more permanent fixture in our lives. Regardless of your situation—whether you are a work-from-home veteran with a deluxe home-office setup prior to the pandemic, you are returning to the office for the first time in a while, or you’re looking to make upgrades to a makeshift home-office workspace—chances are you could stand to benefit from making at least one change to your physical workstation or your behavior while at your desk, wherever it may be.
Assess and Optimize Your Workstation Layout and Equipment
There are many details to consider when setting up a computer workspace. For instance, the Mayo Clinic, the National Institutes of Health, and the New York Times offer guidance on specifics such as desk and chair height; the positioning of monitors, keyboards, and mice; and proper lightning. Optimizing your workstation for better posture and comfort involves assessing your workspace against such standards, noting any problem areas, and then addressing them.
Some fixes may be quick and inexpensive, involving only minor adjustments to the furniture and equipment you already own (e.g., raising or lowering your chair, moving your monitors closer or further away from you). Other fixes may necessitate purchasing new furniture or equipment (e.g., a footrest, an adjustable-height desk, stands or support arms for monitors or laptops).
There are several manufacturers of “ergonomic” desks, mice, keyboards, etc., so it’s a good idea to do some research before investing in new equipment. If you are looking to address a specific physical health issue (e.g., back pain, vision problems, headaches), do consider consulting a medical professional before investing in new equipment or making drastic changes to your office setup.
Consider Some Behavioral Changes
Although it’s essential to have a properly configured workstation, it’s also important to consider your behavior while working contributes to your overall comfort and physical health. By now, most of us understand that sitting at a desk for extended periods of time can be problematic. One solution to this problem is to change positions frequently. Standing or walking around for a few minutes every hour, alternating between sitting and standing with a convertible desk, or incorporating a stretching routine throughout your day are a few ways to keep moving and avoid sitting for hours on end.
Changing your behavior can also involve doing things to reduce eyestrain associated with staring at a digital screen for hours on end, which for many of us is a large part of our jobs. The American Academy of Ophthalmology, for example, recommends (among several things) following the “20-20-20” rule to give our eyes a break: every 20 minutes, looking at an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Using a humidifier, blinking, and wearing computer glasses are among some of their other suggestions.
For some, the most difficult part about making behavioral changes, aside from summoning the motivation to make a change to begin with, is sticking with the change. Fortunately, we live in an age where there are countless apps and browser extensions that can remind you do to these things—and reinforce your good behavior—over the course of the day (some examples here and here). Whether you are looking to return to your office or start teleworking more, I encourage you to consider what changes you can make to your equipment, layout, or behavior for the better.