WFH: Putting tech to work


A riser helps keep the screen at eye level or just slightly lower, preventing users from having to lean forward or look downwards. — Computer vector created by macrovector - www.freepik.com

It has been more than a year since the pandemic broke out and the first movement control order (MCO) was initiated but workers all over the world are continuing to work out of home.

Many employees have also said they would prefer to work from home (WFH) even after the pandemic comes to an end.

According to a study by education tech company Skillsoft, 58% of employees in Asia Pacific said they no longer want to work from the office.

While there is merit to their choice – for instance, one could avoid wasting time commuting or getting stuck in traffic – offices offer an environment tailored for work.

So if you are planning to continue your WFH arrangement, it pays to upgrade your home setup to make it more conducive for work.

Proper posture

Your workspace could have real health implications.

Ho warns against craning down towards one's phone, a common cause for 'text neck'. — INTI International UniversityHo warns against craning down towards one's phone, a common cause for 'text neck'. — INTI International University

INTI International University Faculty of Health and Life Sciences (Physiotherapy Department) assistant clinical instructor Ho Swii Yitt said the right sitting posture helps prevent musculoskeletal disorders that could cause neck, shoulder and back pains, as well as carpal tunnel syndrome.

In a statement, she said better posture can be achieved by using accessories such as a laptop or monitor riser, wrist support and proper chair.

A riser helps keep the screen at eye level or just slightly lower, so the user doesn’t have to lean forward or look downwards.

“We should always be mindful of our posture especially when we are using gadgets. If we tend to look at screens by bending our neck downwards for a long time, we will develop ‘text neck’ or neck strain which will lead to pain, discomfort, tingling or numbness, tiredness and weakness,” she explained.

Laptop risers, available in all budgets, range from affordable plastic stands under RM20 to fancier aluminium models that allow minute height adjustments for several hundred ringgit.

As WFH continues, people are putting more emphasis on a comfortable workspace. — CHAN BOON KAI/The StarAs WFH continues, people are putting more emphasis on a comfortable workspace. — CHAN BOON KAI/The Star

High-end models also include USB and HDMI ports built into the stand, which make it easier to plug external devices to the laptop.

Or you could go low tech and use a pile of books to raise up the monitor or laptop.

As the screen has been lifted, users should consider getting two other accessories – keyboard and mouse – to maintain a good posture with relaxed shoulders, Ho said.

Alternatively, users could opt to buy a monitor instead of a riser, especially if the laptop screen is small, as this will make working on multiple documents easier.

External monitors come in various sizes, from 20in to 49in, dwarfing a laptop’s display which typically ranges from 11in to 17in.

Though the size of the monitor you purchase will depend on your desk space and budget, an ultra-wide monitor is a good option for displaying two windows side by side for working on multiple files simultaneously.

A slapdash home setup can lead to poor posture, which in turn could cause neck and shoulder aches. — INTI International UniversityA slapdash home setup can lead to poor posture, which in turn could cause neck and shoulder aches. — INTI International University

However, don’t get an overly large screen that has a low resolution – though it will be cheaper, images and text will not be as sharp.

According to display maker Eizo, 23in/24in monitors should have a full HD resolution (1,920 x 1,080 pixels), 27in and above should have a WQHD resolution (2,560 x 1,440 pixels) and 32in and bigger should have a 4K resolution (3,840 x 2,160 pixels).

You can also use your laptop as a second screen for even more display space.

Cut down on clutter

Apart from screen real estate, there is also another space you need to pay extra attention to – your desk.

Princeton University neuroscience and psychology professor Sabine Kastner found that visual stimuli compete for our attention, making it harder to focus in a cluttered environment.

“Many of us aren’t good at processing clutter,” Kastner told the National Geographic.

“It can become overwhelming and make our brains do more work to complete simple tasks.”

Messy space, messy mind: professor Sabine Kastner said messiness not only distracts a person from the task at hand but increases stress which leads to poor performance. — 123rf.comMessy space, messy mind: professor Sabine Kastner said messiness not only distracts a person from the task at hand but increases stress which leads to poor performance. — 123rf.com

She said messiness not only distracts a person from the task at hand but increases stress which leads to poor performance.

Joshua Becker, who runs the Becoming Minimalist website, gave a few tips to keep the work desk uncluttered: set aside five minutes a day to clean your desk and make use of drawers to store things that are not in use or start using a digital calendar and to-do list instead of the physical versions.

The effect of clutter is not limited to your physical space – having a messy desktop with too many icons or an overflowing Inbox also has a similar result.

Becker even goes as far as advising against the use of loud or distractive wallpapers.

Don't follow this example: two San Francisco State University students show how people compress their necks at the computer. — San Francisco State University/dpaDon't follow this example: two San Francisco State University students show how people compress their necks at the computer. — San Francisco State University/dpa

Tech blogger Burton Kelso recommended keeping files in specific folders rather than leaving them strewn over the desktop or moving them to the Cloud which could save space on your computer.

He said using Cloud services like Google Photos or iCloud has the added benefit of reducing duplicate files, especially when working with multiple devices like a laptop, phone and tablet.

Google Photos, for instance, uses image recognition to identify duplicates and will skip uploading a file if you have uploaded the same one before – even if they are named differently.

Also, as tempting as it may be, avoid multitasking – though once deemed the best way to get a lot of things done at once, research shows that it leads to poor performance.

The late Stanford University professor of communication Clifford Ivar Nass, who specialised in human-computer interaction and media multitasking, proved through experiments that focusing on multiple things gets in the way of thinking clearly.

“They (multitaskers) are terrible at ignoring irrelevant information; they’re terrible at keeping information in their head nicely and neatly organised; and they’re terrible at switching from one task to another,” he told the US Public Broadcasting Service in an interview.

Ergonomics is essential

When choosing a keyboard or mouse, the benefit of an ergonomic design cannot be underestimated, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, as they promote neutral wrist posture.

It said to look for three aspects – a keyboard that’s split in the middle to increase the distance between the left and right hands; “tented” models with the middle raised for keeping the wrists at a neutral angle; and built-in wrist/palm rest for support.

The same health benefits apply to using a vertical mouse over the more common flat design.

The benefit of an ergonomic design cannot be underestimated: a keyboard that’s split in the middle to increase the distance between the left and right hands can help improve posture. — 123rf.comThe benefit of an ergonomic design cannot be underestimated: a keyboard that’s split in the middle to increase the distance between the left and right hands can help improve posture. — 123rf.com

A 2015 study, "Evaluation Of Flat, Angled, And Vertical Computer Mice And Their Effects On Wrist Posture, Pointing Performance And Preference", found that angled and vertical mice reduced pressure on the wrist though they don’t offer the accuracy of a flat mouse.

In other words, these models are not good for gaming but great for your wrist.

Instead of resting the hand on the mouse, users would hold it in a handshake position, with their thumb up instead of sideways.

Such mice cost about RM100 to RM150 while prices for ergonomic keyboards vary by a lot, starting from about RM100.

Beyond hardware

For those looking for a quick fix that doesn’t require buying new equipment, simple techniques and software too can help.

WFH, for example, can feel “endless” because there is little delineation in your life, as you work in the same space in which you live.

One way to break the monotony is to use time management methods like the Pomodoro Technique which divides work into 25-minute segments, with five minute breaks in between.

In an article for the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute Of Child Health And Human Development, Dr Amrita Mandal said breaking bigger tasks into smaller ones, followed by breaks to relax your mind, can help maintain productivity and give a sense of accomplishment.

Though the technique got its name from tomato-shaped timers, there are many apps and sites that can help you get your breaks in a timely manner.

One way to break the monotony at work is to use time management methods like the Pomodoro Technique which divides work into 25-minute segments. — PixabayOne way to break the monotony at work is to use time management methods like the Pomodoro Technique which divides work into 25-minute segments. — Pixabay

Check out the Pomodoro timer website by the technique’s inventor, Francesco Cirillo; Pomodor, a minimalist version; Marinara Timer which is designed for teams wanting to use a synchronised timer, and Pomo Done app which can be integrated with other productivity apps so you could, for instance, add a timer to tasks on the to-do list.

Other apps like Toggl track time spent per task, allowing users to gauge if they are completing tasks efficiently or spending too much time on them.

Another issue with working from home is cybersecurity, as you may not enjoy the same protection as that offered by your office.

Cybersecurity firm Cybereason recommended adopting a virtual private network (VPN) for privacy protection, explaining that it encrypts the user’s Internet traffic, making it unreadable to anyone else.

A VPN is also one of the easiest ways to bypass geo-blocking, which will allow a user to access services that are not available in Malaysia though this may be against the rules of some companies.

Cybereason recommended adopting a VPN for privacy protection, explaining that it encrypts the user’s Internet traffic, making it unreadable to anyone else. — BILJANA JOVANOVIC/PixabayCybereason recommended adopting a VPN for privacy protection, explaining that it encrypts the user’s Internet traffic, making it unreadable to anyone else. — BILJANA JOVANOVIC/Pixabay

Poor password management is another cause for concern.

The LastPass Third Annual Global Password Security report found that the number of passwords employees are expected to remember is increasing at an alarming rate due to adoption of Cloud and mobile apps, as well as other work related technologies.Most people overcome this problem by reusing a simple password, which is not only easily discovered by a hacker but could lead to multiple services being compromised.

To avoid wasting brain space memorising passwords, try one of the many password managers on the market. The popular ones include Bitwarden (free), LastPass and Nordpass (free/premium), and 1Password (paid only).

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work from home , screen time , ergonomics

   

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