5 free tips for remote working ergonomics

Office ergonomics for remote workers

Remote working ergonomics… perhaps not the sexiest of topics, but currently more important than ever. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of thousands of people are obliged to work from home.

Unfortunately, most of them have not been able to prepare for this. They are working on laptops at the kitchen table in a kitchen chair. Or perhaps sitting on the couch, with the laptop on their lap.

Unsustainable working posture

That may be fine for many people for an occasional homeworking day. However, it is an ergonomic disaster waiting to happen if you work like that all day, every day.

When I was working at home during my last Christmas break, I did not want to spend too much time in my office room upstairs. So I ‘ergonomised’ a corner of the dinner table. That made it possible for me to work for a few hours without getting myself into ergonomic trouble.

Obviously, you can use speech recognition software to reduce your typing (and increase your speed).

If you can afford ergonomic solutions for your home office

If you have to work from home for the foreseeable future, it is a good idea to invest in some office furniture. Whether you suffer from repetitive strain injury or other physical issues are not, this will pay off in the future.

For me personally in an ideal world an ergonomic work place looks something like this:

  1. Height-adjustable desk
  2. Height-adjustable monitor stand
  3. Good quality keyboard
  4. Contour Rollermouse (is my personal mouse of choice)
  5. A rolling swivel desk chair with appropriate armrests.
  6. And last, but not least: I’d use speech recognition to reduce my mousing and typing

You may say: “Janneke, that sounds like a cool setup, but that’s not feasible for me at this point in time.”

And I get it. After all, you are stuck at home and your income might not be secure. Maybe you can’t afford to purchase anything right now.

So let’s see what we can do to improve ergonomics without breaking the bank. And don’t forget that family, friends and neighbours could well have a spare of exactly what you need. They’re probably happy to help you out.

And this is the point where I have to write a little disclaimer: I am not an ergonomist or ergonomic specialist. Everyone is different and you will have to find a way to work from home that you can sustain. That might look quite different from what my ideal workspace would look like.

Having said that, these are some tips that you might not have thought of yourself and that you find may give you relief if you need it.

Free ergonomic fixes for your remote workplace at home

These simple changes will make your dinner or kitchen table workplace more ergonomic.

1. Adjusting the height of your table to prevent RSI

You will probably have noticed that your desk in the office is quite a bit lower than the average kitchen table or dinner table. For me, the difference is almost 10 cm/4 inch. That’s a significant difference.

Why is this so important? Ideally, you do not want to have to lift your arms too much in order to be able to reach your keyboard. When you are sitting relaxed but straight on your chair and you keep your arms bent at 90°, your hands should be slightly higher than the surface of your table or desk.

For you the difference may be less than 4 inches. Just try to emulate your usual work posture as closely as possible.

Sawing a few inches of the legs of your table at home is probably not an option. Fortunately, there is an alternative: rather than lowering the table top, make sure that you are sitting higher.

If you have a real office chair, with wheels, please use it. They are usually adjustable in height and the wheels make it much easier to quickly get up from your seat.

No office chair? Perhaps the neighbours or family have a chair that they don’t use. Why not ask if you can borrow it for the next few weeks.

Sidenote: The wheels of the chair can damage your floor if they are not suitable. There are softer plastic wheels for hard floors and harder plastic wheels for carpet. If you’re not sure, a piece of board to protect your floor might be a good idea.

Stack some cushions to increase chair height
Stack to increase seating height

What to do if there’s no office chair to be had?

Stack one or two flat and firm pads on the seat of a regular kitchen chair. Perhaps you have some of the smaller seating cushions or pads for garden furniture? That might work.

It is important though, that your seat does not become wobbly and that you don’t sink in cushions. Keep in mind how your office chair is firm, yet comfortable.

2. Adjusting the height of your computer screen to prevent neck strain and headaches

Hunching over your laptop is not exactly a healthy posture.

Free ergonomic monitor stand

The trick is to increase the distance between your keyboard and your screen.

If you have a separate keyboard and mouse, just place your laptop on a stack of books or box , so that you don’t have to bend your neck in order to see the screen clearly.

Most laptop screens are quite small, though, which in itself invites bad posture due to hunching over to see better.

A better option would be to connect a regular size screen/monitor to your laptop and place that on a good height. You could use the laptop’s keyboard, but even better than that would be to also use a separate mouse and keyboard. Then you can place all the elements of your workplace optimally.

3. How good are your mouse and keyboard? Prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

You will have noticed that I am a huge proponent of separate mouse/keyboard when working on a laptop 🙂 .

If the keyboard doesn’t type comfortably, however, or if you have problems positioning the mouse accurately, you will increase muscle tension. This in turn increases the chance of developing muscle aches or even chronic pain.

If you find that it is hard to position the mouse accurately, you should also consider using a mouse mat. You may not have one at home, but you can try other flat surfaces. Perhaps re-purpose a paper folder as a mouse mat. If it slides accross the table surface, don’t hesitate to tape it. After all, this is not just for one afternoon, but for a longer period of time. You don’t want to deal with small irritations like the mouse mat surface moving around.

4. Use dictation: Free speech recognition software options to reduce typing

The best speech recognition software for Windows would be Dragon Professional. However, that software is very much not free, so I will not pay too much attention to it.

Still, if you find the other options lacking in functionality or quality, I encourage you to check Dragon out. The LearnSpeechRecognition Academy has your back if you want to become successful with Dragon. Check out our online digital course for Dragon here.

Free speech-to-text options include:

5. Take short breaks often

Take plenty of breaks. Get up and move around, even if it’s only for 30 seconds. Don’t just sit there all the time; that is not healthy.

If you can motivate yourself to do some stretching exercises, there are lots of resources on the Internet to suggest suitable exercises for office workers.

Always forgetting to take a break when you’re working? Protect yourself and install a software that prompts you to take (micro) breaks. I haven’t used it myself, but one free option is Big Stretch Reminder.

Beg or borrow if necessary

I know, I may have mentioned this once or twice before in the article 🙂

It is so important for you to have a safe working environment that I don’t mind repeating myself:

  • If you lack an external monitor or keyboard, a video cable, USB hub or an office chair… just ask around.

This article is written during the COVID-19 outbreak and generally people are really helpful. This is not the moment to be too proud to ask for help.

Speech recognition

Do you want to uplevel your speech recognition? After all, the most ergonomic keyboard is… no keyboard at all 🙂

Check out this free intro into Apple Voice Control (for Mac)

Check out this free intro into Dragon Professional (for Windows)

 

Janneke den Draak

Janneke den Draak

Hi, I'm Janneke and I'm your go-to person for Dragon and Apple speech recognition software help.

When I got severe repetitive strain injury issues over 20 years ago, I didn't want to give up using the computer. So I learned all about controlling the PC with speech recognition and dictating my documents and emails.

I've now been a speech recognition software trainer and consultant for almost two decades, teaching over 2000 people handsfree productivity!

My online courses for Apple Voice Control and Dragon offer self-paced learning and I also love running my membership for Dragon users. For those in need of an intensive training or custom speech command creation, I am available for one-on-one calls.

4 Responses

  1. Hi Chloélie,
    You’re very welcome. Ah yes, the Home version of Dragon really has many shortcomings.

    Please do try Apple Voice Control. It isn’t as good as Dragon, honestly. So if you get frustrated, you can reconsider Dragon on Windows.

    And for the course about AVC I have almost finished making, I am your inofficial Apple Voice Control crash dummy 🙂 , so I try all the things, find out what doesn’t work and either let you know or offer workarounds.

  2. Hello! I have been around your website today, and I am very happy to have found it. My workplace has purchased dragon home for me because I have had RSI. However, I am quickly encountering many problems with it… Probably because it really isn’t made for work! Now that I’m personally aware of dragon home’s limitations, I am thinking of purchasing dragon professional for myself. It would be a big decision, since I have a Mac, and that would either mean partitioning my hard drive to install windows on it or just purchasing a PC.
    My big question is: how does it work for someone who is bilingual? I understand that you are bilingual yourself, and you mentioned in one of your blog articles switching between Dutch and English. I work in French, speak to my family in French, but some of my friends as well as my partner are Anglophones and part of my day-to-day activities happen in English. I’m wondering how well it works to switch languages… Do I have to buy both dragon in French and in English?
    I am very much looking forward to your guidance on the subject. I will be looking around your website this evening!
    Thank you 🙂

    1. Hello Chloélie, and welcome to my website. Glad you’re finding it useful.

      Not sure what you mean by ‘it really isn’t meant for work’, because Dragon can be useful in many types of computer work. So I suppose it depends… it’s not good at photo-editing, for example.

      About your questions regarding using Dragon Bilingually: if you purchase Dragon in French (via the French Nuance store) you’ll also get the English language model included. So no need to buy the program twice. However, the Dutch Professional individual version is over twice as expensive as the English one in the US nuance store. Not sure about the pricing of the French version, but it could be similar.

      When you switch between languages, you’ll need to close the user profile in e.g. English and open the one in French. This can take a while, for example 30 or 40 seconds, so it is not practical to dictate a single paragraph in one language and the switch to the other.

      Did you find the free 10-day challenge course for Dragon? With the corona virus causing people to work from home and having possibly more time than normal, I’ve opened up the lessons to be available all at once if you would want to go through the course quickly.

      And for dictation on the Mac, you could check out Apple Voice Control. As long as you choose US English as the language, the other languages do not work well yet. My course is in the process of being finished and I am looking for beta testers. This is the link to the Apple Voice Control course if you’d be interested in that.

      Dragon is the better speech recognition program, by far. But Voice Control is free on the Mac…

      Dragon works best on a Windows machine. In the past I’ve had Windows installed via bootcamp on a Macbook. But lately I tried again with a Mac mini and I couldn’t get bootcamp to work well. A friend recently tried and also didn’t manage to get bootcamp installed. So I’m not recommending that, for now.

      Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions.

      1. Hi! Thank you so much for the information. When I said dragon was not meant for work, I meant the home version, not the professional version, which is obviously made for work 🙂 Thanks for the information about other language additions, it’s such hard info to find on the dragon website.
        I probably will stick to the Mac voice control for now, therefore I will definitely check out your courses because there are a lot of things that I know how to do on dragon that I don’t know how to do on the Mac voice control.

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