Remote work is a quickly growing trend. But the rise of “work from anywhere” arrangements presents an ergonomic and injury prevention challenge for workers and employers alike. Home offices, coworking spaces, coffee shops, and airport waiting areas all present unique postural problems – and many people need to work in more than one of these places on a regular basis. Here’s some good advice to ensure you don’t get bent out of shape when bouncing between different work settings.
Laptops: The Barrier to Good Ergonomics
Remote workers rely upon laptops. Unfortunately, they put you at risk for poor postures. You can make some adjustments to improve the situation, but it’s a Catch-22. If you set your laptop’s keyboard at the proper height (shoulders relaxed, elbows at a 90-degree angle), you avoid wrist and shoulder strain, but at the cost of increased neck and upper back pain. Raise the laptop so the top of the screen is at eye level, and you’re presented with the opposite problem.
The hard truth: laptops can never be ergonomically sound without the use of peripherals.
There’s No Place Like Home
Not surprisingly, the relatively fixed nature of a home office setting is the easiest to make ergonomically correct. It is best to have a dedicated space with a desk, an adjustable chair, and either a desktop computer or a laptop with a separate keyboard and mouse. Whether you choose to use your laptop screen or an external monitor, you can avoid glare and eye strain by placing your screen at 90 degrees to your light source.
Adding a standing desk is ideal, as it allows you to change postures during the day. Sitting too long puts you at risk for awkward postures that can lead to low back pain.
Airports and Coffee Shops: Working on the Fly
Working outside of a dedicated space is far more ergonomically challenging. Variable lighting can lead to glare and eye strain, chairs and other seating options may not adjust to your body size, and table heights are generally fixed. The best way to minimize stress to your body when you’re working on the go is to mix it up.
For example, you can set your laptop on a book or object to get the screen top to eye level for less stress to your neck. Then in 30-60 minutes lower the screen and get the keyboard in a better location. Ideally, you should take breaks every 20 minutes to stand, stretch, and correct your posture.
The Human Factor is the Anchor
The human factor is of key importance in injury prevention in all situations. Remote workers need to have a basic knowledge of common MSDs (Musculoskeletal disorders). They need to be aware of minor symptoms and be sure to get professional intervention to prevent these symptoms from becoming a more chronic and costly problem. Remote workers need to move, stretch, and be in the best postures to avoid undue stresses to the body. Your body needs to move. Static postures, even if ergonomically correct, will eventually lead to MSDs. Pay attention to your workspace. Take breaks, get moving and get healthy.