Proper work ergonomics is important for work productivity, mood, and work motivation. These days, many people have headaches, lower back pain, neck pain, and fatigue at work, and the causes often relate to poor work ergonomics and stress. Over time, unergonomic work posture can cause significant deterioration of the cervical spine and musculoskeletal alignments. When you optimize your work station, you improve your ability to work and function longer. Most importantly, you will enjoy your work more when you are not in distress due to constant ache and pain. Office environment optimization is a key part of the biohacker’s way of improving health and productivity at work. This article summarizes the essential ways of optimizing the work environment.
Height adjustable standing desk
A standing desk allows you to stand part of the working day. The health risks of sitting for long periods are noteworthy: in one study, those who sat in stretches less than 30 minutes had a 55 % lower risk of death compared to those who sat for more than 30 minutes. Standing part of the working day improves the lymphatic and blood circulation and increases calorie expenditure and can help to manage weight. A standing desk is a great way to straighten the spine and prevent cervical tilt and pressure on intervertebral discs and pubic bone, which can lead to chronic back problems and even infertility.
The standing desk can be adjusted to your height and preferred position. Today, various types of standing desks and even treadmill desks may be found at furniture stores for moderate prices. There are also portable solutions which you can take with for example to a remote office or summer cottage. If you have previously spent the whole working day sitting, the general recommendation is to change to the standing position gradually. A good start is to stand half the time – for example, you could stand for 30 minutes, followed by 30 minutes of sitting. Increase the proportion of standing incrementally until you stand (or walk) for most of the workday. Listen to your body – excessive standing can also cause physiological problems.
People often prefer sitting to standing because standing can cause strain to feet, legs, hips, and back. Sometimes standing in a static posture can also cause stiffness to the neck and shoulders. Standing mat (also called a comfort mat or an anti-fatigue mat) is designed to prevent these strains by allowing natural movement to leg muscles and hip joints. This improves blood and lymph circulation and can also help burn more calories. Natural movement is encouraged by a soft surface or a flexible board design.
A two-part saddle chair
Many offices are equipped with chairs that may cause harm to genitals and lower back. People typically sit tilting their upper body and shoulders forward. This squashes nerves and blood vessels in the thighs, buttocks, pelvis, and the genital area. Women are used to sitting withlegs crossed which also impairs blood circulation increasing health risks. A two-part saddle chair is a chair that is designed to cause the least harm to the genital area. For men, a two-part saddle chair reduces pressure at the base of the penis and lowers testicular temperature improving sperm count. A two-part saddle-chair encourages both men and women to tilt the pelvis forward reducing pressure on the pubic bone and genitals.
External monitor and/or keyboard
One of the most common problems with a laptop is the keyboard which is attached or too close to the monitor. It forces a trade-off between an ergonomic neck and shoulder/wrist posture. The solution is to have an external keyboard or an external monitor (or both) which allows you to lift the monitor higher for optimal neck posture. The monitor should be at eye levels or just slightly lower and it should be around 50–70 cm (20–28 inches) from the face and slightly tilted back.
An ergonomic mouse helps reduce wrist fatigue and distress. The first step in optimizing mouse ergonomics is to get an external mouse if you’re using a laptop. Most people are used to a mouse with two buttons and a scroll wheel. Vertical and upright mouses (increasing mouse height and angling the mouse top) can reduce forearm pronation and wrist fatigue compared to a traditional flat mouse.
Active noise-canceling headphones
Studies show that sound pollution is one major source of distress in workplaces. Active noise-cancelling (ANC) headphones have a technology that reduces environmental noises, especially very high pitch and low pitch sounds while emphasizing mid frequencies. This can promote nervous system balance and ease distress, especially when working in an open office or nearby traffic. ANC-headphones can also be used in airports, city environments, or other noisy environments.
It is important to pay attention to ergonomics when using your phone. Tilting head even slightly down will cause a high increase in the amount of weight that the cervical spine is carrying. This is typical when checking messages, reading from the phone, typing, or even video calling. When using the phone, aim to keep your phone at eye level with lifting the phone high enough. In case you have a video meeting or need to use the phone for a long time, place it in a tripod. When texting, use the “voice command” function instead of writing. Use the phone only when necessary.
When possible, allow natural light to enter the office. Sunlight also has benefits for air quality as it inactivates microbes under daylight conditions and can lower the abundance of viable bacteria. However, during very bright and hot summer (especially between 10 AM and 4 PM), it is advisable to protect the window with curtains or blinds to prevent too high temperature in the room as well as excessive UVB/UVA exposure, sunburn, and light-associated headaches.
Current lighting technologies allow changing the indoor lighting illumination intensity (Lux) and color temperature (Kelvin) according to the time of the day. Optimal office lighting has an optimal intensity for task performance and adjusting the color temperature to support natural circadian rhythm. Preferably, bright and blue-colored lights should only be used during morning and daytime. If the workday extends towards the evening, especially after 6 PM, light intensity should be reduced and the color temperature changed towards red (circadian lighting). This mimics the natural patterns of the sun and supports healthy sleep. The light temperature should be also adjusted in computer monitors and other electronic devices with apps or filters.
Photophobia or light sensitivity is also common. Some people may get stress, tension, eye strain, and headaches from bright office lights and computer screens without realizing the cause. Experimenting with the most comfortable office light intensity and color temperature help to reduce strain and increase work comfort and ergonomy.
Common light intensity levels outside (in lux):
- Sunlight: 100 000
- Outdoor light during a sunny, cloudless day: 10000–25000
- Outdoor light during a cloudy day: 100–1000
- Outdoor light during a very dark day: 10–100
Common light intensity levels inside (in lux):
- A typical office, cafeteria, gym: 200–500
- Retail, markets, library, accounting: 500
- Detailed mechanical work, technical drawing, kitchens: 700–1000
- Office in which very detailed visual performance is required (laboratory etc.): > 1000
Kelvin color temperatures of different light sources. Visualized as point / omnidirectional lights.
Creating an optimal indoor climate is an important factor in improving working conditions. We spend more than 90 % of our time indoors and the indoor air can be 2–5 times (and even up to 100 times) more polluted than fresh outdoor air. Unpurified indoor air can contain mold, dust, harmful gases (including chemicals from surface treatment agents, detergents, exhaust fumes, and smoking), and ultrafine particles as well as volatile organic compounds from IT devices. Poor indoor air quality has a significant impact on cognitive abilities and alertness.
Actions for improving indoor air quality:
- Wipe off the dust regularly
- Have the indoor air quality analyzed
- Ventilate your office frequently (20 min per day)
- Purchase an air purifier
- Purchase an air freshener that increases air humidity
- Use ozone treatments to remove unpleasant odors
- Purchase an ionizer that spreads ions into the air, trapping negatively charged particles
- Purchase a green wall to office
- Purchase plants that purify indoor air. The following plants are recommended by NASA:
- Snake plant
- Barberton daisy
- Peace lily
Taking breaks during the workday is important for the maintenance of energy levels and mental agility. Developing routines, improving concentration, minimizing external factors, and consciously calming one's mind all facilitate carrying out and completing various tasks. Placing a yoga mat, a kettlebell, vibration plate, or other exercise equipment in the office environment encourages movement and stretch during the day, which can improve energy and reduce muscle tension. In the breaks you can for example:
- Do kettlebell swings
- Do a sun salutation (yoga sequence)
- Perform squats or stay in a squatting position for a moment
- Do push-ups, pull-ups, jumping jacks or burpees
- Do a headstand
- Move spontaneously or dance
- Do a plank
- Shake and pat various parts of your body
- Massage the soles of your feet using a massage ball (e.g. an ice ball)
- Jump on a miniature trampoline or stand on a vibration plate
Fluid balance is important for cognitive functioning and energy. Dehydration can cause fatigue and a decline in work productivity. According to official guidelines, one should drink a minimum of 1–1.5 liters of water per day, preferably 2–3 liters depending on daily activity level and air temperature.