Four workplace experts share how to make your home office healthier
This is a guest blog from Breather. Breather provides frictionless access to a network of private, productive meeting and office spaces on flexible terms — by the hour, day, month or year.
There are certainly some benefits to working from home: a short commute, more casual dress and no more office coffee. But there are also significant drawbacks — specifically when the home office feels more like a home than an office, inhibiting your productivity. And right now we all have enough to worry about as it is. Recently, panelists at the CoreNet NYC Plugged In webinar: Setting Up a Healthy Home Office discussed how to make your home office easily feel like a haven for productive work with items you likely have on hand.
Even if you have a home office, our homes are not designed to be productive workspaces. Brooke Fenn, an ergonomics consultant at Humanscale, said that the shift to WFH raises three challenges for desk-dwellers: lack of movement, incorrect home office furniture and increased screen time. But fear not, the ergonomist provided four simple fixes that can be executed with household items:
- Sit comfortably. Contrary to what you may believe, sitting with a perfectly erect, 90-degree posture is fatiguing and unsupportive. Instead, Fenn says it’s best to sit with a neutral spine, give your feet support rather than let them dangle and keep your thighs parallel to the floor. For extra support, add a lumbar roll or seat cushion.
- Adjust your laptop. Laptops are not ergonomic — so it’s up to us to make them that way. When using one, sit with your shoulders down and keep your arms bent at a 90-degree angle. You can add palm support by rolling up a towel underneath your wrists.
- Keep your work surface the same height as you. You can keep track of this by checking to see if your eyes are in line with the top line of text.
- Incorporate movement into your daily routine. Whether you designate separate rooms in your house for calls and work or follow the 20-20-20 rule, there are subtle, easy ways to incorporate movement into the day.
Sahaj Kumar, a sustainability and energy associate at Altanova, shared that cognitive performance can improve by 21% when you have access to fresh air at work. Not only that, but there are also fewer reported instances of fatigue, headaches and ear, nose and throat irritation.
Kumar offered three suggestions for addressing and alleviating the air quality at home.
- Let the fresh air flow. Kumar suggested opening a window, even for a brief period of time. If that’s not available to you, he also said that running the fan on an HVAC to flush out air can be helpful. He added that it’s important to be mindful of letting in pollen and other seasonal allergens.
- Clean often. It’s spring cleaning season. Kumar suggested wiping down surfaces, dusting and vacuuming often.
- Use tech. Finally, he suggested installing portable air purifiers and investing in an air quality sensor so you can track allergens in the environment. “This is the most fun,” Kumar said. “I know everyone is into data.”
Light up your world.
Light is also a significant factor in your environment — at home, at the office or at the home office, Michael Janicek, senior lighting designer at Corgan, explained. Two big stressors? Glare and contrast from surfaces and screens. A major source of discomfort comes from direct sunlight that hits when you sit facing a window, he explained. When your eyes are constantly reacting to the light it affects all the muscles in your body, leading to aches, pains and stress.
Here are Janicek’s tips for reducing eye discomfort:
- Keep windows covered or diffused. Reducing bright, direct light will lead to less stress overall. Setting up your workstation in a room with a matte finish on the wall, floor or furniture also helps.
- Use overhead lighting. Janicek suggests keeping shadows to a minimum by using dim overhead lights. Bulbs in the 300-5000 lux range are a good rule of thumb.
- Be mindful of your computer setup. Adjusting the brightness on your monitor and setting your desktop background to a light color is a good place to start. Taking things a step further, Janicek suggests placing the monitor parallel to any overhead lights, away from any windows and make sure that if you are using a lamp, it does not directly illuminate your computer.
- Limit your blue light time. It’s imperative to think about light as a color hue, and how it affects your moods. Screens — like our phones and computers — emit blue light. Blue light affects melatonin production, which impacts (and inhibits) our sleep cycle.
Take care of your mental health.
But it’s not just about the physical environment. Michael Blunt,CEO of the C3 Method, explained how mental health affects everything, including your work. “Decreased mental health is decreased engagement, and decreased engagement is decreased productivity,” he said.
Blunt said there are three ways to think of this.
- Physical wellness: You can take care of your health by taking control of your setup. Step one is creating a dedicated workspace. But there are other lower-lift solutions: It can be as simple as closing the bathroom door, adding plants, sageing, making the bed or covering the TV.
- Mental health: Blunt says you should ask yourself, “What are you doing every day for self-care?” He suggests reflective activities like yoga, meditation, walking in nature or working out.
- Emotional space: Creating physical boundaries influences your emotions, too. Blunt suggested thinking of rooms as “zones” and not allowing your “work zone” to overlap with your “chill zone” or “childcare zone,” for example.
Finally, for managers, it’s important to set an example for your team and make self-care a priority, even during the workday. “Schedule wellness breaks,” he said. “Put it on the calendar — let them know you mean business”
Think your home office has what it takes? Enter our Healthy Home Office competition by sending a picture of your current workspace to firstname.lastname@example.org by 5/4. Our expert panel will review and select 3 winners: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Winners will receive personalized tips to improve their space and $300 in Breather meeting space credit. The winners will be announced at the 5/8 CoreNet Virtual Happy Hour.