The Coronavirus Pandemic has caused a real disruption in the way we live and work. We've gone from structuring our day around commuting and working to working from home, and as of the time of this writing, Victoria is undergoing a Stage 4 lockdown with almost total disruption to industries and travel within the state. Even as the pandemic crisis recedes, many employers will have discovered that they don’t need large office buildings, and many employees will have discovered that they don’t need to be in the office every day or spend hours commuting. This means that working from home may very well become the norm for those industries that can manage it. This is a problem because defined work spaces are built around standardised lines. Offices are set up in a certain way, with spatially delineated areas for work, meetings, breaks, and restrooms. Bringing the office into the home means that that spatial division has vanished, and our homes need to fulfill a double function: first as a place to live, and also as a place to work. Many people have set up makeshift home offices for the pandemic that won’t work well for the long term. In addition to having the right equipment, the physical setup — the ergonomics of the workspace — is critical, especially around avoiding repetitive strain injuries that a bad setup can cause.
A long-term home office should ideally be a separate space in your home that is properly outfitted for work. Ideally, you would use a small room that can hold a desk and computer equipment and whose door can be shut for the essential need to separate work life from home life. Most people don’t have spare space, and so have needed to make do with other means. The same table where you eat is also your desk now. You take calls and manage meetings from the same couch where you curl up and watch your cop shows. This is not ideal. A worker needs to segregate their space as much as they can - if you only have one table to use for eating and working, sit in a different spot. Even moving one chair over can allow you to divide the space between working and playing. Divide your time as well. When the clock stops, work stops. Those are simple space-and-time alterations you can make. The next step is to address the ergonomics of your workspace: the physical layout of your computer and tabletop to make the most of what space you've sequestered.
Your space needs a desk or table that is at work height. The industry standard is 29 inches from the floor to the top of the work surface. Tall people do better with a higher height, and short people do better with a lower height. Many desks and tables have adjustable height, usually through their feet. However, that industry standard is based on writing on paper, not using a keyboard and mouse. Table height can be adjusted by placing stoppers under the table legs or by raising the chair. You can also purchase cardboard cuts to change the height of the working surfaces or to raise the height of your screen. You can also purchase laptop or keyboard stands from Ikea which work well to ease the strain on your wrists when typing or when performing technical work. Avoid sustained straining or bending - this may cause injury.
Just like working at a corporate office, your home office will need an appropriately sized monitor. 25- to 27-inch monitors offer a good trade-off of space saving and viewing area on the screen. Avoid the cheapest monitors, since they can lead to eyestrain over prolonged use due to their lower resolution and thus increased fuzziness. The monitor should line up so that if looking straight ahead when sitting straight, your eyes are at a height of a quarter to one-third below the top of the screen. This ensures good posture for shoulders and the neck, and minimises the likelihood of postural or strain injury. To get the proper height, you may need a riser for the monitor
There are a lot of bad chairs out there that can injure you over prolonged computer use. Dining chairs and deck chairs, for example, rarely are at the right height, and they don’t always encourage the needed upright posture. If you can afford it, get an adjustable professional office chair which can be precise fit for your body and workspace. However, those typically go for $600 and up; there are also much cheaper office chairs — figure between $150 and $250 — that will do the job. You’ll need to test them out in person if at all possible, since you can’t tell fit from a picture on a website. Your chair should have adjustable height, that can roll, that provides lumbar support for the lower back, has adjustable seat pan tilt, arm height, and lateral arm position. An arm rest is preferable, but only if you use it correctly: That means your forearm should rest very lightly on the arm rest; there should be no pressure from your arm onto the arm rest. The arm rest basically should remind your arm to stay in the right position, not support its weight like the seat of the chair.
Ideally, you have sufficient indirect light to illuminate your workspace, so you can easily read papers and see physical objects. Overhead lighting is usually best, such as from a ceiling lamp. Indirect lighting means lights not in your direct field of view or reflecting off your monitor. For example, an outside window behind or to the side of your desk can create glare on your monitor screen when the sun is shining. Natural light is quite pleasant, but diffuse it with shades or curtains so it doesn’t create glare. Don’t place a lamp right next to a monitor, where you end up with competing light sources and possible glare. You may need lamps for additional lighting, but if possible, place them in a way that they don’t create glare on the monitor screen and are not in your direct field of vision when you’re working on the computer.
Once you've put all of these measures in place, give it a go. It will take time to get used to your home setup because it's completely different to your office. Even something as simple as sitting down needs practice. Your workplace may have an on-hand consultant who can offer advice regarding how to set up your home workspace and make suggestions based on your individual circumstances. The advice offered here is a skeleton which you can add to or subtract from based on your individual space. How applicable this advice is also depends on the work that you need to do. Professionals who use graphics tablets need more space on their table to use them properly. People who need to record audio need to consider what kind of microphone to use. People who absolutely must use videochat need to make sure their lighting doesn't interfere with the brightness auto-adjustment in their camera. There's a lot to get right and not a lot of time to do it, so reach out for support when you can, either from your business or from us.
The Subsequent Situation
In Victoria, a Stage-4 lockdown has been put in place to address the State's rocketing Coronavirus infection rate. As a consequence of this, all industries that are not essential have been directed to work from home or close. We do not know how long this situation will continue, but given the difficulty in curbing the spread of the virus, this may very well be our new normal, and it may be our new normal for a long time. The people of Victoria need support, from their employers, from their peers, and from health practitioners. At Atlas Physio, we're with you from 0800 to 2200, every day of the week. We will help you however we can, and together we will overcome the challenges that face us as individuals and as a community.
We'll beat this together, because we've beaten everything that has come before.
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