The importance of office ergonomics in a remote world

The importance of office ergonomics in a remote world

Since the COVID pandemic, remote work has become an increasingly popular alternative to working in person – but it’s not without some downsides.

Being on calls, staring at a computer screen, or even sitting in the same desk chair for hours at a time can potentially have a negative impact on your body. This is where office ergonomics come into play, says Dr. Robert Coats, an orthopedic surgeon at Advocate Health Care.

Office ergonomics is the process of arranging your workspace so that you can feel as good as possible throughout the workday. The main components of office ergonomics are body positioning, equipment spacing and seating. If followed correctly, these components can protect your joints, ease tension and overall help you feel comfortable while working.

One of the most important aspects of arranging your workspace is the positioning of your body from your keyboard.

“When working from a keyboard, you want to have your elbows hanging down naturally at your sides,” Dr. Coats says. “It is important that your hands are not too far up or too far down that you’re either reaching for the keyboard or you’re cramped on the keyboard.”

It is also important that if you are using a mouse, you are keeping your wrist straight. Try to set the sensitivity of the mouse to move with a light touch.

Naturally, if you begin to experience wrist discomfort, there are a few stretches that Dr. Coats recommends:

  • Extension: Your arm goes straight out in front of you with your palm facing upwards, then you take your other hand and push on the back side of your fingers, and push them toward your body, creating a bend in your wrist. Hold for a few seconds
  • Flexion: Your arm goes straight out in front of you, but this time with your fingers to the floor. With your other hand, push towards your body, creating a bend in your wrist. Hold for a few seconds again.

A workplace checklist from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSH) explains the importance of the other two components: equipment spacing and desk comfort.

The location of a computer monitor should be straight in front of you, directly behind your keyboard, and adjusted so the top of the screen is at or below eye level, according to OSHA. Typically, the monitor should be within 18 to 20 inches, or an arm’s length away. Visually, it is also important that there are no glares on the screen from where the monitor is set, and that the brightness and contrast of the screen are adjusted for comfort.

For optimal desk comfort, the chair used should be adjustable, with a cushioned, waterfall front, according to OSHA. The seat pan should not be too long that it presses the back of your legs or knees, but not too short where your thighs hang off the front edge of the seat. Lastly, there should also be enough space under the desk so that the thighs are not touching the bottom of the desk. And, your feet should rest flat on the floor.

There have been structural advancements in the type of desk that is recommended for the workspace. This includes the potential to extend up so that you can stand while working and then can get moved back down when you’re ready to sit. This also allows for the growing trend of using a walking treadmill under a standing desk.

“Anything that promotes activity, as opposed to sitting, is beneficial,” Dr. Coats says. “The biggest thing about remote work is to listen to your body. Odds are, if you’ve been at it for four hours or more without movement, that’s probably too long.”

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Breanna Hammer