If yes, this is for you.

Have you ever experienced back pain and eye strain from sitting all day in front of your computer at work? Have you ever caught your attention drifting to your phone? It’s physiological and perhaps you need a design change. Here are some tips to keep healthy at work.

Original artwork by Claire Vergnes

Original artwork by Claire Vergnes

Hi, I’m Claire. I recently joined Sutherland Labs because I wanted to use my skills in Design and research for good. I also have a background in ergonomics. You might ask why and what is ergonomics? (I did ask myself this throughout my Masters). Coming from a design background, I felt that I was lacking concrete scientific understanding of how humans work physiologically. I quite like the depiction of humans as creatures with input and output channels; if you overstimulate those channels you might get a negative output (for example too much noise can hinder your ears – input – but also comfort). In other words, I would see it as user experience at the visceral level.

Ergonomics what is it?

I promise this is not another Health & Safety post about workplace safety. Ergonomics is the study of human’s physiological and cognitive principles to develop and design better environments, processes and systems. In other words, fit the environment to the human and not the other way around. If you sleep in a bed that is too small for you, you wouldn’t cut off your feet to fit in!

Now ergonomics serves a lot of purposes from systemic thinking to measuring vibration, for the purpose of this article we are going to focus on how your body reacts to working in front of a desk.

Awkward postures when working – especially with intensive computer use –  encourages stress & damage to our bodily tissues which can accumulate over time. In the long term this can lead to a range of injuries including repetitive strain injury, upper limb disorder & musculoskeletal disorder amongst many others.

Recovery by sleeping and observing a healthy lifestyle would normally ‘counter’ these kinds of stress damage, this is without taking the age factor into account – as with age, your body’s healing processes slows down. In doubt, prevent it!

In the Workplace

Reducing the amount of stress damage can be done by engineering your workplace in an ‘ergonomic’ fashion as well as changing your deep-rooted bad habits. As a human and therefore creature of my environment, especially working from home most of my time now, it’s important to understand that sometimes taking action on the design of your workplace can have amazing effects on your productivity, attention and wellbeing!

Working in an awkward posture is not an efficient way to work. Reducing physiological stress & encouraging work being done in the “comfort zone” which, believe it or not, causes less fatigue and helps you work faster and more accurately. Here’s how to do it:

1. Always maintain a good sitting posture. This means sitting upright and as far as possible in your chair (get your ears, shoulder, elbows and hip bone all in a vertical line). You can do this by adjusting your seat height to your desk in such a way that you feel comfortable sitting at your workstation. You must have effective lumbar support (lower back) in your chair, either built in or add-on (small cushion attached to the back of your seat) which you can adjust as all bodies differ in size and shape.

2. Your arms and elbows should make a 90 degrees angle when resting on the desk. Adjustable armrests are preferred as fixed ones encourage slumping down. If you can’t  adjust them, a simple solution would be to wrap foam around them, altering their height, or just take them off! Not everyone likes armrests and that is up to you, although they help considerably in reducing the weight strain from the shoulders.

3. Your feet should be supported whilst working. If your feet don’t touch the floor when seated, get a footrest. The best solution would be to DIY one yourself with some books or cushions, as the ones available on the market might be either having too many features or can actually restrict your feet movement.

4. Your monitor should be adjusted in such a way that your head is facing straight ahead. This prevents strain from your neck muscles. If your monitor is too low, you can raise its height by adding a book or a bunch of paper underneath. If you are using a Laptop, stop using it in the way you are right now! Laptops can be considered as products of bad design and are not suitable for prolonged use at all as it adds considerably to neck and shoulder strain. You can alleviate this by raising your laptop to the height of your normal monitor and adding both connected keyboard and mouse for comfort.

5. Make sure your monitor is approximately 50-70 centimeters away from your eyes. You should be able to read your screen easily without focusing too hard on the screen. Adjust accordingly.

6. Try to avoid glare on your monitor. This can cause discomfort and therefore strain the eye. Some tips on that would be to set up the lighting in such ways which feels easy on your eyes, sometimes your overhead lighting would do better switched off. A good way to assess if there is glare is to look at your monitor while it is switched off, adjust accordingly. For natural lighting, try not to face a window (your monitor’s background should be a similar brightness level or darker) or have a window behind you (in this case use blinds).

7. Lastly, air your workspace! Open a window from time to time and make sure fresh air enters the room. Maybe get yourself a plant.

Want to learn more about improving your experience at your desk? Check this video by The Wall Street Journal:

Find more on the Open Ergonomics website, but be ready to find some crazy (ugly) ergonomic graphics.

Don’t miss Part 2 on this topic, where we’ll be sharing tips for your workplace to avoid fatigue. Follow us on social, or sign up for our mailing list below.

UX Researcher

Sutherland Labs
Profile Image - Claire Vergnes

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