Understand that the space you work in affects how you work, we show how you can get it right
With health and wellbeing in the spotlight, combined with hybrid working, and a return to the workplace, ergonomics is an important of part of the working environment. We’ve moved away from “cubicle” design to more open-plan office spaces, but even that can bring challenges. Read on for some key reminders on how to optimise your workspace.
Why is office ergonomics important?
Workplace ergonomics is important because if it is mismanaged, it can cost both employees and businesses dearly. If you are forced to work in an office without ergonomic office equipment, you could suffer a range of health complaints and workplace injuries. These include problems with your hands, stiff joints, headaches, neck and back pain, muscle cramps or develop eye strain. This is bad for the worker obviously, but also for leaders responsible for the safety of their workforce.
Despite the disruption that Covid caused, it is still a legal requirement for an employer to assess their employees’ workstations, whether working in the office or working from home, to ensure they are compliant and have appropriate measures in place.
The HSE states that work-related musculoskeletal problems have affected 469,000 workers across Britain, causing the loss of 6.6 million working days. Overall work-related injuries and ill health cost the economy a total of £15 billion.
The four key things to remember
The space you work in determines how you work. With so many people now forced to work from home as businesses choose to mothball their offices, this has never been more important long-term.
Anyone who has ever worked most likely knows that the space you work in affects your experiences and how you work. This is definitely true within an office and also applies to how you organise your home office space. The productivity of employees is affected by their office surroundings.
Luckily, we have mainly moved away from the nightmare of office cubicles, but there are now other obstacles like completely open floor plans, which can be equally unpleasant. There is much more to ergonomic office design than where the walls are placed.
Like in the rest of life, an ergonomic office is a place that is designed for balance. Work is a social process, and as people return to the office post covid, this will be an even more important part of office culture; so, people need areas where they can talk and work together; but at times people also need privacy and room to focus as well.
There are several things you should take into consideration when trying to design or rearrange an office and make it more ergonomic, and the principles apply to organising your home office too.
Sunlight and ventilation are crucial. Sunlight is something that elevates people’s mood, and people need access to it, while fresh air improves oxygen levels. The temperature should also be within a comfortable range.
A good office should have a variety of spaces; open spaces with high ceilings for fuelling creativity, and smaller spaces with more solid boundaries for critical thinking.
Plants can help boost creativity. Being around items that remind us of nature helps shift our mind into new modes of thinking.
Setting up your desk
Most of the time an employee spends in an office will be spent at their desk, and this is where most ergonomic hazards lie. That is why the next four key ideas are all related to setting up your desk and working at it properly.
Office chairs are crucial
Whilst at your desk, you spend a lot of time sitting down. Where you sit is vitally important. A good office chair, at home or at work, that is fully adjustable will help you to sit upright, rather than slouching, as well as support your lower back, neck, shoulders, hips and thighs.
Aside from getting the right chair, the chair needs to be set up properly, so it is ergonomic. It should be set at a height that allows you to keep your feet flat on the floor, with your hips slightly higher than your knees, and your elbows comfortably at a 90-degree angle. Make sure the armrests don’t stop you from getting close enough to your desk to reach. If your feet need support, then use a tilting footrest.
The placement of devices or monitors
Once you have got your chair set up properly, the next thing is to make sure your desk and the devices on it are placed in an ergonomic manner.
Your computer monitor or laptop that you are working at should be set with the top of the screen at or slightly below eye level, and directly in front of you.
A great way of doing this is by attaching your monitor to an arm so you can properly adjust it to aid your vision, posture and comfort. Your laptop can be held in a cradle to the correct height, and then you can use a separate full-size keyboard and mouse on the desk.
However, it is not just poorly set up screens that can cause problems. Many people refer to documents as they type, stretching their neck and back constantly whilst looking down at the documents. You can use a document holder to view the documents whilst maintaining a straight neck and proper posture.
Interrupt prolonged periods of sitting
Whilst a good office chair will prevent certain ergonomic injuries, sitting for long periods of time can be harmful to your health. So, you should encourage people within the office to move around often.
A good way to do that without having people pace around the office is with a sit-stand desk. These desks allow you to work whilst standing up, which can improve your circulation and prevent your muscles from weakening. At the touch of a button or turn of a lever, you can move between sitting and standing at your desk, allowing you to avoid remaining in the same position for too long.
If the cost of investment in such a desk is too high, then encourage people to stand up to sip a glass of water, or set a timer on your mobile or computer to flash a reminder every hour or so.
Using phones while you type and talk
Although a lot of communication happens via email, there are times when phone calls are necessary. Whether you have a desk phone, or a mobile, it’s helpful to use a plug-in or wireless headset. Most important is not to bend your neck and raise your shoulder to cradle the phone while you talk and/or type, to avoid spasm of your neck muscles.
There are many more aspects to the effective and safe design of a workspace, but these are some of the basics. For more information about legal compliance and the tools available to help people safely manage their workspace – in the office and at home – check out our DSE Module information page.