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Working from home?

​Optimising your WFH environment


When you spend hours at your desk every day, even the smallest features of your workspace will affect your comfort and productivity.






By Jason Xiros


Your keyboard and monitor placement are critical. Things like uncomfortable chairs, cluttered desks, or poor lighting also have a subtle negative impact on your work.


A few minor adjustments can greatly improve your office environment.



Ergonomic furniture


The physical construction and layout of your workstation is key to setting up a safe and ergonomic workplace.



Desk:


Things to look for include:

  • Area: Your desk needs to be a continuous flat surface; with sufficient space to house your computer, phone, and other daily needs.

  • Depth: *Your desk must allow placement of monitor(s) to at least 60cm away.

  • Height: Your desk should let you type on a keyboard with your arms and hands roughly parallel to the floor, your feet flat on the floor, and your legs comfortably under the desk.


Some people prefer using a sit/stand desk as a way to alternate postures whilst working.

  • A full desk unit, where the whole desktop can be raised or lowered, is generally easier to use (but can be very expensive)

  • A tabletop unit, which is a separate unit placed on top of a normal fixed desk, is cheaper and quicker to install (but limited in size)


When shopping for a new desk, choose one that complies with Australian standard AS/NZS 4442:2018 (Office furniture)



Chair:


Things to look for include:

  • Lumbar support: The curve in the back of the chair should support your lower spine, following the natural curve of your back.

  • Seat depth: The chair will ideally have three- or four-fingers' width distance between your legs and the edge of the seat. This allows you to sit comfortably with your lower back against the lumbar support, while also leaving a couple centimetres between the back of your knees and the seat.

  • Chair height: You should be able to adjust the height of the chair so your feet are flat on the floor (or on a foot rest)

  • Arm rests: If present, armrests should be at a height where your arms are parallel to the floor.

  • Material: The seat base must be comfortable and durable. In warm climates, many people prefer the "breathability" of a mesh back.


I always look for chairs with multiple options for adjustment. Fully ergonomic chairs can be expensive... but consider them an investment in your well-being.



Monitor Placement:


Things to look for include:

  • Keep your monitor or laptop screen between 60cm to 120cm away: If the monitor is too far away, you lean forward and no longer have back support. Too near, and your eyes have to work harder to focus.

  • Make sure the top line of the screen is at or below your eye level. IThe top line of text on the screen should be directly in front of your eyes

  • Don't tilt the monitor more than 10 to 20 degrees. More than that and objects on the screen might be difficult to read.

  • Place the monitor perpendicular to windows. This will help avoid eye-strain and glare.


Also take note of the 20-20-20 rule... take a break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 metres away for 20 seconds.



Keyboard & Mouse:


Your keyboard should be close enough to your body so you can hold your elbows comfortably by your sides, preventing strain on your shoulders. The keyboard should also be low enough that your arms are roughly parallel to the floor, and wrists flat or angled downwards.


Your mouse should be at a similar level to the keyboard, and needs to be the appropriate size for your hand. It is also worth looking at alternative devices such as trackballs, or a "vertical" mice.


Use a laptop? Because of the fixed keyboard and screen, it's harder to get the ideal viewing and keyboard placement at the same time. A laptop stand (paired with an external keyboard) is usually the best approach.






Your work environment


For some, a minimalist, clutter-free desk is best; whilst others thrive amidst a chaos of papers and tools surrounding their keyboards. I personally find the most efficient and distraction-free space is when I


  • keep only daily-use items on the desk (pen, notebook, phone charger, water bottle)

  • restrict reference material to the immediate job at hand

  • tidy other clutter (e.g.: hide PC cables)


Other things to focus on are:



Lighting:


The best kind of light you can have is natural light. If your home office has a majority of artificial lighting, select globes which simulate the spectrum of daylight. Avoid harsh fluorescent lighting.


Positioning of light sources is also critical. The ideal setup is with your desk perpendicular to a window. Avoid sitting with your back to a window unless you can shade it, and avoid facing a window as glare will make reading a monitor difficult.


If you use a task lamp at your desk, position it so the bottom of the lampshade is about the height of your chin when switched on. Right-handed people should place the task lamp to the left of the desk (and vice-versa)



Noise:


Working from home, you may have to contend with the sound of your neighbor's dog, lawnmowers, nearby construction, traffic, etc.


A good pair of noise-canceling headphones can be invaluable. Pair them with soothing background music for regular tasks, or stimulating tracks when you need to focus.


If deep in concentration, don't forget to also silence your phone notifications.



Temperature:


Australian standard AS 1837 recommends an office temperature between 21-24 degrees.


Thermal comfort is very personal... men often prefer temperatures a degree or two cooler than women.



Plants:


Multiple studies have found that indoor plants prevent fatigue during attention-demanding work.


If you don't have a green thumb, a Peace Lily requires very little maintenance... it will thrive with minimal sunlight, and only requires watering when the soil has dried out.

Further reading


There are a number of guides and checklists available from Worksafe organizations throughout Australia. Two good examples can be found at


https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/safety-and-prevention/hazards/hazardous-manual-tasks/working-with-computers/setting-up-your-workstation


https://jobsafesa.asn.au/hazards/workstation-ergonomics/



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