Creating the optimal workplace environment
Ergonomics—noun. The study of people’s efficiency in their working environment. Derived from the Greek words “ergon,” meaning work, and “normoi,” meaning natural law.
For many people, the concept of ergonomics—if they’ve heard of it at all—is associated with an adjective for a chair or tool, but if you have an office or office space, getting a crash course in ergonomics could help you impress the boss.
Make the most of your equipment
Many people may buy a chair just for comfort or looks, or spend a little extra on computer monitors for their crisp contrast ratio between dark and light colors (I’m not entirely sure what that means, but someone else might). However, investing money in adjustable equipment is a good ergonomic investment.
“The worst thing that someone can do is not adjust their equipment,” said Adam Pickens, PhD, MPH an assistant professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health and Managing Director of the Texas A&M Ergonomics Center. “You want to adjust your station to fit the person, and that means finding the optimal adjustments to be most efficient.”
Common things that should be tailored to your physical needs are your keyboard, monitors and chair. Someone who is 6 feet 2 inches and 240 pounds shouldn’t have the same work station as someone who is 5 feet 4 inches and 130 pounds, so adjusting everything to fit you can improve your health and efficiency.
“You want your keyboard resting comfortably right below elbow-height and the top of your monitor(s) a couple of inches below eye-level so you don’t strain your neck looking at it,” Pickens said. These little adjustments can be very important. “If your workspace falls into the ‘ergonomic nightmare’ category, you risk health issues, such as shoulder, back and neck pain, and carpal tunnel or other cumulative trauma disorders.”
If you’re trying to sell to your boss (or yourself if you have a home office) that you need better equipment, such as a standing desk or adjustable workstation, you can point to the efficiency and productivity benefits that come from the ergonomically efficient products.
“A lot of times ergonomic adjustments can reduce physical strain and that can increase productivity across a number of areas and interventions,” Pickens said. “Sometimes the adjustments aren’t always intuitive, and people stick to what they’ve always done, but that can cause problems. Sometimes it’s helpful to have someone trained in ergonomic best practices to assist in making those adjustments.”
Create the atmosphere
Some offices have a knack for being notoriously cold or uncomfortably warm, and while that can be a nuisance, it won’t typically make or break your work environment—as long as the temperature isn’t too extreme either way.
“You don’t want it too terribly cold or warm consistently,” Pickens said. “Extreme environments can cause physiological problems that can certainly interrupt productivity. However, normal temperature variation won’t cause a great deal of difference ergonomically.”
However, lighting could be an issue if you’re trying to make the most out of your productivity. Pickens recommends avoiding direct lighting on a monitor (which already has lighting), which causes glare so that you don’t strain your eyes too much, and if you’re intensely focused, you should look away from your screen or work after 20 minutes to let your eyes relax—which brings us to our last point.
Take a break
Sitting desks are traditional. Standing desks are revolutionary, but neither are the be-all-end-all for office ergonomics. Having an option for both is what’ll lead to better productivity.
“We are encouraging people to take more breaks,” Pickens said. “Change it up from time to time. If you’re sitting or standing continuously then ultimately just reaching a static state. Research is starting to point to the importance of transitions between seated and standing postures. So, if you have a standing desk, take a walk or sit from time to time, and if you’re sitting down stand up to stretch or, walk around periodically.”