One of the advantages of working at home is sometimes said to be that you can work at your kitchen table. It’s meant to emphasize the flexibility you have when you work at home. But is working at your kitchen table or other convenient but not quite comfortable spots really a good idea?
If you have an option, I’d recommend working elsewhere in your home. Sometimes the kitchen table really is the best choice for your situation. If you have a better spot to work, however, I’d suggest using it. There are a couple of reasons.
1. Too much in the middle of things.
The first problem with working at the kitchen table is that you’re right in the middle of things. This makes it too easy to let work get in the way of enjoying your family life. It’s too accessible, and too easy to stop and just do “one more thing” when you should be paying attention to other things.
It’s also too accessible to any kids in the house. This is particularly true if you have little kids who don’t always understand the limits you set. Kids can be accidentally destructive. We nearly lost my daughter’s gingerbread house project, for example, because my son spilled water all over the kitchen table while the parts were sitting there. It’s too easy to have things like that happen to your work things as well.
The other problem is when you’re trying to work. You’re easily interrupted. You may be able to see what the rest of the family is doing and be distracted by the goings on. The kitchen table or other common areas of the home just aren’t separate enough to give that “at work feeling” that helps many work at home parents focus on what they need to be getting done.
2. A kitchen table setup is rarely good ergonomically speaking.
Most of us don’t pay a lot of attention to ergonomics while working. Many don’t know that much about ergonomics. But if you want to keep working and cut down on the odds of repetitive stress injuries, you’ll want to consider ergonomics, even if you feel comfortable working just about anywhere now. It takes time to get a repetitive stress injury, and they’re no fun to recover from.
If you’re having to bend your wrists much up or down in order to type, you’re not in a healthy position. You’re putting strain on your wrists.
You also shouldn’t have to look up at your computer monitor. The top of the screen should be about level with your eyes. Looking up for long periods puts a strain on your neck.
While it’s not easy to build the habit of paying attention to ergonomics, it’s a really good idea to do so. You can save yourself a lot of pain in the long run. There’s a lot more to it than these basics, but the general idea is to avoid putting strain on any parts of your body while you work. It wouldn’t hurt to read up on ergonomics on your own.
No Home Office Space? What Options Do You Have?
Of course, most people don’t choose the kitchen table or other awkward spots to work out of a preference. Most people who work at the kitchen table do so because there’s a lack of space anywhere else in the home. Is there anything you can do about it when that’s really the only place you can work?
Look for places where you can work effectively and more comfortably. Just where this is depends on the equipment you need to use and the furniture you have available. You have more flexibility with a laptop and wireless internet connection than you do with a desktop computer and a wired connection to the internet. Either way, look for a way to work with your wrists nearly flat, not particularly bent up or down.
You may also want to consider a program such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, or the voice recognition software included with Windows 7. You’ll type less once the program is trained, and you can give your hands and wrists a rest. Very much worth the money and the trouble of training the program if it saves you money on medical bills dealing with repetitive stress injuries, not to mention work time lost.
An ergonomic keyboard may be another good investment. I love my Microsoft Natural keyboard, but there are a number of different styles for different preferences. My wrists feel better using that one than after using a regular keyboard for a long time.
We can’t all have that perfect home office with the door you can close – I don’t have one. But we can think about where we work and think about the long term impact on our bodies so we cut down our chances of dealing with painful injuries from poor work habits.