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At some point in their lives, 85% of all Americans will experience back pain. One cause: extended time sitting and working in an unhealthy position—such as hunched over a shipping station or working on a laptop while slouched on the sofa.
When you work from home or in another non-traditional work environment, it’s easy to overlook things that office administrators and OSHA tend to keep an eye on, like keeping your screen at the right height or how the ergonomics of the home office can affect your body.
Designing your workspace to be more ergonomically friendly will not only make you more efficient, it could help you avoid costly and painful injury in the future. These tips will help you enhance the ergonomics of your workspace so you’re more comfortable, healthy, and productive.
Give Yourself a Raise
Adjustable standing desks have been a big office trend for the past few years and with good reason: they work. Changing positions even while you remain in front of a computer can help you work more healthfully and make the biggest impact on your posture.
“Some of the options include desk add-ons that go on existing tables and raise and lower, or desks that are completely height adjustable,” said Amanda Ho, an ergonomist with United States Ergonomics. But you don’t have to splurge on a pricey setup. Amanda says that you can get as much benefit from rigging your own elevated desk with a stack of books.
Besides just feeling better, standing up while at the computer can actually help you accomplish more. A recent study from Flexjobs.com found that 66% of people felt more productive with a one-hour increase of standing time, while 71% of people felt more focused.
It’s important to alternate sitting and standing in a variety of postures. More time standing may also mean that you’d benefit from an anti-fatigue mat like those used in commercial kitchens. “The mat makes standing more comfortable and some people will stand for longer because the mat covers up the pressure building in your back,” said Amanda.
Make Time for Movement
In addition to moving positions by going from sitting to standing with an adjustable-height desk, incorporating more movement into each day is one of the most important things you can do for your muscles and joints.
Schedule your day to include standing, walking, bending and lifting, and other purposeful exercise. It doesn’t even have to be for that long.
“Ideally, like once an hour, stand up for a few minutes to release pressure building in a few areas,” said Amanda. “It can even just be walking around to get water or a snack to break up how you’re sitting.”
She also recommends that people change their posture while sitting to prevent pressure from building up in the first place.
Practice Safe Lifting
Not all eBay sellers lift heavy items, or do so frequently, but when you do have to pick up heavy things it’s important to do so safely. Lifting from the legs is common knowledge, but putting it into practice in another story. “You want to bend from your hips and knees, which are more amenable to movement,” said Stephanie Taylor, MSPT, clinic director at Palmetto Health USC Orthopedics. “If you maintain the normal curvature in your back as you lift you’ll be much better off in the long run.”
Support Your Back When Couch Surfing
We can all agree that sitting on the couch to work isn’t the best idea for your neck or back, but who doesn’t do it occasionally? Switching positions frequently is important for anyone who wants to crash the couch and use their laptop at the same time. Pillows are also helpful for keeping the entire body aligned while hanging on the sofa.
“Make sure the neck and lower back are well supported and the laptop is at eye level while reclining on the couch,” said Amanda. Of course, she says, it’s better to work at a desk or table.
Keep Carpal Tunnel Away
When working on the couch or at a table, also consider your arms, which comprise one-third of your body weight, said Stephanie. Your arms need to be supported, and a neutral wrist position is crucial to avoiding painful afflictions like carpal tunnel syndrome.
Stephanie stresses the importance of creating a dedicated ergonomically friendly space that’s comfortable and includes wrist rests in front of the keyboard and the mouse. “You can’t use a wrist rest on the couch,” she said. But if you do use your laptop on the couch, use pillows or a wide lap desk to support your arms.
Screen Height is the Most Important
Above all, computer screen height as it relates to your neck position is probably the most important thing for an ergonomically friendly work environment, whether its a dedicated desk, the couch, or anywhere else. If you’re on the couch, Amanda recommends using a pillow or lap desk to bring the computer screen to eye level rather than craning your neck downwards. At a desk, make sure your monitor or screen is at the correct height as well.
“When you look at the middle of the screen your head should be a 20 degree tilt down, just a chin tuck, as opposed to your head falling off of your neck,” said Stephanie. An incorrect position can do more damage than you think. “Irritation from the neck can cause pain in your hands, too,” she says.
Whichever ergonomic efforts you choose to employ, any of them will go a long way towards keeping your body more comfortable and flexible for the long run.
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