As we make our way back to offices, we realise that a lot has changed in the last year. Many of us want to work from home for part of our week. It makes it easier to support kids or hobbies and a few days without the commute can be good for the soul. Many of us scrambled to set up our home office as companies shut theirs to support the fight against the pandemic. In our haste, we took a chair and monitors from the office and now we need them at work. Or we purchased or borrowed any equipment we could in order to continue work. Now is the time to review the whole setup, as you seek to find the balance between working from home and working at work. In reviewing your setup, here is what to look out for.
Eye strain and our friend, the brightness slider
Whether it be office work or working from home, you’re going to be staring at a computer screen for an extended period of time. So making this as easy on your eyes as possible is vital in protecting their health. For starters, do not force your eyes to stare at a screen that is too bright (or even too dim!). This is a recipe for dryness and sadness. If screen glare is causing you to increase the brightness to compensate, you must take the necessary steps to reduce or even eliminate the glare. This can be as simple as closing a blind or two or rearranging the room to have the sun or bright downlights face away from your screen.
While changing your screen brightness, also take the time to increase the text size. The text size? Yep, straining your eyes to adapt to reading atomically small text can be just as bad as a monitor at full brightness at midnight. If you’re using Chrome right now, try pressing (Ctrl)+(+) on windows or (⌘)+(+) on a Mac to make the text and all screen elements larger and easier to see.
Some major programs include dark modes that swap the black text and white background with white text and a black background. For example, Google Chrome has some ‘extensions’ on the web store that allow you to do this on every website you visit! Just Google 'Chrome dark extension' and it appears right at the top.
You may have come across the buzzwords: ‘Blue light’. What is blue light? It’s a shorter wavelength than other colours on the spectrum therefore more energy is produced by it and it strains your eyes more than any other screen colour. How do we tone it down? Well luckily for us there are some aptly named ‘blue light filters’ that filter blue light (no way!). These filters are built into both Mac and Windows. On Mac it’s called ‘Night shift’ and on Windows it’s called ‘Night light’ – a simple search in the settings in the respective OS should help you find it.
Monitor angles and height
While it is easy to get carried away with amazingly productive multi-monitor setups (or even just a single monitor), It’s vital that they are looked upon at an angle that won’t make your neck cry for the physio every time you wake up in the morning. Ideally, when looking straight forward, your eyes should be in line with a point on your monitor 5-10cm below the top of the screen.
With this in mind, regardless of the distance between you and your monitor (which we will discuss), you can mostly guarantee that your neck will not be strained by a lousy viewing angle. This optimal height will also bring your shoulders and elbows to the perfect height for your bodily posture.
Speaking of angles, with the optimal height now defined it’s worth noting that the angle of your neck now shouldn’t exceed a resting 15º angle.
How far away should you be from your monitor? 50cm to 100cm is the standard recommendation. The bigger your monitor/screen is, the further away it should be within the 50-100cm range. Too close? Eye strain. Too far? Eye strain. Trial and error is the best way to determine what is most comfortable for you.
Chair and desk ergonomics
So now that you know where you have to be in terms of height relative to your monitor, what about the rest of your desk/workspace? The first thing to have is a chair that can be adjusted. Don’t underestimate the importance of swivel and height adjustability. The height should be adjusted in a way that when your hands are by your side, your elbows are at the height of the desk. On the topic of height, your feet must be touching the ground yet the chair must be high enough so that your knees are as close to a perfect 90º angle as they can be. If you find that your feet are too far off the ground, consider purchasing a footrest to accommodate them.
To put it simply, your body should be in a series of 90º angles to eliminate any stress on your spine and ensure that you can maintain a healthy posture. Always make use of the lever on the underside of the chair responsible for adjusting the angle of the backrest to achieve this ‘perfect’ angle. To do this, your knees should be level with your hips, your hands should be level with your elbows. By doing this, holding a healthy posture becomes far more achievable. Never 'cheap out' on a quality chair because it will always be cheaper than a physio.
Keyboards and desk items
Keep your keyboard close to limit the amount of reaching you have to do during the day. Standard desk items such as phones, drinks and notepads must all be within a reasonable distance so you won’t have to adjust your back to reach them. In fact you should barely have to reach at all. If you stay that still for such a long amount of time you will start to feel a bit rigid, that's why you should…
Take breaks and take them often. Stand up and get a drink, grab a snack. If you have to make or take a phone call, take that opportunity to walk and talk for a little while. Humans aren’t designed to stay still for as long as we often do. Even just a 30 second stretch can be a lifesaver when it comes to your joints. Never underestimate the importance of breaks.
Not everything has to be about pure productivity, it’s always great to take a step back and make sure you’re caring for your health in every way you can. Your body will thank you for it!
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