WORK FROM HOME DIARY:

OFFICE FURNITURE

By Wesley Diphoko

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When I began working from home because of the lockdown, I little knew what the impact on my health would be or what would be required to remain productive. I’ve learnt so much that I feel the need to share the lessons I’ve gleaned over the past six months, starting with the impact of my office furniture on my health and productivity. I’ve undergone some transformation in terms of how I’ve structured my home office to suit the “new normal”. Here’s my story.
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BEFORE
When millions of office workers were sent home to work remotely amid Covid-19, few of us received guidance on what equipment supported good ergonomics. Most of us turned our temporary home offices, usually used for just two hours a day, into permanent offices used for 10 to 12 hours a day. We used the same non-ergonomically friendly furniture and as a result some of us started to feel the negative effects of working long hours using less-than-comfy chairs and tables.

I know this because I felt more tired during the early days of lockdown as  I worked longer hours and started to experience back pains and strained eyes more often. Turned out that this had a lot to do with my office gear, which included chair, table and machine. I’d been using the same chair at home for a couple of years, the choice of which had little to do with ergonomics and more to do with design. It’s a wooden chair with wheels that can swivel either for relaxation or work. It was fine for one or two hours of work before lockdown, but definitely became a cause of pain during the days that followed. My office was also nothing fancy, but good enough for the morning write-ups of my column and to catch up on emails in the evenings. However, it was not the best tool to use for long hours of working from home.

The combination of these furnishings was not good for my health and I can now confirm that a static posture or position can lead to back, neck, and shoulder injuries. Truth be told, people weren’t supposed to sit all day. This is not a great use for our anatomy. We were designed to be hunter-gatherers, so now that we were forced to sit at home for longer hours, something was bound to go wrong.

So I did something about it.  I’ve tested new furniture for my office. I went all out to test, in a practical way, the theory that your office gear can have an impact on health and productivity. Here’s what I did – and the results surprised me.

AFTER
I tested a standing desk and an office chair by Humanscale. The Humanscale float height adjustable desk is a “floating” desk that makes for a versatile workstation in your home, so whether you’re doing paperwork, are on a conference call or working on a craft project, you can adjust the height of this desk to suit your needs. The design is sleek and minimalist and should blend nicely with a range of office styles. This is great for those who are considering investing in their first standing desk and want to keep some flexibility.

I paired this desk with a Humanscale Freedom office chair. It’s a responsive padded-back chair that automatically reclines with precise accuracy and synchronous armrests that make adjusting its height super simple and quick. What was interesting for me is that the seat cushion became more comfortable over time, acclimating to my weight and hindquarter shape to fit like a glove. Within a very short space of time, using these two office tools, my productivity improved. I’m working longer, more productive hours with less pain. In the past, I’d been working long hours in pain and with probably less productivity.

In addition to these, I also tested the Humanscale M2.1 monitor arm as a laptop holder which elevated my laptop to eye level, enabling me to remain sitting upright instead of leaning towards the laptop and straining my back and eyes. What also helped was the use of an Apple magic keyboard, which enabled me to move away from the laptop and sit comfortably while typing.

Of all these tools, the one that stood out for me was the standing desk. It makes a huge difference, especially when working from home. The challenge with work these days is that one tends to sit more and become more inactive. The standing desk decreases inactivity by allowing freedom of movement. This factor alone keeps me going for longer but more productive periods. The most important has been the effect on my back. Sitting for long periods of time has the effect of causing pain in one’s back. This is even more so when seated on a badly designed chair. Sitting on the Humanscale Freedom office chair changed everything for me. It allowed me to adjust my posture in a way that enabled more comfortable sitting while working.

Overall, I think a combination of these tools were instrumental in my improved productivity while maintaining good health. This I believe will be key as more people work from home. Companies will have to assist employees and guide them with using the right office tools. In turn, this will lead to more productive work from home teams and, more importantly, healthier staff.

The New Normal requires a mindset change about how we shape our offices from home. Businesses and organisations that expect their staff to work from home need to realise that it’s no longer enough to just provide a laptop or mobile phone. The right office furniture and office tools will have to form part of tools that are offered to employees to be productive and maintain their well-being. Caring businesses and organisations will no longer be judged on how employees are treated within office buildings. How companies look after their employees from their homes will separate caring companies from careless companies.

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