If it wasn’t for Covid-19 and its pandemic, this wouldn’t be a question worthy of a whole article. But as we edge in toward the end of 2021 and after over one year and a half of the pandemic and lockdowns worldwide, it’s fair to say to all workers who will be working from home or considering hybrid work solutions: it’s now time to consider a home office with a higher-end design than a couch or a dining table.
Several surveys conducted during lockdowns showed that up to 80% of workers can suffer from musculoskeletal pain as a result of their new, unprepared workspace, with 54% still not working from a proper desk and workstation, and 35% not receiving support or advice from their employers on how to manage their workstation and work environment at home.
Two primary concerns arise when considering creating a home office: the spacing and the afforded budget. In this article, we provide evidence-based, practical, and affordable solutions for how to create the ultimate ergonomic home office with relatively minimal expenses.
The first question to pop into anyone’s head when considering a home office is where can they fit one? Unless you intentionally purchased or rented a living space with a dedicated office or study room, you are going to need to create space for a home office in a room that was designed for other purposes. This shouldn’t be a barrier for creating a home office if working from home is a necessity. Instead, it should be merely a challenge to compromise for, because the risk of having a home office in a suboptimal location is still much better than not having a home office at all if you spend consecutive hours working from home, as demonstrated in the surveys mentioned in the introduction.
The ideal scenario is to create a home office in an unused or infrequently used room that receives a good amount of sunlight, enough to see clearly during the day without having to turn the lights on. If this option exists in your living space, you may skip directly to the next section “Budget Issues”. If you don’t, which is more common and likely, your strategy should be to stay as far away as possible from your bedroom, as associating sleep with work may encourage insomnia and may lead to reduced productivity and work satisfaction, poor work behaviors, and negative health outcomes. That being said, if you don’t have any other option in your living space, you can still arrange your bedroom to be a functional home office by following these steps:
- Rearrange your bed after waking up.
- Ventilate your bedroom between the time you wake up and start work.
- Distance your desk the furthest away from your bed and avoid having the desk facing your bed.
- Place your desk near a source of natural light with minimal to no direct sunlight.
If you’re able to create your workstation away from your bedroom, the best location decision should depend on these factors:
- Lighting: choose the area with the highest exposure to natural light and least direct exposure to sunlight and glare resulting from your screen facing sunlight. It is preferable for the screen to face a wall than a window to reduce glare.
- Ventilation and temperature: choose an area that is well ventilated and receives a suitable amount of conditioned air without facing the AC directly.
- Space: your workstation should be spacious enough to fit all your work requirements and equipment and provide you some room to move around, and your room should be spacious enough to avoid feeling trapped and claustrophobic.
- Noise and distraction: living rooms are usually spacious and well illuminated and ventilated, but are also a common area if you live with roommates or family. Bedrooms, study areas, and other indoor areas can provide more calm and reduced distractions but less lighting and ventilation, which would require purchasing the right equipment to calibrate these issues if you want to optimize your home office ergonomics. Another issue you want to consider is the amount of noise produced if you’re living close to public roads or noisy neighbors. There are acoustic solutions that you can purchase to reduce noise but they are costly and will require an investment.
It is difficult to find a space in your living space that would meet all the criteria. This is where a detailed assessment from an expert could help prioritize your needs and suggest the most suitable location to set up your home office, along with the tools and equipment you may need. It is important to remember that no matter how much limitations are present in your living space, it is always better to have a suboptimal home office than none in terms of productivity, mental and physical health, and wellbeing.
The second biggest concern when considering a home office is that of budget. The good news is that this shouldn’t be a concern, because creating an ergonomic workstation is an investment, not a liability. Given the high numbers of workers suffering from musculoskeletal pain, especially lower back and neck pain, and the associated expenses accompanied by these injuries in terms of absenteeism, presenteeism (being present at work but not able to work due to pain), and healthcare costs, investing in an ergonomic home office is a proactive approach that can improve productivity and prevent work-related injuries and disorders resulting from not having a home office.
The better news is that surprisingly, purchasing ergonomic equipment does not have to be as expensive as one would initially presume. To prove this, this section is going to be a case study of a fully ergonomic home office (see below figure) that we created for around 2100AED (575$). For this budget, you can purchase half of a Herman Miller chair which is marketed as the standard ergonomic chair, but with our expertise in ergonomics and knowledge in quality materials, we were able to purchase everything you need for a computer workstation besides a computer.
You can find in the list below the purchased items. We included all the items we purchased through Amazon, IKEA. But some items were purchased from physical stores with no online purchase option, hence we added similar options from Amazon with slightly different price tags.
- Desk with adjustable height (60-92cm): 495AED
- Ergonomic chair with full adjustability: 475AED (similar product from Amazon for reference: https://amzn.to/3vCIDtr)
- Ergonomic keyboard and mouse: 373AED
- Floor lamp with 22W capacity: 330AED (more affordable product from Amazon: https://amzn.to/3puzq5r)
- Foot rest: 120AED
- Monitor riser with 3 height options: 120AED (similar product from Amazon: https://amzn.to/3b43yMG)
- Document holder: 40AED (similar product from Amazon: https://amzn.to/3BbllMq)
- Mouse pad: 50AED (similar product from Amazon: https://amzn.to/30TCOwB)
- File cabinet with drawers: 92 AED
Total: Approximately 2100AED (575$)
The items with the highest price tags for a home office should be the desk, chair, and possibly the lamp or illumination system if your desk is going to be in poorly illuminated space. As a rule of thumb, if you were considering any other item than those three that costs more than a desk or a chair, purchasing it is probably going to be a waste of money.
Given how adjustable most items in our workstation are, it is not only designed to fit one person, but pretty much any adult working in the same living space. By the time this article was written, all items have withstood the test of time in terms of quality and efficacy.
It was surprising to our team at WellFit Consultancy to be able to find ergonomic items and equipment this affordable in Dubai, which is generally known for being relatively more expensive than other cities. What’s even better is that you don’t need to have all these items in your home office. In this sample workstation, the document holder and foot rest were completely optional given the adjustable desk and chair height and the rare use of printed materials while working, but the owner decided to buy them anyways given how affordable the setup was.
However, the challenge we faced was with finding these items, comparing them to similar items from other stores, comparing their price to the general market price, testing them individually, and providing the client with all possible options for their final selection. While all our items are ergonomic in function, many of them weren’t labelled as such, which reduced their price tag significantly but made them harder to find. It is fair to assume that if you Google search the items we purchased by typing “ergonomic…” (e.g. ergonomic desk), you will find more expensive results.
Price still over budget?
To understand if the price of our home office is over budget or not, we must have a benchmark to compare to. From an ergonomic perspective, all the items we purchased cost less than a standard ergonomic chair or desk. We even found floor lamps that cost more than our entire setup. To keep things concise, hiring an ergonomic consultant and purchasing a full workstation like the one in our case study will cost you less than purchasing a chair and a desk from a commercial brand.
From a health and wellness perspective, we can compare the price for our home office to that of not having one. In other terms, if you wish to continue your work from home career on your bed or couch, you are more likely to develop a musculoskeletal disorder. In Dubai, the average physiotherapy session costs 400-500AED. Any rehab program is going to require around 10 sessions to reduce pain and regain function, which will amount to 4000-5000AED. Depending on your insurance plan, your insurance provider may cover the full amount (which will require you purchasing the gold and platinum premiums), or a percentage of the cost (which will require having a silver class premium), or nothing at all. Along with the financial cost, suffering a musculoskeletal injury can affect your productivity and prevent you from participating in social and physical activities.
On the other hand, hiring WellFit as your ergonomic consultant will save you around 70% of the cost of rehab, as well as the pain, discomfort, and impaired social and physical activity, while improving your productivity and work satisfaction.
It goes without saying that investing in your health and wellbeing is priceless, but even with that as a given, we made this investment more affordable than not investing at all. The extensive market research that we’ve done locally and internationally allows us to provide budget-friendly solutions that suit most people. This initiative originated from our belief that every person deserves to work in a healthy and safe environment that respects the human capacities and tolerances as described by the science of ergonomics