Working remotely has many perks, but it comes with one glaring disadvantage. Coffee shops, hotel rooms and cowork spaces, the preferred haunts of the remote worker, rarely provide an ergonomic work environment. This has lead to an increase in injuries among the nomadic workforce. I should know, I’ve been part of this workforce for about 10 years. I’ve had the hunched back to prove it!
Luckily, technology is catching up with this workplace shift, and there are some great portable ergonomic solutions on the market.
So with the New Year upon us, it’s a perfect time to make some positive changes that will improve your posture and your mood beyond 2017! Below is a list of my favorite tools that will help you walk into any cowork office in the world and set up an ergonomic workspace in seconds.
PICK THE RIGHT CHAIR
The ideal working position is all about sitting upright with your gaze, hands and knees at right angles to your body. So no more sinking into to that comfy sofa in the corner.
Sitting correctly has a positive impact on neck and back alignment, hamstring flexibility and, perhaps more surprisingly, your mood. So there is a lot riding on getting a good chair. Look for one with adjustable height settings and set your arms and feet at that magic 90 degree angle. If your legs are dangling over the side, use some books to stabilise them as this will help avoid unpleasant conditions such as Deep Vein Thrombosis.
If your space is stocked with chairs that have more in common with garden furniture, then buying an exercise ball is a great solution. For one, it will fold down to nothing in your suitcase, but exercise balls naturally align your spine into the desired ‘s’ shape and have the added benefit of improving your core strength and improving circulation.
What’s not to like? Well blowing it up maybe.
If you move around frequently then Better Back may be a more suitable option. It is one of my favourite tools to encourage great posture. This travel ready (it folds into a bag half the size of my laptop) harness effectively turns any chair into an ergonomic one! You simply wrap it around your lower back and your body is correctly aligned for pain free work.
ARE YOU SITTING COMFORTABLY?
Laptops are inherently unergonomic (unless you’re 2 feet tall, that is). They have enabled the nomadic lifestyle but, by combining monitor and keyboard together, make it impossible to maintain a good erect posture with your hands and eyes at 90 degrees to your body. While a subtle change in position may seem almost irrelevant to your well-being, over time the anatomy is stressed until the muscles and tendons start to break down. That’s when you feel pain, fatigue or numbness.
With sales of laptops overtaking desktops for the first time in the United States (according to market-research firm IDC), backs and necks are only going to get more punishment. The only real portable solution (unless you want to carry around a 30 inch monitor in your suitcase) is to get a portable keyboard and mouse.
You can then elevate your laptop screen to eye level.
Luckily there are now some great portable keyboards out there. I own a few, including the nifty ESYNIC keyboard that I can fit in my pocket. I think the ESYNIC was designed for smartphones but it connects perfectly to my Mac Book. That being said, my go-to keyboard is the Apple Magic Bluetooth keyboard. It’s the same size as my laptop keyboard so I don’t end up typing in between keys for 5 minutes every time I swap back to the laptop!
The gadget I never leave home without is the Roost stand (I’ve even gifted this one to friends and family to be sure they would use it as a New Year’s resolution!). This clever piece of engineering lifts your laptop monitor up to a foot above your desk to encourage a much more correct posture
But the best thing (and by that I mean what separates it from a pile of books under you laptop) is how it folds up smartly into a lightweight package barely bigger, and not much heavier, than a ruler!
According to WebMD, the majority of posture related complaints are for wrist injuries, so the mouse you choose could be the most important ergonomic decision you make. It’s also the most personal decision as their are many different injuries that stem from their use. These pains are brought on by the fact that laptop trackpads and, to a lesser degree, standard mice put your wrist in an unnatural and permanently strained position.
Broadly ergonomic mice aim to remedy 3 problems:
- Wrist Pain
- Elbow Pain
- Forearm Pain
The best all round solution is the vertical mouse shape. It works by rotating your hand 45 degrees into a more natural handshake position. I’ve been using one for over 5 years now and it’s helped me keep working with computers. At one point I was in so much pain I could barely push open a door.
Anker makes a well-priced and sturdy vertical mouse that is still quite portable.
GET UP STAND UP
I carry all the above tools with me wherever I work, but I would be remiss if I did not mention that the best way to avoid repetitive strain injuries is with variety. It’s obvious when you think about it, vary your posture throughout the day and your body will be under less repetitive strain.
Standing desks are a popular way of doing this. Their manufactures make a lot of claims: reduced back pain, better posture, more energy, calorie burning. Some even claim that you will live longer.
There are some light portable options available for digital nomads that you can pick up and take wherever you want to go. Although it may be tempting to build one yourself with books and boxes, think carefully whether it’s worth risking your expensive laptop. My favourite is the Ori Stand, partly because it is a stroke of engineering genius and partly because it’s cardboard construction means it is so light.
A GREAT MOTIVATOR
Making your workspace ergonomic is one of the most worthwhile tasks you can set yourself this year. It could save you from chronic pain in the years ahead and will certainly keep you travelling and doing what you love. And if you use the above tools, there is very little trade off. The whole setup suggested above weighs in at less than a 1 litre bottle of water!
So while pain can be a great motivator, hopefully this article will inspire you to act ahead of any symptoms!