Sound & Vision

Office environments are rarely configured to suit all. A window that provides a lovely view for one office worker can be a source of disastrous screen glare for another. Air conditioning that cools an entire office can cause one poor fellow to nearly freeze to death. One man's relaxing and work-enhancing music can be another worker's hair-tearing distraction. There are a few simple rules that anyone configuring a workspace can follow to minimise disruption among workers - although nothing beats going around an office and sitting at every desk, in every chair, to work out exactly how to make life as easy and ergonomic as possible for everyone.

And if you're working at home, you may well be restricted by the physical layout and practicalities of your living and working space. Moving a desk from one side of the room to another just might not be practical for any number of reasons.

Ambient light sources can turn your screen into a mirror, making it uncomfortable to view

But there are a few problems that will affect everyone. The first problem is that a computer display is, itself, a source of light and this makes lighting a work environment ergonomically pretty difficult. It causes particular problems with paper documents, since adjusting your eyes from a backlit display to dull paper can cause strain - and throwing more light on the paper can increase screen glare, causing discomfort when focusing on the screen. Bad light causes bad posture, as we physically strain our eyes - and our backs and necks - to get a better look at whatever it is we're working on.

As we've mentioned, monitors should be adjustable in terms of brightness and contrast. It's best to use desk-specific lighting, rather than broad overhead lighting, as this allows you to switch it on and of as you need it. If overhead lighting is a necessity, try diffusing it with filters - this will create a more even light and avoids it beating down on whoever is sitting underneath it.

If you have windows, make sure you get adjustable blinds. These allow you to preserve some light to prevent your environment becoming a chamber of darkly death, but also allow you to block out the sun when it hits that ‘just about to blind you' moment. Blinds are better than curtains, in general, because they offer more flexibility in terms of positioning - and ergonomics is all about flexibility in a given situation, as we have discovered.

A good set of noise cancelling headphones can be a real advantage in a noisy office

When it comes to noise, an environment needn't be strictly free of noise to be ergonomic so much as be pleasant to work in. If you are sitting right next to an air conditioning fan, the noise will not only start to damage your hearing, but the stress will lead to other bad habits that will impact your posture and lead to muscle problems. If there's no way to escape noise, consider investing money in a decent pair of noise canceling earphones. These aren't just for the enjoyment of music (although they will generally lend a very pleasing tone to your tunes) - the active noise cancellation will also muffle external sounds in general. Picking comfortable ones could make your life a lot easier.

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