Home office ergonomics

Pay Attention to Home Office Ergonomics

NEWS - DECEMBER 2020


Pay Attention to Home Office Ergonomics


create the optimal work environment by removing incompatibilities between the work-space and the worker.


By Bill Hensley


The Solar Office rooftop panels
 

THE WORD ERGONOMICS comes from the Greek word “ergon,” meaning work and “nomos,” meaning laws. Together, it’s the “laws of work” and good ergonomic design creates the optimal work environment by removing incompatibilities between the work-space and the worker. On a simpler level, think of it as making the work itself not hurt.

When COVID-19 hit, those of us who could work from home appreciated that at least we had that as an option. We turned available space into the new work-from-home office, and often found ourselves competing with family members for the scarce horizontal “real estate” known as a desk or a table—and too often doing so hunched over a laptop. Over time, most of us have made adjustments to make the most of this anything-but-new-normal.

 

Sometime in April I found myself leaning into my monitor a little harder than normal, particularly when editing photos. The solution seemed to be a bigger monitor, so 4K and 28 diagonal inches later, I was able to lean back into my chair and relax my shoulders a bit. But as I felt compelled to use all available screen space, the MacBook sat open to the side of the shiny new Samsung monitor to enable a little more desktop on which to lazily drop files. To keep from turning my neck always in the same direction I routinely switched the MacBook from one side to the other and elevated it to the level of the Samsung. The desk itself is average size and with work-from-home being nearly paperless, there was never too much on it, so two days with the laptop on the left and then two on the right was an easy routine. And it seemed like it was working.

The Solar Office desktop
 

Until it wasn’t. One day’s sore neck led to another until I realized the pain wasn’t from crawling into the attic to install a new bath fan (a whisper-quiet Nutone in case you are wondering). After improvising a sit-stand desk and trying it out for a few days it became clear that the “sit” was not as good as the “stand” – at least ergonomically.

No chair lives forever. The one I was using used to be great, but after years of use it wasn’t quite as supportive, particularly in the lumbar region. Still, I don’t think it’s entirely the chair. Workspace ergonomic diagrams make the basic sitting configuration look pretty simple: Feet flat on the floor, thighs horizontal, back supported, shoulders relaxed, eyes level with the top of the monitor… check, check, check… well, maybe not the shoulders relaxed part, but getting better.

The challenge we face is that in the day-to-day work from home world, everything happens on the desktop. We need to make the time to look away and step away as in the 20-20-20 rule and—oh my goodness—I wrote about this in Technology Designer back in April (Focus on a Distant Point)! What I’m not doing is following my own advice to take a quick “refocus” walk-around every 20 minutes or so. Think of it as emulating a quick walk to the huddle space or conference room for a meeting. People don’t just sit around in offices, they also move around in offices, in and out of meetings, leaning over the cubicle wall, chatting at the water cooler or the coffee machine. Yes, the coffee tastes better at home, but it doesn’t deliver as much exercise.