When you’re in an office environment, it’s easy to create an ideal work space. Your chair will always be just so, your keyboard and screen at the optimal heights. In other words, your environment adapts to you. When your office is anywhere you can find reliable WiFi and a power outlet, however, you often are forced to adapt your work style to your environment.
Often when people think about ergonomics, images of wrist pads and properly adjusted chairs come to mind. Yet, ergonomics is more than simply sitting up straight or reducing the risk of carpel tunnel syndrome. Ergonomics seeks to understand the interactions between humans and the elements of a system, and then uses this knowledge to design a work space that maximizes productivity. If you aren’t considering ergonomics when you set up your space, you likely aren’t creating your best work.
Fortunately, there are a few easy tricks you can use to optimize your work space no matter where you go—a coffee shop, a hotel, even an airplane.
1. Carry an External Keyboard
Laptop keyboards are often smaller than your average desktop computer, which means your wrists have to turn inward in order to type. Additionally, having the screen connected to your keyboard means the angle of your typing is at the mercy of wherever your computer comes to rest—a table, shelf, or your lap.
With an external keyboard, you can adjust the screen and keyboard separately. Plus, the additional space allows you to straighten your wrists. When setting up your work area, your keyboard should be placed directly in front of you with your elbows close to your body. Then, move your wrists in-line with your forearms so they are straight. Voila! You’re ready to type away.
2. Use Keyboard Shortcuts & Voice Activation
No space for an extra keyboard? Incorporate keyboard shortcuts into your routine to reduce the amount of keystrokes you need to make! Shortcuts also can help you avoid repetitive angling of your wrist to reach the touchpad.
For those whose smartphones are their primary work device, voice activation apps come in handy in warding off “Blackberry Thumb” and “iHurt” syndrome. Use these apps to draft emails, respond to texts, as well as perform basic research.
3. Protect Your Neck
Reducing your head motion can greatly affect your mood and energy levels. To achieve the ideal neck position, arrange the top of your screen at or slightly below eye level.
When you’re out and about, this may mean propping your laptop up on a laptop stand, a few books, or locating a higher table. The goals is to avoid looking down whenever possible.
This principle applies to your smartphone as well. Instead of holding your mobile phone near your lap and looking down, prop your elbows on the counter or table and hold your phone in both hands at eye level.
4. Change Your Position
Movement is key to keeping your body alert and prevent muscles from cramping. Laptop users are more at risk of developing muscloskeletal disorders, so it is even more important to get up and move around. A simple solution is to set a timer or alarm reminding you to get up and walk around every 30 minutes. If you’re working from a coffee shop, switch from a lower chair and table to a bar stool. For situations with more restricted movement, such as a plane, cross and uncross your legs repeatedly or switch lifting and dropping your heels.
If you’re truly motivated to move, Greatist has 33 fun examples of how to exercise while on the job. Be sure to check out The Flapper, The Shoulder Shrug and, my personal favorite, The Twinkle Toe!
5. Be Prepared
The biggest challenge of a moving workspace is the lack of control. While you can’t change the lack of available power outlets or the blasting air conditioning vent, you can prepare for these common situations.
Wear comfortable clothing. Layers are great choice, as you’ll be ready for any environment—frigid coffee shop, stifling car, or the spectrum of temperatures experienced while flying. Wearing an undershirt or camisole while also carrying a sweater or light coat will have you prepared for the majority of working climates.
Bring Headphones. Some folks love a noisy environment, while others work best in silence. Regardless, headphones are a must-have ergo-on-the-go item. They allow you to control the level and type of noise you allow in your environment—whether that be dubstep turned up to 11, or the sound of a fan from your white noise app.
You have the power! There’s a good chance you aren’t the only one at the coffee shop frustrated by the lack of outlets. Ensure your equipment is always charged by carrying a multi-outlet adapter or small power strip. These handy little devices easily fit into a laptop bag and are great way to make a friend or two with your fellow remote workers.
Ergonomics is about more than comfort—it’s about maximizing your productivity. Remember these five tricks and you’ll be practicing ergo-on-the-go in no time!
Do you have tips and tricks that work for you while working on the go? Share them in the comments below!