Many people are finding creative ways to design productive office space at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, but might lack the design mindset for constructing space that fosters good health and wellness. Virginia Tech interior and industrial design experts offer tips for constructing an ideal at-home workstation.

“Posture is the most important factor to consider when designing at-home workspace,” says Virginia Tech design expert Lisa Tucker. “Your monitor or screen should be an arm’s length apart and wrists should be straight with hands at or below elbow height. Eyes should be straight to avoid looking up or down and putting your neck in an awkward position. An adjustable chair is ideal, and if not available, use a bar stool and a bar height kitchen counter to sit or stand for variation. Knees should be level with hips when sitting for the best posture.”

Tucker says that common household materials can help build a design space to best fit workspace needs. “A stack of books or boxes can help create proper height for a laptop, and use a separate keyboard and monitor to properly align eye height and wrists. If you can, stand during long hours of virtual meetings for variation in posture. Position your workstation to look out a window to limit screen time – a view of nature is restorative, if you can have one.”

For videoconferencing, Virginia Tech human factors expert Akshay Sharma says “to avoid using a strong light source behind you because it will make it very difficult for a camera to get a clear visual of your face.” He also cautions “to be careful using virtual backgrounds that are distracting to the person on the other side. It might look great on your end, but the bandwidth might make it a less desirable visual for other virtual participants. Use the ‘blur background’ feature if it’s available.” He also encourages the use of the chat feature for a quick exchange of ideas, or setting up a second camera that can be focused on your workstation if you’re drawing or doing activities that require a visual explanation.

Sharma also says that it’s important to move around, change positions and make physical activity part of your pre and post-learning or meeting routines. “Adding a few jumping jacks, breathing exercises or simple stretches will go a long way.”

For additional tips on how to construct spaces from a designer’s mindset, visit the Mayo Clinic office ergonomics website, Humanscale, and other system furniture manufacturer websites (like Steelcase and Herman Miller) for guidance and to find virtual graphic images to download.

Background

Lisa Tucker is a licensed architect, NCIDQ and Virginia Certified Interior Designer, and holds both LEED BD + C and WELL professional accreditations. She is a professor at Virginia Tech and teaches courses on biophilic and sustainable design and upper level design studios and is the program chair for interior design.

Akshay Sharma is an associate professor and program chair of industrial design at Virginia Tech. His research interests include design thinking, design for social impact, analog and digital visualization, and interdisciplinary problem solving. He also leads the Industrial Design for Learning and Empowerment courses and industrial design study abroad initiatives at Virginia Tech.

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