PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: Ergonomics when working from home
This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.
These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.
If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better – and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!
Many of us have been working from home more than ever before in the past 9,5 months. For some of us, working from home was something we already did every now and then, or one day a week, or for a few hours each day.
Before having my daughter, I used to write from home 1-2 hours before heading to campus, as a way to protect my writing time. I’m used to remote work, and had at least my laptop fully configured for such applications, because I do a lot of my work for TU Delft remotely for the months when I am not in the Netherlands. After having my daughter, I sometimes finished up some work at home in the evening, but not regularly. So, it’s safe to say that I had some experience with working from home, but nothing like what we’ve done over the past months (and not having childcare was certainly a challenge).
When you work in an office building, such as your university office, ergonomics are an essential part of the design of the space and equipment. When you work from home, your space is typically not designed for long stretches of work. You may have noticed that working from home is less comfortable than working from the office, and there’s indeed been a spike of ergonomics-related problems seen by physiotherapists and dentists. If you are working from home, the following tips and questions can help you evaluate if you can improve the ergonomics of your home workspace.
- Can you get equipment from your university? What you have at home may not be ideal for working long stretches of time, but your university may allow you to take some equipment home, or may have a special program to equip those who work from home with better tools. An extra screen, a better chair, a mouse – these small additions can work wonders.
- Check your daylight. If there’s not enough daylight in your workspace, you may experience eye strain and headaches as a result. I used to have my desk in the hallway of our apartment, where there is no direct daylight, and spent the first 5 months of the pandemic working constantly under a lamp. I then decided to move my desk to the bedroom, and order a side desk to have more space, and my working space has certainly improved.
- Find the right space to work. Are you working in a quiet space, or do all your housemates wander in and out of the kitchen, which you have claimed as your workspace? Do you have enough space to write, work, and place your computer? If your space is not ideal, try to find what would work. Note: your bed or sofa typically are not considered good options.
- Adjust your desk height. Are you comfortable with the height of your hands for typing? Is your screen at the level of your eyes? Adjust your desk if necessary (there are plenty of DIY desk adjust hacks on YouTube, if you need to figure out how to improve the position of your desk). You could also use an inclined space under your laptop to get the screen more to the level of your eyes.
- Can you work all day on your chair? Most chairs you have at home are fine for eating or sitting for a short amount of time, but not for working all day. I luckily already had my exercise-ball-in-a-chair-frame at home, but you may need to get a better chair from campus, or invest in a better chair.
- Plan movement into your schedule. By not going to the office physically anymore, we’ve lost the movement that is part of our commute. In addition to the poorer ergonomics of our home offices, loosing this daily time to move may have made our bodies stiff and too sedentary. Build in breaks for movement during the day to avoid aches and pains: walk around the block, do a short yoga sequence, or just add some bodyweight movements when you go get another coffee from the kitchen.
- Stretch. Your back, neck and shoulders need a bit more love these days – so give them what they ask for: do a stretching session at the end of the day (good to mark the end of your workday as well!), practice yoga, or foamroll your back.
- Can you map tasks to spaces and tools? Sitting in my bedroom all day, staring at my laptop screen for everything I do, has made my days very static (even with my walking breaks and stretches). I now am experimenting with mapping my tasks to spaces and tools to switch up my workday. For example, I may need to sit at my regular desk and use my laptop for writing, but can change to my iPad and walk around for reading.