The Way We Work

‘Tis the season for working while traveling. We’ve all been there, sending out one last email before the flight attendant tells you to turn off your mobile device, or finishing a report from the train terminal. These days you can find people logging into work from just about anywhere, but that doesn’t mean we’re impervious to the damage that sitting all day or staring at tiny type on a monitor can do to our bodies.

We’ve pulled together a collection of quick and easy ergonomics tips that you can implement in your daily routine to keep those muscles and joints from complaining.

Tip #1: Back to the Basics

One of the most common complaints of office dwellers and workers everywhere is back pain. After all, when you’re sitting all day, it becomes painfully apparent if your back isn’t holding up well. For those of you in an office setting (whether on-site or in the comfort of your own home office), you might want to invest in an ergonomic chair. A chair with lumbar support curves with your back to support your spine. And the ability to swivel and roll around isn’t just for impromptu races down the hallway; they extend the distance you can reach so you don’t strain your body.

If you’re working from a coffee shop, train, or flying spacecraft, never fear! There are ways you can save your back as well. Your grandmother was right—when sitting at a desk, don’t slouch and try to keep your elbows close to your body and your wrists straight. Keep your shoulders nice and relaxed so that you don’t end up with any pinched nerves.

Tip #2: Don’t Forget Those Eyes

As someone who is admittedly blind as a bat, this is a particular area of concern for me when I’m working. According to studies, when people are working on a computer they blink about five times less than normal. To avoid dried-out eyes, you’ll want to remind yourself to blink more (even if that sounds a little silly).

Another way to make things easier on your eyes is to make sure you have proper lighting and to reduce the glare on your screen. Try not to work outside where the glare will be too strong, but avoid coffee shops and areas with low mood lighting. If you’re in your home office, you might want to replace overhead fluorescent lights with floor lamps; this will provide friendlier indirect light.

To reduce eye strain, experts say you should look away from your monitor every twenty minutes so as to avoid focusing fatigue. You want to look at a distant object for about 20 seconds. So give yourself permission to people-watch or just consider the distance from your desk to the water cooler… but just for a little bit.

Tip #3: Keep Moving

And finally (and perhaps most obviously), please remember that our bodies were not made to sit in one place for eight hours or more at a time! You should get up occasionally and make sure your body parts are all accounted for.

“How will I know when to get up?” you might ask. Well wouldn’t you know it, there’s an app for that!

StandApp reminds you at a regular interval to stand up and move around, even suggesting different stretches and exercises you can do in your office or wherever you happen to be.

If you’re on a PC, you may want to download Workrave, a program that reduces Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) by alerting you of when you should take mini and regular breaks. Like StandApp, this program also demonstrates stretches that you can do during your breaks.

There you have it—some truly painless ways to keep your workday, well, painless. Feel free to sound off in the comments below as well. What do you do to keep your workspace friendly and healthy?

Teresa Pham

Marketing Coordinator

Teresa Pham is the marketing coordinator at oDesk and works on the communications team. Prior to joining oDesk, she worked in high-tech public relations at The Hoffman Agency in San Jose as an account executive. Teresa graduated with a B.A. in English and Communication from the University of California, Davis.