The Complete Guide to Setting Up a Health-Friendly Workplace

Human bodies are designed for a lot of things. They’re designed to get up, run around, and jump places. They’re certainly not designed to sit on a chair in front of a computer all day—which is exactly what most professionals do.

Not that it’s a bad thing, by itself. We all need to make a living, after all, and if it means pounding away at a keyboard every waking hour of the day, so be it.

That doesn’t mean it’s okay to sacrifice your health in the process, though. Long-time desk workers tend to suffer a good number of health hazards, and if you’re not careful, overworking yourself can cause you to not be able to work at all. An ironic situation, don’t you think?

Fortunately, you can still do something. You can still make a few, relatively inexpensive tweaks to your desk, which will not only make it a better place to work in, but also keep you in good shape. Are you ready to do that? Then let’s get started.

Choose A Good Location

If you work in an office away from home, this isn’t much of a problem. Here, you can mentally separate “work” and “leisure” without much trouble. But if your office is your home, compartmentalizing can be more of a challenge.

When choosing a place for your home office, pick an area you don’t normally associate with “rest and relaxation”. Otherwise, you’ll keep thinking about work when you should be resting, and rest when you should be working. If this isn’t practical for you, you can either build a home office from scratch, or find a nearby café where you can work on your laptop without distractions.

Also, remember to answer these questions:

  • How much space do you need? Will a small space suffice, because you work with a laptop? Or do you need a larger space to accommodate your desktop computer, office supplies and other peripherals?
  • What’s the temperature of your workstation at any given time? Does it get hot in the morning, afternoon or evening? How will you position your desk such that you can avoid the heat during working hours?
  • Do you prefer a 100 percent, distraction-free environment? Or would you rather have some (light) background noise once in a while?
Angle Your Lighting

Try to keep your computer monitor away from the window. The light from it can bounce off the monitor and cause glare, which hurts your eyes. If you have to work near a window, cover it with blinds, curtains or adjustable shades to keep glare at a minimum, and position your monitor perpendicular to it.

Once night falls, you can switch to artificial light. The best artificial light source is a small lamp placed behind your monitor, rather than a task lamp or overhead bulb. What you want to do is to avoid glare, and give just enough light for your computer.

You can also adjust your monitor’s display settings, so that the brightness of your monitor is almost the same as the brightness of your surroundings. If there’s too much contrast between the two, your eyes might suffer. Consider upgrading to an anti-glare screen or LCD monitor, since these are easier on the eyes compared to their more conventional counterparts.

Practice Good Posture

Practice Good Posture

If, after working, you experience pain in one part of—or all over—your body, it’s a sign you need to fix your posture. It’s also a sign you need newer, more ergonomic equipment—but we’ll get to that later.

For now, let’s discuss the basics of good desk posture.

  • The top of your monitor should be at, or slightly below, eye level.
  • Your monitor should be roughly an arm’s length away.
  • Your head, neck and torso should be straight, or at least reclined in a comfortable way.
  • Your shoulders should be relaxed.
  • Your arms and legs should be bent at 90 degree angles or more, with your thighs and lower arms parallel to the floor.
  • Your hands and wrists should be aligned with your arms, whether you’re using the keyboard, mouse or both.
  • Your feet should be flat on the floor.

As long as you have good posture, you’ll be comfortable and healthy. On the other hand, if your current equipment makes it impossible to maintain good posture, you can proceed to the next step.

Invest In Ergonomic Equipment

Any equipment that maintains good posture and minimizes injury while you’re at your desk is “ergonomic”. Examples include:

  • Adjustable Office Chair. A good one (1) adjusts its height according to yours; (2) gives support to your lumbar area a.k.a. lower back; (3) allows you to lean back comfortably; and (4) allows you to swivel and turn around as you please.
  • Wrist Rest. This aligns your wrists with your hands and arms, and prevents carpal tunnel syndrome. Some wrist rests are attached to mouse pads; others are sold as separate components.
  • Ergonomic Keyboard. Instead of forcing your hands to bend awkwardly at the wrists like straight keyboards do, ergonomic keyboards keep your hands in the same line as your arms.
  • Arm rest. If your chair’s built-in arm rest isn’t enough, you can get one of these to keep your arms aligned with your wrists and hands.
  • Foot rest. If you can’t keep your feet flat on the floor no matter how much you adjust your chair, consider buying a foot rest.

Make sure you buy only the ones that correct your particular posture problem. That way, you’ll get your money’s worth on ergonomic equipment.

Use Desk Plants

You don’t need a green thumb to care for a desk plant. As you can see in this interactive infographic, most of these plants are pretty low-maintenance. Also, they clean up the air around your desk, and are nice to look at, so that’s a plus.

A few caveats, though:

  • Different plants thrive under different degrees of sunlight; i.e. some plants thrive under full light, while others prefer the shade.
  • You or your co-worker might be allergic to plants—or, more accurately, pollen from plants.
  • A large plant beside your desk can become an obstruction, or a cause for a major accident.

For these reasons, it’s best to exercise caution and do your research before buying any desk plant.

Paint Your Workspace

Paint Your Workspace

It might sound hard to believe, but your office’s colors can determine your success at work. For example, if your job requires you to focus for hours on end, a blue office accented with yellow can boost your concentration. Likewise, an office covered in red or orange shades can pump up everyone’s energy levels.

Before you head for the paint store, however, keep these considerations in mind.

  • Overdoing any of the color schemes above might worsen your work performance instead of improving it.
  • Be sure to use environment-friendly paint—or, at least, the ones with the least amount of toxic chemicals—so that you won’t have to endure funny smells at work due to fresh paint.
  • The color scheme rules above aren’t set in stone. For example, if you want to concentrate at work but hate the color blue, you can either use another color, or leave your wall paint untouched altogether.

In short, don’t forget to consider your personal preferences when buying paint.

Take Breaks Once In A While

Take Breaks Once In A While

As of this writing, there’s no official, one-size-fits-all rule regarding breaks. Some swear by the Pomodoro technique, where you work for 25 minutes straight before taking a 5-minute break. Others say it’s better to divide your work sessions into 90-minute intervals. One study even suggested that the formula for “perfect productivity” is taking 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work.

In any case, one thing’s for sure: It’s impossible to force yourself to work for several hours straight. Even if you do manage that, there’s a good chance you’ll suffer burnout symptoms eventually. After all, willpower is a finite resource, and the only way to replenish it is—you guessed it—taking frequent breaks.

It doesn’t matter whether you follow the Pomodoro, the 90-minute rule or the 52-minute rule. Just take a break as soon as you need it.

Do Desk Exercises

If you want to take a break without leaving your desk, here’s what you can do.

  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, stare at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Not only does this prevent eye strain, but it also gives you a little bit of time to relax.
  • Shake your hands vigorously, like you’re trying to dry them. This is a great way to relieve tired hands without drawing too much attention to yourself in the office.
  • Lock your fingers together as though in prayer. Then, slowly stretch your arms in front of you without separating your fingers, and face your palms outwards. Afterwards, gradually lift your arms to the ceiling, while keeping your fingers locked and tilting your chin up.
  • With your buttocks, push your chair back as far as you can. Then, extend your lower legs outwards, effectively keeping your entire lower body parallel to the floor. Don’t forget to wiggle and stretch your feet and toes.

These are just a handful of exercises you can perform at your desk. For more of these, check out this WebMD article.

Be Messy For Creativity, And Clean For Productivity

Be Messy For Creativity, And Clean For Productivity

Which do you think is better for productivity: a clean desk, or a messy one? That depends on what you’re using the desk for, according to a University of Minnesota study. The researchers found that people with messy desks tend to be more creative and open to risks, whereas those with neat desks are more likely to stick to the norm.

In other words, if you’re mulling over how to approach a new project, it’s best not to throw away those scrunched-up, empty candy wrappers (yet). But if you’re in the process of working on that project, you’ll be much more efficient without those candy wrappers around.

Note that there’s a social cost to messy desks, though. In an interview with Forbes, Jennie Dede—Adecco’s vice president for recruiting—said that co-workers often judge you based on the tidiness of your desks. If your desk is messy, people are more likely to think “Ugh, what a slob!” than “Wow, how creative!”. In this case, you have to decide which is more important to you: Your social standing, or your self-expression?

“Spring Clean” Your Computer Every Now And Then

It’s okay to keep your desk messy. What’s not okay is letting the mess get into your computer, and damage it in any way—which is the last thing you want to happen to your most valuable work tool. To prevent this from happening, follow this step-by-step guide to cleaning your computer’s hardware.

By the way, your computer’s not the only one that’ll benefit from spring cleaning. According to a study by the University of Arizona, keyboards contain a jaw-dropping 3,295 germs per square inch, while computer mice contain 1,676 germs per square inch. Makes you think twice about eating finger food at your desk, doesn’t it?

Over To You

When it comes to your workspace, “healthy” and “productive” don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, they pretty much go together: You can’t work if you’re not healthy, and you can’t be healthy if you overwork yourself and neglect your body’s needs. Get these changes done to your desk today, and avoid becoming another stereotypical sick desk worker.

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