Positioning Your Home Office for Wealth and Health
There was a time when a telephone had a cord. A fax machine printed on a roll of thermal paper. And a company’s headquarters was called the “home office.”
Cell phones have replaced their corded counterparts. Fax machines have joined the endangered species list. And the home office?
These days it typically means an office – in your home.
That’s because according to the latest statistics provided by Global Workplace Analytics, 3.7 million American employees work from home on at least a half-time basis.
Chances are someone reading this article is one of them.
I know I am.
That also means he or she is likely reading this from the comfort of their La-Z-Boy, or what I personally like to call my “office chair.”
Okay, maybe not every home office features a cushy recliner with a computer perched precariously on a lap board (note how I’ve creatively tucked a clip board under my computer to serve as a mouse pad). However, when furniture giant Herman Miller studied 250 home office personnel, they discovered that 65% of people admitted to working in their living rooms.
So clearly I’m not alone.
While the idea of a workplace free of cubicles and shared bathrooms (“It wasn’t me!”) might sound appealing, the truth is that working from home can have a negative impact on our health and productivity if we don’t take steps to make them more, well, office-like.
Why Your Recliner Isn’t an Acceptable Work Station
While working from home offers a full range of perks like flexible hours, lack of a morning commute, improved morale, and pajama pants, it also does not provide the structure of the traditional office setting. This means that not only are you in charge of managing your daily schedule with little accountability, but you are also responsible for finding a space that you can work productively and safely within – things our traditional office counterparts don’t have to think much about. Now, you don’t have to go so far as to develop an MSDS binder or post an emergency map directing you to the nearest exit, but offices of yesteryear do have strategies worth following.
If you are like me and plopping yourself on the recliner in your living room – or sitting on your bed or at the kitchen table – you run the risk of being unable to separate yourself from the “home.” Whether it’s the TV turned on in the other room, the dishes piling up in the sink, or the bag of chips beckoning you on top of the refrigerator, distractions are difficult to ignore.
Incorrectly placed keyboards and computer monitors can cause eye, neck, and shoulder strain, and poor quality office chairs – if you even have one – can cause lower back pain and tight muscles.
Prolonged sitting may cause the greatest risk to employees, regardless of their workplace location. Being sedentary for long periods of time has been linked with increased blood pressure and cholesterol levels, brain fog, diabetes, and obesity.
In fact, even if you exercise on a regular basis, your health is just as much at risk as it is with your non-physically active counterparts. There is even a name for this: “Active Couch Potato.”
In other words, where we work and how we work, regardless of fitness level, may be slowly killing us.
So let’s take some measures to ensure that when we die, it’s not our work space that caused it.
Characteristics of a Good Home Work Office Set-Up
Now that I’ve established that we are sitting ourselves to death, let’s talk about ways we can adjust the home office setting to work for – not against – us. The truth is that regardless of where you are working, these tips apply to anyone whose job is to sit in front of a desk a good portion of the day. The only difference is you are the one in charge for making it happen.
Give Your Office Some Sense Appeal
Believe it or not, creating a work environment that promotes the use of your senses can actually impact your productivity, well-being, and job satisfaction. In fact, appealing to the five senses throughout life in general can determine how positive or negative an experience is (check out this great Ted Talk by Industrial Designer Jinsop Lee illustrating this very phenomenon).
When it comes to the home office, a good place to start is by bringing the outside in. Having access to natural light while you work can help boost energy and focus, so if you can, place your work space in a room or area with a window – preferably one that can open for fresh air. Of course, if you live in an area with traffic noise or a neighbor who seems to believe his garage band really isn’t that loud, or you simply don’t have a room with a window (maybe the laundry room is your only option!), you can mimic natural light through the use of full spectrum bulbs. These come in various shapes and sizes and can be found at your local home supply store.
Paint the walls in your work space. Studies indicate that colors can affect mood, stress levels, and productivity. Blue and green hues are typically viewed as promoting calm and focus, while more intense colors like yellow, orange, and red can stimulate and energize. If you are in a room without windows, darker colors will emphasize the lack of natural light, so try to go with lighter colors (using glossy paint will also help reflect what light you do have). Here’s a handy chart that gives a quick snapshot of how different colors can work for you.
Make sure your office space is as far away from distractions as possible. Whether that be household appliances, TVs, or my personal workplace adversary – children – reducing noise and peripheral movement will ensure that you can maintain focus on the project at hand. A guest bedroom, attic, basement, walk-in closet, or even a garage can provide a private space away from noise. However, if these are not an option for you, try your best to define a space in an area outside of the usual household ruckus and use a white noise machine or music to help reduce external sounds.
Practice Good Ergonomics
One disadvantage to working from home is that it can be difficult to practice good ergonomics, especially if traditional living room furniture qualifies as your work station. However, ignoring the importance of physical body placement while you work can have significant implications on productivity, energy levels, work quality, and physical well being.
Probably the most important component of an ideal home work environment is your office chair. Believe it or not, our ancestors did not spend the majority of their time sitting in front of computers. Rather, they were busy building wheels out of rocks and carving pictures in caves. As a result, the human body evolved into a design ready for action – which modern-day work does not support. And what happens when we ignore the demands of human physiology? We’ll likely get fat, sick, or both.
But sit a lot you must, so it’s essential that you find a chair that emphasizes good posture. This means using a chair that allows both your feet to be flat on the floor with knees bent at a 90 degree angle. It should provide solid back support and allow your butt to rest against the backrest. It should also have a padded seat that allows you to sit for long periods of time comfortably.
Before I go on, let me address the exercise-ball-as-an-office-chair phenomenon.
Some believe that replacing an office chair with a big round ball actually makes you more fit…or something. And it’s true, any time your body has to stabilize itself you are likely engaging muscles. But the truth is, this is not an effective way to build your six pack or reduce the effects of prolonged sitting. In fact, sitting on an exercise ball for a significant length of time can actually result in increased discomfort (remember the part about a chair needing proper back support?). I’ll agree that sitting on an exercise ball is super fun, but replacing your office chair with one is not recommended. So don’t do it.
Equally important to your home office is finding the correct desk, especially since this is the central operating center for all that you do. What desk you choose can vary based on the work you are doing and the amount of space you have available. Regardless, the ideal computer desk will provide plenty of clearance for your legs while allowing your elbows to remain at 90 degrees when typing.
Unsure if your desk fits these criteria? Here’s a quick test: Sit in front of your desk with both feet flat on the floor (make sure you are using an ergonomically correct office chair – refer to paragraph two of this section if you somehow missed it). Put your arms down at your sides and then bend your elbows to 90 degrees (so your forearms are parallel with the floor). If your hands are level with the desk while in this position, then you are good to go. However, if your desk failed the test don’t fret yet – furniture adaptations to the rescue!
If you have a desk that is too high, find an office chair with a height adjustment and use a foot rest to compensate for being unable to fully reach the floor. If you have a desk that is too low, consider lifting it by placing boards under its legs to give additional height (obviously, don’t do this if the desk’s stability is compromised by the alteration). See? Your desk isn’t a failure after all.
You may also consider investing in a sit-to-stand desk, which is gaining popularity in the workplace and for good reason. Stand Desk, a company committed exclusively to the sit-to-stand movement for improving workplace well-being, reports that sit-to-stand desks reduce lower back pain, improve work quality, and increase metabolic functioning. Sit-to-stand desk users can easily adjust the desk’s height up or down with the push of a (motorized) button, making it possible move and work all at once. Prolonged sitting be gone! Think a Stand Desk might be the answer for you? Check out Stand Desk’s website to learn more. (By the way, just for reading this article, ErisFit readers are eligible for 5% off their Stand Desk purchase. Simply let them know ErisFit sent you).
Proper ergonomics isn’t limited exclusively to your chair and desk, however. Make sure your computer monitor is at or slightly below eye level. Looking too far up or too far down for long periods can cause stress on the neck and shoulders. For this reason, it’s best to place your monitor directly in front of you, about an arm’s length away from your body. If you have visual concerns, adjust screen settings to be larger so you are not straining to see information. Any lights, lamps, or windows should be off to the side to avoid any glare on your monitor. If this is not an option, consider purchasing a monitor filter, which is placed over your screen to reduce reflection or glare.
Because they are so darn convenient, chances are many of you use laptops regularly. However, laptops are not ergonomic superstars thanks to the unity of the keyboard and computer screen. An easy solution to this is investing in a docking station. This handy device allows users to access information directly from their laptop through a desktop computer. Don’t have a desktop computer in the first place? No problem! Simply attach a keyboard and mouse through the USB ports on your laptop (while using the laptop itself as the monitor) to create an acceptable substitution.
When typing and mousing (yes, that’s really a word, I checked), the less bend in the wrist, the better. Keep your wrist neutral and make sure your arms are supported, relaxed, and as close to your sides as possible. Of course, make sure the keyboard is directly in front of you while typing.
If you haven’t already figured this out, turning, twisting, bouncing, and other non-neutral positions are a risky business. But if you really want to create a home office that puts you in the best position for success, there’s one more strategy you can’t live without.
Move, move, and move some more.
Seriously, if there is one thing you take away from this riveting post, I hope it’s the fact that sitting for long periods of time can lower productivity or kill you (you can determine which is more severe of the two). Luckily, it’s also the easiest and most cost-effective change you can make to the home office set up.
What is it?
No, I don’t mean move to a different home. That would definitely not be cost-effective.
What I mean is, physically move your body. Get the blood flowing. Wiggle it, just a little bit.
The beauty of working from home is that you can add frequent walk breaks to your schedule and your nosey coworker Carol isn’t watching. Put your phone away, grab the dog, and take a stroll around the neighborhood. Just ten minutes can make a difference.
Afraid you’ll lose your mojo or truly don’t have time to step out? Then force yourself to move around in other ways. Place the printer in another room so you have to get up to retrieve documents. Set your phone on top of the filing cabinet so you physically have to get up to answer it. Drink tons of water so you have to keep getting up to use the bathroom.
I don’t care how you do it; the bottom line is, just move like your life depends on it.
Because it actually does.
So there you have it. A heavily worded guide on how the arrangement of home office space can help (or hurt!) your productivity and overall well-being. If you are unable to implement all of these suggestions, find a few that are realistic and go for it. Small efforts can often produce big results.
After all, health is wealth.
What problems have you faced while working from home? Comment below and maybe we can help. And even when we can’t, we’ll tell you so. Because we’re good like that.