Many people will work from home during the pandemic and perhaps for a long time thereafter. Here’s what you need to do to ensure that your home office supports your job — and doesn’t ruin your health — in the long run.
Working from home isn’t a new trend, but the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many office and knowledge workers to do so on the spur of the moment. Even after the coronavirus outbreak has passed, many companies will have realized that they don’t need enormous office buildings, and many employees will have realized that they don’t need to be in the office every day or commute for long periods of time.
However, Many people have set up temporary home offices to deal with the pandemic, which will not work in the long run. Aside from having the correct tools, the physical setup — the ergonomics of the workspace — is crucial, especially when it comes to avoiding repetitive strain injuries that can be caused by a poor setup. I had RSI problems 20 years ago and just missed a relapse a year ago, so I know what it takes to come back to and stay in a functional state.
Take care, employers: RSI makes you liable for workers’ compensation claims as well as missed productivity.
The best working environment at home
A long-term home office should ideally be a dedicated work space in your house. Do as much of the following as you can to create a long-term functional and safe workstation.
A designated area
Ideally, you’d utilize a modest room with enough space for a desk and computer equipment, as well as a door that can be closed to keep work and home life distinct.
Most people don’t have extra space, but many people can turn a guest room into a dual-purpose area that can be used as an office during the day and as a guest room when visitors come. (If your space and money allow, a Murphy bed is a terrific method to do this.) An enclosed porch, a spacious laundry room (or, for Europeans, a drying room), or even a garden shed can double as a storage space.
If you can’t acquire a dedicated room that you can separate from the rest of your life, try to find a specialized space that is as far away from the rest of the home — and them — as feasible.
Work at the proper height
A work-height desk or table is required in your environment. From the floor to the top of the work surface, the industry standard is 29 inches. Tall individuals benefit from being taller, and short ones benefit from being shorter. Many desks and tables are height-adjustable, usually via the feet.
However, that industry standard is built on utilizing a pen and paper rather than a computer and mouse. That’s why keyboard trays normally pull out from beneath the work area and are an inch or two lower than the desk or table height. Get a keyboard-and-mouse tray if you have the space (it must be wide enough for both!). If not, consider lowering your desk to tray height; if you write on paper as well, a writing surface (such as a thin cutting board) can be purchased for pen-and-paper work.
If your forearms are parallel to the ground when you sit up straight and your wrist is not curved up or down while you type or mouse, your work surface is at the proper height. With your fingers dangling slightly down to the keyboard, the top surface of your wrist should be on the same plane as the top of your forearm. It’s simple to injure the wrists by bending them for long durations of time.
Monitor height that is appropriate
Get a huge monitor (perhaps two) for your home office, exactly like you would at work. I’ve had good luck with Asus and Acer 25- to 27-inch displays, but any major manufacturer will have high-quality monitors. Simply avoid the cheapest displays if at all possible, as their lower resolution and consequently increased fuzziness might cause eyestrain over time.
Display resolutions are described in a variety of ways, but seek for any of the following to achieve the appropriate sharpness: QWXGA, QHD, WQHD, or 4K UHD are all options. Also keep in mind that the screen resolution may be limited by the display connector; on many computers, the video subsystem limits HDMI 1.x resolution to 1920 x 1200 pixels regardless of monitor size, which can make panels on 25-inch or bigger monitors look a little fuzzy. In general, look at your computer’s video specifications and get a monitor with a display resolution that matches its maximum potential.
You’ll need PCs and displays that support HDMI 2.x, DisplayPort, or USB-C ports for the best video quality. Because you’re likely already using a computer, such as a business laptop, concentrate on finding a display with specs that match or surpass those of your computer.
Your monitor should be set up such that when you sit straight and stare straight ahead, your eyes are 25 percent to 30% below the top of the screen. That way, you don’t hunch your back and maintain your shoulders level – two easy ways to injure yourself.
You’ll probably need a monitor riser to attain the right height – I use two, which also offers me some useful shelving. A height-adjustable monitor is a plus, but you may still require a riser.
Tip: Measure the intended monitor height from the work surface so you know how much of a rise between the work surface and the monitor stand you’ll need to achieve the “top is 25% to 30% above eye level” goal.
A good chair
There are several poor chairs on the market that might cause injury if used for lengthy periods of time. Dining chairs and deck chairs, for example, are rarely at the proper height and do not usually promote the required upright posture.
If you can afford it, invest in a professional office chair like the Aeron, which allows you to customize the fit to your body and workspace. However, such normally cost $600 or more; there are other far less expensive office chairs — between $150 and $250 — that will suffice. If at all feasible, try them on in person because you can’t tell if they’ll fit from a photo on a website.
Make sure it’s adjustable in height, rolling, and has lumbar support for your lower back. It should also have adjustable seat pan tilt, arm height, and lateral arm position. It is ideal to utilize an arm rest, but only if you use it correctly: That is, your forearm should rest lightly on the arm rest, with no pressure exerted by your arm against the arm rest. The arm rest’s main purpose is to remind you to keep your arm in the proper posture, not to support its weight like a seat does for your buttocks.
It’s all too easy to overlook the impact of your working environment on your productivity. Lighting is an issue that many people overlook. You should have enough indirect light to illuminate your workspace so that you can read papers and view physical objects readily. The optimum illumination is usually above lighting, such as a ceiling lamp.
Lights that are not in your direct field of view or that reflect off your monitor are referred to as indirect lighting. When the sun shines, an exterior window behind or to the side of your desk, for example, can cause glare on your monitor screen. Natural light is pleasant, but it should be diffused with shades or drapes to avoid glare.
Avoid placing a lamp next to a monitor, since this will result in conflicting light sources and possibly glare. You may require additional illumination, but try to position them so that they don’t generate glare on the monitor screen and aren’t in your direct line of vision while working on the computer.
Similarly, check that your monitor’s brightness isn’t too low or too high, as both might induce eyestrain. Of course, “too dim” and “too bright” are subjective, but a fair rule of thumb is that the monitor’s illumination intensity should be just a bit brighter than your ambient lighting, and that ambient lighting should be enough to read paper documents without additional light.
Good internet service
Most cities and suburbs have at least one high-speed internet provider 50Mbps is the minimum speed to aim for, and the more people using the internet at the same time, the faster the service should be.
Your home’s bandwidth is also important. If feasible, connect your computer to your network via an Ethernet cable; this is especially crucial if you conduct video or other bandwidth-intensive activities. If you can’t attach your computer to your network, Wi-Fi is acceptable for basic office work.
In all circumstances, make sure you have contemporary equipment capable of wired connections of at least 100Mbps (1Gbps has been standard for years) and wireless connections of at least 802.11n (802.11ac is much preferred). Almost every Wi-Fi router is dual-band, supporting both newer protocols such as 802.11ac and 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) and older standards such as 802.11b/g/n, which some of your devices may still use (such as older phones and some home-automation devices).