According to the Pew Research Center, about 71% of employees are working from home as of December 2020, and over half of them state that they’d prefer to work from home even after the pandemic is over.
As a company that has been virtual since our founding in 2007 (and as designers who are always thinking about the most ergonomic and fun ways of doing anything), we thought it would be nice to write an article about how to create the most joyful and ergonomic work environment for your own home, both physically and mentally, based on our own experiences over the years.
Creating an enjoyable home work environment
First, let’s talk about how to make our work environment more enjoyable, mentally relaxing, and freeing to be in, as a more enjoyable work environment leads us to be happier and more productive people.
Build a work environment that changes with you
Keep your space free-flowing and adjustable to suit the changes in your work habits. Design your workspace so that you’re allowed to evolve it whenever you need to. Think everything on wheels and nothing bolted onto the walls so that you’re able to change things up whenever inspiration strikes you.
Decorate your workspace with happy things
This is one of my favorite tips. Surround yourself with things that make you happy, that make you smile, and that give you a visual and tactile break from what you’re doing for work. You don’t have to abide by any rules of your office anymore, so let your imagination run wild.
According to an article by Ingrid Fetell Lee on Ted.com, it’s actually a myth that environments with less “distractions” lead to more productivity. Instead, research shows that the opposite is true: people who worked in “enriched” spaces were actually 15% more productive than those who worked in “lean” work spaces. According to the same article, if workers have the ability to dress up their own spaces (hey, that’s us!), they’re 32% more productive than people working in “lean” spaces.
And by decorate, I don’t just mean with physical objects. Play some inspiring music (the Deep Focus playlist on Spotify is one of my personal favorites), turn up the thermostat (it’s too cold in any office, I swear), buy some scented candles--just engage all of your senses; not just the ones required to “do your work.” You’ll be surprised how much fun you’ll be having while you work.
Add some plants to your workspace
Research has shown that greening your workspace, even with just a few plants, can improve concentration and reduce stress. According to the American Society for Horticultural Science, the mere sight of a plant at work reduces your anxiety. If you take a few minutes’ break to take care of it, it even lowers your heart rate!
Separate work space from home space
When you work from home and no longer have to physically walk out of your office and drive home, it can start to feel like your home life is blending in with your work life, which is no good. Experts say that if possible, it’s best to create “barriers” between work and life the best you can, even if they’re psychological barriers, such as closing your home office door, putting your laptop in a closet, or stacking your papers in a basket and closing the lid.
Also, set regular work hours that work for you and your family (and your boss), and strictly don’t work outside of those hours. It can be easy to fall prey to overworking yourself when there isn't a clear line of stopping. So create those boundaries and really stick to them. That’s how you’ll get the most out of the flexibility of remote work.
Don’t work in the PJs you slept in
Though some of us romanticize the thought of waking up and going straight to working in our PJs in some form or another, it might not help you be the most productive YOU you can be. Getting dressed, even if it’s just a different pair of PJs, not only helps us be more productive, but it also helps us feel better about ourselves. Also, definitely don’t work in your bed - maintain separate relaxation and work spaces to keep your boundaries clear.
Photo: Lipik Stock Media, Shutterstock
Take some calls outside
Trig Principal Ty Hagler suggested this great idea. When we start working from home, our activity level becomes shot, especially in terms of how many steps per day we take. We also sometimes end up not even leaving the house some days, which doesn’t feel good. If you’re able to, and you don’t need to be looking at a screen share on your computer, take some calls outside during a nice day and just walk around. You’ll get some nice exercise in and feel better mentally as well by taking in some more natural lighting and nature.
Set times to take little breaks away from work, especially if you’re stuck on something. When we’re working from home, we don’t have those natural “breaks” that occur during the office (think water cooler talk), so it’s important to build these in throughout the day to break activities up and charge you up for the next task. So eat a little snack, listen to a podcast, enjoy an internet break, or walk your dog. It’ll help clear your mind for the next work task at hand.
Maintain your start day/end day routines
If you had a morning routine of getting up, doing some yoga, hopping in the shower, brushing your teeth, and having a nice hearty breakfast before work, continue doing those things even after you’ve switched to being remote. Though “end of the workday” routines will undoubtedly be different (since you don’t have to make that commute anymore), still try to match it as closely as you can. If you used to go for a run after work, watch some TV, or do some knitting, keep on doing those things to keep the boundary between work and home life strong.
Common pain points of working from home
In interviewing our virtual team, these were the most common pain points that came up in the ergonomics of working from home. If you find yourself working from home and facing the same problems, read on for the solutions that we came up with to battle the pain.
Sitting down for extended periods of time and forgetting to get up
When we’re really into a project, this can especially be a problem. Holding the same position for an extended period of time is never good on your body, even if the posture is technically ergonomically correct. Movement is key to preventing injury. As one Trig teammate Stephen Lindamood offered, “it works for me to set reminders with Alexa or Google to periodically alert me to stand up, stretch, or take a break. These little stretches and breaks not only help me physically keep pain at bay, but it also helps mementally reset as well.”
Hunching forward toward the screen
Most of us seem to do this subconsciously, where our backs leave the support of the chair, and we’re hunched over toward our screens, intensely working on a client project. Aside from perhaps setting reminders again to ensure you keep your posture upright, one Trig Teammate Brian Himelright says, “I’m on the verge of buying a posture trainer that buzzes you when you’re slouching or hunched over.” You can also invest in a classic posture trainer or corrector to support a good posture which may help save your back.
Neck strain from using two screens
It may not seem like a big deal at first, but repeatedly turning your head (even slightly!) to look at your second screen does a number on your neck. You should use eye movements to view each screen, not whole neck movements. It’s therefore recommended that if you use two screens equally that you should have them beside each other, meeting right at the center, in a slight “V” shape.
Large windows make it difficult to deal with the sun
This is something we can take advantage of. In most office settings, we received a lot of artificial blue light, which isn’t the same vitamin D natural light that we can get that our circadian rhythms love. If possible, when working from home, positioning your desk near a window to soak up that sun is a really great idea. But sometimes, as some teammates explain, there’s a bit too much sun for comfort. Kelly Harrigan came up with a great solution to this problem: “I added a light filtering adhesive to my window. It’s a matte finish so I can still use natural light but not be blinded by or distracted by the light.” Ergonomically speaking, it’s best to position your desk so that the light isn’t coming from the front or back of you, but off to one of the sides.
Desk and chair at inappropriate heights
Not all of us sit on office chairs; some of us sit on couches or dining room chairs. Not all of us work at desks; some of us work off of TV trays, or a door held up by two sawhorses. Ideally, your feet should be flat on the ground, your elbows at 90 degrees relaxing by your side, and your forearm and hand in-line with your keyboard. Thankfully, you don’t have to go out to buy an expensive office chair or desk. There are some simple things you can do with items around your house to fix this problem. “I sit on 3 pillows to try and heighten myself to match my desk height,” Stephen Lindamood says as a quick fix to his short dining chair problem. And as stated earlier in the article, if you don’t have an adjustable height desk, you can add some bricks or cinder blocks to give it some height.
Eye strain from looking at screen for long periods of time
According to the NY Post, the average American will spend an equivalent of 44 years of our lives staring at screens. It’s no wonder we have trouble with eye strain. Here we can employ the 20-20-20 rule, where every 20 minutes, you look at something 20 ft away for 20 seconds.
Creating an ergonomic home work environment
Knowing where to begin to design your very own ergonomic workspace can be daunting. A good rule of thumb is to listen to your body to figure out where you should start. Basically, start with addressing whichever part of your body is hurting most, and then the rest will follow.
Your working surface and your seat
Are you working from a desk or at your kitchen table? Or do you perhaps have the opportunity to buy a new desk? Whatever the case may be, be sure that you’re able to adjust the height of your working surface against the height of your seat. This is a key factor in determining whether or not you’ve created a foundational ergonomic set up for yourself.
Your legs should sit comfortably under your desk with your feet flat on the floor. If your working surface is too low and you don’t have a height adjustable desk, you can use cylinder blocks to boost the surface up. If it’s too high, and you don’t have an adjustable chair, you can sit on firm pillows to boost yourself.
The key is to ensure that your feet stay flat on the ground and that you are able to achieve a 90-degree bend in your elbows as they comfortably rest beside you, shoulders relaxed, while your hands are on the keyboard.
Correct sitting posture. (Photo: Ergo-Dimensions)
Now that you’ve positioned yourself correctly, where do you position your stuff? As previously mentioned, as your elbows comfortably rest beside you, your keyboard should be positioned in-line with your forearm and near the edge of your desk, with palmrests for your wrists if you need them. This places the keyboard squarely in front of you, which should also be in-line with your monitor. The top of your monitor should also be height-adjusted to be level with your eyes, and generally speaking, your viewing distance from the monitor should be between 18 and 24 inches away from you depending on how big your monitor is. Your mouse should be just beside the keyboard, ensuring that you don’t need to reach too far to access it.
Lighting your space correctly
It turns out that the more natural light we get, the better we sleep, and the more productive we are in our waking hours. This has to do with the fact that our circadian rhythms love natural lighting, so we should definitely take advantage of this. (Especially if your previous office environment was in a windowless space!) If possible, set your workspace up next to a window, with the window to either side of you to avoid any glare or awkward backlighting. If it’s not possible to get as much natural lighting as you want, you can substitute with some desk lamps to break up the amount of blue light we get from screens.
Maintaining that natural S-curve shape of your spine
A lot of what’s written about ergonomics in the workplace is around maintaining a neutral and natural posture while you work. The natural S-curve of your spine can be maintained by an ergonomic chair (that you should definitely try out for a while before you buy) or some strategically placed pillows and supports for your lumbar. Try different set ups and find what’s most comfortable for you.
Movement is key
Get up and move! The number one key to preventing injury is to move. Holding the same position for a long period of time and performing repetitive motions isn’t great for your body. So before you hurt yourself, get up out of your chair and stretch once in a while. Even performing mild stretches while you’re still sitting will go a long way toward keeping your body pain free. When considering what your sitting situation looks like, be sure that whatever you’re sitting on, whether it be an expensive chair or a stack of pillows on a kitchen chair, you are able to easily move around when you need to without much effort.
So there you have it. You’ve made it all the way to the end of the article! Hopefully you have a much better idea of how to set up your workspace in a more ergonomic and enjoyable manner. If you didn’t get through the whole article and just want a TL;DR (too long; didn’t read), here it is:
The TL;DR of an enjoyable set up
- Build a flexible work environment that changes with you whenever you want it to.
- Decorate your space however you like. It’ll increase your productivity by up to 32% according to research!
- Add plants to your workspace, as the mere sight of a plant can induce a sense of calm relaxation and reduce stress.
- Maintain a barrier between work life and home life. Keep both spaces away from each other, even if you do so just psychologically.
- Don’t work in the clothes that you slept in. Put on a fresh new set of clothes in the morning before work to remain productive and improve your self-esteem.
- Take some calls outside to get outside of the house and away from your desk. This will help you make up for lost steps now that you’re not in an office running around, and it’ll refresh your mind for your next task.
- Take breaks for yourself. Workout breaks, snack breaks, TV breaks-- whatever you need to do to balance work and your mental well-being.
- Maintain your routines. Even though there’s no commute anymore and you’re bound to have changed up your routine a little as a result, try to keep to what you were doing before as much as you can. This will help warm you up for the day and also cool you down for the day when the work day is over.
The TL;DR of an ergonomic set up
- Your eyes should be level with the top of your computer monitor and slightly angled so that you’re looking a bit downward.
- Your elbows should be at 90 degrees and near your body when your hands are on your keyboard, shoulders relaxed.
- The keyboard should be positioned near the edge of the desk, with palmrests to support your wrists.
- Hands should be in-line with your forearm.
- Your back’s natural S-curve should be maintained with appropriate back supports.
- There should be about two finger’s length of space between the back of your knee and the seat of your chair.
- Your feet should be completely flat on the ground.
Stay safe and stay happy!