It’s widely accepted that flexible working impacts positively on worker health and wellbeing – mainly due to the increased feeling of choice or control that working in a flexible pattern can create. But I do wonder what the impact is on overuse and strain injuries? Back pain, eye strain, headaches and a whole lot of other nasty symptoms of inadequate workstation set-up are often brushed off as a result of ‘working too hard’ or ‘being tired’.
I’ve become a much more flexible worker since starting Freerange Works, and has my choice and control over how my work gets done improved? Absolutely. But boy are my back and neck paying the price! It’s definitely because of my lackadaisical attitude to my own workstation set-up, both at home and when I’m working from our shared office space. Working on a laptop most of the time, I prefer to sit on the couch where I can look up at the gorgeous view rather than doing what I should and plugging into a screen at a desk. I’m fast coming to the realisation though, that simply managing my symptoms of poor ergonomics with my weekly Yoga class instead of a prevention strategy is just not going to cut it.
I’m also well aware that I need to ‘drink my own champagne’ here, because advising clients on taking a wholistic, complete and consistent approach to creating thriving flexible workforces is what I live and breathe every day. So, this is me, getting serious and acknowledging there is an issue that I need to fix – and spreading the word so that my fellow remote and flexi-workers can follow suit!
Workstation set-up is important people! And so easy to get right and prevent injury by being aware of some basic ergonomic principles. So let’s make it easy. Here’s a 6-step checklist we can all live and work by:
Step 1: Natural, Neutral Positions
Your workstation set-up should support and enable you to sit in a neutral, upright posture. So, run through this at your desk: your feet are flat on the floor, your knees are at 90 degrees, you are sitting with your lower back against, and supported by your seat, your back is straight, your arms have a 90 degree bend, your hands are positioned flat over your keyboard (and simply ‘float’ over it when you’re typing) and you’re looking straight ahead with no tilt or bend in your neck.
Step 2: Correct Height
Working at the correct heights and distances will support a neutral position, whereby your eyes should be looking straight ahead at the top of your screen (which should be positioned an arm’s length away from you), your chair should be at a height to enable a 90 degree bend at your knees. Whilst not always possible, having a height adjustable desk, chair and screen makes working at correct heights really easy to achieve.
Step 3: Create Clearance
There should be a little space between the edge of your chair and the back of your knees (about a fist width), and to determine the right desk / chair height, there should also be a fist width of clearance between the tops of your thighs and the underside of the table or desk.
Step 4: Comfortable Reach
You should never have to ‘reach’ for your high-use desk items, like your key board and mouse. Your keyboard and mouse should be placed in a way that keeps your elbows to your sides and so that your neutral position can be maintained when switching from keyboard to mouse.
Step 5: Microbreaks
Yes, I know the feeling when you’re ‘in the zone’, but key to this health and wellbeing business is getting up and moving. Make sure you get up, stretch and walk around at least once an hour – schedule it in if you have to, or take your phone calls standing up. Don’t overlook your eye muscles (excuse the pun!) they need a break too. Look up and over the top of your screen every 15 minutes or so to focus on distant objects to give your eyes a break.
Step 6: Adequate Lighting
Speaking of eyes, a well-lit workspace is essential for reducing eye-strain, headaches and fatigue.
And that’s it in a nutshell. The biggest problem with my workstation set-up can be fixed by getting a separate keyboard and something to put my laptop on until I get a screen for my home office, so that I’m not constantly looking down at my laptop and straining my neck.
You might be wondering why you’re taking advice from an HR generalist / culture change enthusiast? And my answer to that is: no matter your role or line of work, you should prioritise your health and wellbeing and familiarising yourself with ergonomics, especially as a sedentary, office-based worker, just makes good sense.
So, I urge you to acknowledge, like I have, that you should be taking your workstation set-up more seriously. Follow the checklist and make the necessary adjustments to improve your health and wellbeing as a remote or flexi office worker.
And this resource is an oldie but a goodie!
Visit the ACC HabitAtWork site, explore the ‘Office Set-up’ part of the site and then take the self-assessment to get a more detailed understanding of safe workstation set-up.