Working remotely – Flexible, but not always healthy

You see them everywhere: at the kitchen table, in cafes, in trains, on benches. People with laptops, tablets and mobile phones. Public spaces and the home are being turned into mobile offices. This allows people to work remotely and gives them a feeling of flexibility and self-determination. What should not be forgotten, however: even when working remotely it is important to maintain good posture when sitting and to protect yourself against noise emissions.

We sit in the train bent over the mobile phone deeply focused on typing an email and all of a sudden feel an unpleasant pulling sensation in the neck. When in the typical forward-leaning “mobile-phone posture”, the neck is at a 60-degree angle, which results in pulling forces of 27 kilograms1. It is no wonder that the neck begins to hurt after only a short while.

Since the modern working world has given us the freedom to work while on the move or from home, new problems have crept into our everyday life. When working at the kitchen table or in the train, we do not have the possibility to adjust the chair optimally to our needs. The change from a workstation that has been set up ergonomically is also felt by the eyes when working outside the office. There is additional strain on the eyes as the screen on mobile devices often has a reflective surface and is smaller than the monitor in the office. The consequences are: tiredness, loss of concentration, stinging or watering eyes.

What can we do about this?

Despite more difficult conditions, there is no reason to demonise flexible workstations, working on the move or from home. Instead, it is important to take an ergonomic approach to working situations that take place outside the office. By doing so, you can avoid unwanted side effects like tension in the neck or backache. We have put together a list of the most important tips for you.

1/ Take care to sit and hold your head correctly

In order to avoid health problems, it is important to ensure you sit and hold your head correctly when not using an office chair. Sit up straight keeping your back active and upright and make sure that there is an angle of at least 90 degrees between your thighs and lower legs. Keeping an open angle ensures that the blood flows well at the backs of the knees. Generally avoid sitting with your body twisted or favouring one side. This leads to tension, head- and backache. Don’t forget that the natural line of sight for the eyes is not straight ahead but inclined slightly downwards. This position puts considerably less strain on the muscles in the neck and leaves them more relaxed than if you are looking straight ahead or upwards.

For the sake of your health: Sit correctly!

Keeping your working posture relaxed is important not just when you’re on the move but also at the office: check how much you know about the correct working posture. This is easy when you use the digital flash cards in the FCOS Learning Module on “Ergonomics at the workplace”.

2/ Get up every 15 minutes

In addition to sitting correctly while working, it is equally important to alternate this with a change in position – ideally every 15 minutes, according to the experts. If you stick to this rule, it means that now and then you can allow yourself a few less-than-ideal exceptions with the laptop on your knees sitting on a park bench.

3/ Plan well

Planning well can help to optimise working on the move. When you are not in the office, schedule the kind of work that requires less concentration or does not involve having to lean forward bent over a small screen: making telephone calls, planning schedules, short research sessions. Writing over longer periods that requires concentration should be left for when one is sitting at a permanent ergonomic workstation.

4/ It pays to have good headphones

In addition to the ergonomic challenges that people who are working on the move face, they are often also exposed to higher levels of noise than in the office. This results in decreased cognition, loss of concentration and slowed thinking. Headphones with a noise cancelling function are helpful in reducing ambient noise.

5/ Use technical aids

Take your keyboard or mouse home with you. You may have more to carry but your mobile office will be a little more ergonomic. When working at home, there is also help in the form of holders and stands for mobile devices. These help towards keeping the head positioned optimally, thus taking the strain off the neck. When travelling, items like bags and jackets can be repurposed to raise mobile devices to the right level.

On the move in the office?

It is not just outside the office that people work on the move: modern offices often include sofas, counters, lecterns and other possibilities that invite one to alternate work at the classic workstation and use the new environment for a change of scenery. If your office offers this kind of possibility, make use of it. But don’t forget to move around a little after 15 minutes at the latest.

1 Study: Assessment of Stresses in the Cervical Spine Caused by Posture and Position of the Head, Surgical Technology International XXV, Kenneth K. Hansraj, 2014

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