From nap pods to game rooms, today’s offices have come a long way since the Mad Men era. Can you imagine the look on Don Draper’s face when he encounters a slide in the lobby? But for as much as the look of the office space has changed, much remains the same in terms of functionality. We still sit in chairs and hunch over desks. We’re still there for 8 to 10 hours a day. And we still try to position our work in such a way that our bosses can’t look over our shoulder to spy on what we’re doing. And while new technologies have certainly boosted our productivity, they’ve only added more to the list of tools we navigate in a manner that’s less than ideal for our bodies. So, how can you hack your workspace to fit the demands of the modern era? Let’s take a look.
First things first: if you’re going to overhaul your workspace to better fit the demands of your body and your behavior, it’s important to have a good grasp of what is and what isn’t working, and what you’re bringing to the table.
There are many precise guides for doing so (like this one, from Human Solution). But a quick rule of thumb is that you want your chair to be at such a height that your feet sit flat on the ground with your knees at a 45-degree angle. That is, not extended too far in either one direction. You should be able to sit up comfortably and float your hands over your keyboard with your wrists or forearms in a neutral and natural position — again, not straining up or down (notice a pattern here). Additionally, your computer screen should be an arm’s length away, and positioned so that your neck is also in a neutral position — that is, so that you can easily look straight ahead.
If you’re really looking to do a workspace overhaul, you might consider videotaping yourself for an hour or two as you move about your office for a better idea of how you use the space and where you might be overstraining yourself. This, combined with photos of your workspace, can also be sent to a professional ergonomist for expert consulting and advice.
2. Find the Support You need
Once you’ve got a good sense of the problems at hand, it’s time to hunt down creative solutions. If your feet can’t reach the ground, you could try a traditional footrest, but why not give a hammock footrest? They’re easily adjusted for work and play, and they’ll definitely fit into that contemporary office look. Alternatively, nothing beats the old stacked milk crate trick.
From there you’ll also want to look into task lighting to place to the side of your computer screen. This will help your eyes more easily adjust when switching between papers and the computer screen. This in turn will help to prevent the kind of strain that can lead to computer vision syndrome. Combine this with a monitor arm, so that you can adjust the height, angle, and distance of your screen as you adjust throughout the day, and your eyes will be well looked after.
Another key to hacking your workspace for ergonomic comfort is fixing the way you sit. You might, for instance, give a medicine ball a try as a way to engage your core and force your muscles into adjusting throughout the day. An ergonomic chair is also a great option if you need a little more support. Alternatively, you could try standing all day with the help of an adjustable desk, or pedaling while you work with a pair of fold-up, beneath the desk pedals. The more movement and variation you can incorporate into your behind the desk routine, the more you’ll push your muscles out of their everyday patterns, the less likely you’ll be to suffer office injuries.
Last but certainly not least, take a look into ergonomic accessories, like an ergonomic keyboard and mouse. While items like these are light on the budget, they pack a heavy punch, and can really revolutionize the way you work — all by providing the support and customization you need. This is crucial as you spend so many hours each day performing the same repetitive tasks, which can lead to strain and long term injury, like carpal tunnel syndrome, which may require surgery and time off. Ergonomic office equipment will ensure that won’t happen. It will also make you far more productive and efficient on the job. Certainly a hack that pays off!
3. Set a Budget and Get Higher Ups on Board
With a plan in place, now it’s time to let the higher ups know all about your planned hacks. Sure, you could do this all on your own (after all, you are the expert when it comes to your own body), but you might be surprised how willing your bosses are to accommodate you, especially in the face of OSHA audits.
To really hit this one out of the park, start by putting together a budget. Be sure to note must-have versus nice to have items. Really emphasize how much ergonomic equipment is an investment for the company as a whole, and if you can, see if you can put together some ROI numbers. For example, if your hourly rate calculates out to $50, type up an estimation of how much your company would lose per hour if you ever had to call in sick for pain and ultimately for carpal tunnel surgery. Add in as well any lost productivity hours. That is, how much slower you work with your pain than you used to. With budgets and ROI calculations in hand, the executive team is likely to be a lot more generous than you predicted!
4. Tweak and Re-Tweak
Okay, so now you’ve got all of the equipment you need. What next? First, give yourself some time to get used to your new environment and to train yourself on any new behaviors. An ergonomic keyboard, for example, may take some getting used to as you reset your muscle memory. As you get better, try to do at least weekly check-ins with yourself to see how it’s going and to make any tweaks. If you videotaped yourself previously, try doing so again to see where you’ve improved and where you still need a leg up. Keep adjusting and lobbying until you’re as comfortable as can be.
5. Spread the Word
Ergonomic hacks can benefit everyone in your office, no matter what their role. And when one person is more productive and efficient — and hey, happier, too — the whole team will work much better and continue to lift each other up. Teams with ergonomic workspaces can focus all of their formidable mental power and creativity on getting creative and doing the job right. So spread the word, and demonstrate the power of ergonomics simply by doing it yourself.
The painful workspace should be a thing of the past — so why not make it that way? With a few ergonomic hacks, you’ll feel better, work better, and play better in your off-time, too. So, what are you waiting for? Hack away!