While it might be tempting to simply flip open your laptop on the kitchen table, and get to work, we’re not doing our bodies, or our minds any favours.
That’s precisely why companies the world over invest millions into ergonomic, or comfortable, offices for their employees.
Workplace ergonomics have in fact been linked with reducing worker compensation claims by up to 90% (not a small amount when you consider that in Australia alone, companies spend $60 billion on workplace injury and compensation), and improving productivity.
As a writer of several books on several hundred blogs and articles myself, optimising my home set-up has been key to helping me play the long game, without suffering all sorts of deleterious effects on my health.
Given that it is looking likely that the global remote working experiment is set to last for at least several more months, if not longer, it’s worth reflecting on your workspace and investing to safeguard your health and do your best work.
With that, I’ve prepared the following quick and simple stocktake of what the ideal home office set-up includes.
Are you working from your wooden kitchen table chairs? If so, now that we’re about three to four weeks into quarantine, you’re probably starting to feel all sorts of nagging pains, especially in your lower back.
Invest in an ergonomic chair to give correct support to your posture, weight and lumbar while sitting. Doing so will keep you comfortable enough to work for longer, and spare you the pain when you’re not at your desk.
Similar to chairs, consider an ergonomic or standing desk to support your work. Ensuring you’ve got a desk with the proper dimensions and height will not only help you work, but will also mitigate the risk of musculoskeletal injuries. I like the VariDesk, above.
One of nature’s tools to help you work better. There are numerous benefits to drenching your workspace in natural light, including a positive mood which flows into productivity. In fact, one study found that access to natural light was the number one attribute that workers want.
When it comes to not straining your eyes looking at documents, you might want to invest in a desk lamp, or at least work from an area with good overhead lighting. This is particularly important if you find yourself partaking in many Zoom calls.
Resting your wrist on hard surfaces, like your kitchen table, can lead to symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome — not good. Invest in a wrist rest for your keyboard and mouse.
It can be quite frustrating sitting in a video-call where one or more of your colleagues are using their laptop mic, or a low quality microphone, resulting in all sorts of background noise being created, and dulling the quality of the conversation.
Matt Mullenweg, founder of Automattic, swears against using the mute button to combat background noise. “You lose all of those spontaneous reactions that keep a conversation flowing. If you ask someone a question, or they want to jump in, they have to wait to unmute. I also don’t love the ‘unmute to raise your hand’ behavior, as it lends itself to meetings where people are just waiting their turn to speak instead of truly listening”.
He recommends investing in a noise-canceling headset, and name-drops the Sennheiser SC130 USB, pictured above
Not for meetings, but for working. A good set of noise-canceling headphones, be they from Bose or Sony (WH-1000XM3 pictured above), can help you to shut out the rest of the world, and get into the flow state where studies show we are up to five times more productive.
This is particularly important if you’ve got a lot of background noise at your place, and several people are suddenly working under the same roof at the same time.
Download Chapter One of my forthcoming book on workplace productivity, Time Rich: Do Your Best Work, Live Your Best Life, below!
Sure, you could just use your laptop monitor, but switching between screens can be super fiddly and time consuming.
Having an extended desktop monitor helps you compartmentalise work and information, and quickly pull stuff up (kind of like young Jamie!), and keep moving forward at pace.
Laptops are terrible for our posture as the screen is lower than eye level. This results in neck and back pain and you guessed it, bad posture. To combat this, invest in a laptop riser or a small desk filing cabinet that you can prop your laptop onto. Your screen should be at eye level, and if you’d rather not spend money on this, just use a bunch of old books.
Now that your laptop is on a riser, well you’ll find it difficult to use the keyboard. Not only that, but laptop keyboards aren’t the most ergonomic things in the world because, well, they’re on laptops (see #9).
Invest in a USB or wireless ergonomic keyboard and spare your neck and wrists the pain.
It’s not like we weren’t already dedicating a disproportionately large and unhealthy amount of our time to staring at screens before the COVID-19 outbreak (the average was 11 hours), but now it’s likely going to be even more for a lot of people what with self-quarantining limiting our ability to move freely and seek out socialising and entertainment options outside of the home.
As such, investing a set of blue-light blocking glasses to spare your eyes the strain, and also help you get a better night’s sleep by avoiding the melatonin-suppressing effects of light from your screens or houselights.
I like the stylish Stranger blue-blockers from Quay, pictured above.
Still using your laptop’s trackpad? Well, if you applied #9, then you shouldn’t be. And if you haven’t, in most — but not all cases — you might find a mouse to be more ergonomically friendly than your trackpad.
You can take or leave this one depending on the demands of your work, and how you prefer to work. I personally have a love-hate relationship with printers. I like printing documents out so I can read, reflect, scribble notes onto them and tap into a level of consciousness that differs to looking at documents on a screen. It’s also a great way to not look at screens for a few minutes.
But I also hate the fact that every printer I’ve ever owned has printed about seven pages before it started giving me grief by way of paper jams, ink being low (when it is a new cartridge) or simple not responding to my print requests.
This logically should have been after mouse-pad, but I’ma just leave it here and say that there was a reason why the mousepad was invented.
One of the biggest impediments to our productivity in the home office is other people — our family, our romantic partner, our housemates. Introduce some kind of signal to your day that communicates that you are not to be disturbed. This could be a closed door, your headphones in or on your ears, a small object perched on your monitor, or a sign that literally says ‘Do Not Disturb!’.
If you’re sitting down for hours on end at your home office, don’t. At the very least, you should try and get up for a 5 minute walk every hour or so to keep the energy levels up, spare your hip flexors from tightening up and your legs from atrophying. You can even invest in a treadmill desk which the likes of human guinea-pig Ben Greenfield and Singularity U founder Peter Diamandis swear by.
You might like to invest in a kettlebell to incorporate some simple swings into your day, or just hit the floor and crank out a set of 10 to 20 burpees sporadically throughout the day.
Not only will this help you stay focused for longer, but you might even burn some calories and walk out of quarantine a little more Arnold, and a little less DeVito.
Plants help to improve air-quality by removing toxic agents found in mould, dust mites, and chemical cleaning agents. They also help to reduce stress and ultimately make for a more pleasant workspace.
Finally, art can create a positive atmosphere, can be used to reflect your own identity and your workspace, as well as encourage creative thinking. Just stay away all of the generic ‘commitment’ and ‘motivation’ frames that adorned the walls of many an office in the 90s and early 2000s.
Oh, and if you insist on a picture of a cat underscored by the ‘hang in there’ caption, then consider a career change.
If you or your employer suddenly find themselves with less office space costs, by way of reduced rent, then it might be a good time to divert some of that spend towards optimising your home office for the good of your physical and emotional health, and by virtue of that, the business as well.