With nearly half of all Australian firms now offering some sort of flexible working environment, either thanks to a hybrid arrangement or full-time remote roles, many of us have several places we set up as a workspace. In fact, an April 2022 survey from the Australian Chiropractors Association reported that 64 per cent of people working at home do so from a place other than a dedicated work from anywhere (WFA) space, such as their dining table, sofa or even their bed. Then there are those who choose to not only work from their homes, or at a desk at an office, but even from a series of favourite cafes, libraries or anywhere they might go for a change in scenery. We now often have the opportunity to WFA, all over the world.

While this might seem like the ideal way to create some work-life balance, it’s not always easy on our posture, with hours spent working at laptops in less-than-ideal conditions causing all sorts of issues for our bodies. The good news is there are things you can do and inexpensive accessories you can buy that will help you work more ergonomically. Here’s how to make every environment you work in as comfortable and safe as possible, no matter where in the world you’re working from.

SEE ALSO: Home Office Ergonomics: A Back to Work Guide

Set Up Your Screen at Eye Level

Using a laptop for prolonged periods of time isn’t ideal. If the screen is at the correct level, the keyboard won’t be, and you’ll find your shoulders hunching and your arms raising. And if the keyboard is too low, your neck will be bent forwards and down. 

A laptop riser is an essential bit of kit and lifts your screen to the correct level. “The screen should be positioned so that the top of it is level with, or slightly lower than, your eyes,” advises Ted Dohrmann, certified professional ergonomist and managing director at Dohrmann Consulting

For an ‘on the go’ option, consider a laptop riser that is fully collapsible so that you can take it with you wherever you go or, in a pinch, place your laptop on top of books to improve its position. 

What to Try

A GIF series of laptop stands including the J.Burrows Folding Portable Laptop Stand, the Bonelk Elevate Laptop Stand in black, the Brateck Aluminium Laptop Riser, the Kensington SmartFit 16" Premium Laptop Riser and the TwelveSouth Curve Flex Macbook Stand in black.

Protect Your Wrists With a Wireless Mouse and Keyboard

Now you’ve got the screen in the right place, it’s time to add the other necessities: a wireless keyboard and mouse. Not only will these be more comfortable options for your wrists, but the larger designs and the ability to adjust the position will also help you reduce the rate of keying errors and improve accuracy in your work. They’re also light enough to pack in your laptop backpack if you’re on the go.

Claire Folland, a certified professional ergonomist and director at consulting company Alba Ergonomics, says the best position for your wireless mouse is for it to be as close to the keyboard as possible. “Anything that's away from that neutral posture of being close to your body is extra work for the muscles,” she explains. “If you have a lot of mouse work, use a shorter keyboard, especially if you don't need a number pad, and then your mouse can be closer. Also, if you do a lot of typing or keying, it’ll be kinder to your body to look for a keyboard that isn’t clunky and has good keystroke feedback.”

An ergonomic mouse also allows for a more natural position of the hand, with studies suggesting they can relieve strain on the forearm and shoulder. “A vertical mouse means your palm, elbow and shoulder remain in a neutral position and therefore place less mechanical strain on the body,” explains Dr Caolan Cullinane, a qualified chiropractor and human movement scientist. If you have a regular mouse in the meantime though, try to use keyboard shortcuts as much as possible. A gel wrist rest can also prevent your wrist from being in contact with a hard surface for long periods of time and can be easily thrown into your bag. 

What to Try 

A GIF series of ergonomic accessories including the Logitech ERGO K860 Wireless Keyboard in black, the Logitech Lift Vertical Ergonomic Mouse in rose, the Logitech Wireless Keyboard and Mouse in red, the J.Burrows Ergonomic Mouse Pad, the J.Burrows Gel Keyboard Wrist Rest in black and the J.Burrows Mini Gel Wrist Rest in black.

SEE ALSO: 10 Ways to Refresh Your Office Tech

Ergonomic Chair Quick Fixes to Reduce Back Pain

According to the 2022 survey by the Australian Chiropractors Association, 78 per cent of chiropractors reported an increase in new patients presenting with spinal health problems as a result of working from home, including headaches, neck pain, shoulder stiffness and lower back pain. Hardly surprising if you’re working on your laptop for hours at a time, especially if you’re not even at a desk. 

An ergonomic chair is your best option if you’re at home, as it’s designed to offer optimal support for your body. “The key word is adjustability,” says Claire. “You've got the height so you can get your hips in line or just that bit higher than your knees, lumbar support to get that support in the lower back and also the seat depth.” You may also find it useful to use a footrest if your feet aren’t able to sit flat on the floor, which is the ideal position. 

However, if you’re still looking, the budget is limited or you are working from anywhere and have to put up with a chair that’s less than ideal, there are ways to make what you do have better. If your seat doesn’t support your spinal curves, consider a back support. “They help to maintain the lumbar curve of the spine to distribute weight and strain evenly throughout the body,” explains Dr Cullinane. A memory foam seat cushion can also help with posture and can be easily chucked in the car for when you’re working outside the home or office. “If you’re going to a cafe, choose one that’s got chairs with a bit of back support, rather than stools,” adds Claire. 

What to Try

A GIF series of ergonomic accessories including the Fellowes Professional Back Support, the Fellowes Mesh Back Support, the Kensington Memory Foam Back Support, the J.Burrows Memory Foam Lumbar Cushion Backrest, the Height and Angle Adjustable Footrest, the Adjustable Steel Footrest and the J.Burrows Medium Memory Foam Seat Cushion Black.

SEE ALSO: The Importance of Ergonomics for Wellbeing

Incorporate More Movement Into Your Day

Speaking of prolonged seated positions, sitting for long periods of time puts stress on your muscles and joints, and reduces the circulation of blood to your muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments which can lead to stiffness and pain. “Movement throughout the day is key,” says Claire. “Humans aren't designed to sit still for long periods of time.” If that wasn’t enough to convince you, then the World Health Organization reports that insufficient physical activity is the fourth leading risk factor for mortality.

Dr Cullinane suggests getting up from your desk to move every half hour. “My favourite trick is to tell clients to put their water bottle just out of reach, so they have to stand up and get it,” he says.

Ted agrees. “Even getting up for 20 to 30 seconds to go to the printer or standing while talking on the telephone will allow for postural change,” he says. “Changing positions during the working day gives important relief, so use any excuse to do so.”

At home or in more permanent setups, a sit stand desk can be a great way to move more and switch things up. “Ensure elbow angles with the desk are correct and that the knees are in a soft locked position,” says Dr Cullinane. And don’t forget your anti-fatigue mat. “They essentially cushion the body from the impact with a hard floor – they’re a fantastic idea if you plan to be standing regularly.”

What to Try

A GIF series of ergonomic products including the Matrix Sit Stand Desk Large in black, the Newhaven Electric Sit Stand Desk with Drawer in white and oak, the Matrix Manual Height Adjustable Desk in white, the J.Burrows Anti-fatigue Sit Stand Mat and the J.Burrows Ergonomic Stand and Balance Mat.

SEE ALSO: Smart Home Products for an Effective Home Office

Make Your Commute More Comfortable With a Backpack

If you need to transport your equipment, you’re going to need the right gear to keep your body as comfortable as possible (and your tech sufficiently protected). Dr Cullinane says a backpack is the most ergonomic option.

“The major reason a backpack is superior over a courier bag or cross body bag is that it allows a more even distribution of the carried weight,” he says. “A cross body bag may alter walking gait and result in pain or discomfort.” 

Look for a laptop backpack with multiple compartments to spread the total load and wide and comfortable straps that can be adjusted so it sits correctly on your back: it should be below your shoulders but above your hips

What to Try

A GIF series of laptop backpacks including the Samsonite Technology Backpack in grey, the Rivacase 15.6 Anti-Theft Laptop Backpack in Mocha and the High Sierra Approach 17" Laptop Backpack in black.

Go Hands-Free With a Set of Headphones

Wherever your place of work, being able to concentrate is important. A set of noise cancelling headphones can do the job, plus, since they help to reduce background noise, you’ll be able to listen to your focus music or business meeting at a lower volume, which experts suggest can help protect your hearing in the long run

If you’re regularly on the phone in your line of work and need to talk and write at the same time, a compatible set of headphones or a headset will help you avoid that awkward posture of cradling the phone between your head and neck. Not only that, but they can also help you take that meeting or work call while on the move, getting you away from prolonged seated positions.

What to Try

A GIF series of headphones and earbuds including the JBL Live 460 Noise Cancelling Headphones in black, the JBL Free WFH Wireless Over-Ear Headphones in black, the Beats Fit Pro True Wireless Noise Cancelling Earbuds in Sage Grey and the Jabra Elite 3 Wireless Earbuds in Dark Grey.

SEE ALSO: What Are the Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones?

The best advice though? “Listen to your body,” says Ted. “If you’re uncomfortable or sore, you’re on the pathway to an injury. Make some simple changes to your setup and routine to prevent this from happening.”