Every coffee shop, train and park bench is filled with people (mostly, but not always) young, working on laptop computers or tablets.
Silently, RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) or ( ‘CANS’: Complaints of Arm, Neck and/or Shoulder) is resurfacing. This time it is not factory workers. It is knowledge workers. Home, Portable and Mobile office users. Digital nomads, teleworkers and more.
The smartphone and tablet have become the consumption device of choice, but except for quick email, notes and checking appointments, we need a laptop computer of one type or another. An ugly, but as yet little discussed side effect of using laptop computers is the damage you can be doing to your body and hands. Back, neck and wrist pain can become chronic and debilitating.
In the 70’s and 80’s millions of dollars were spend on the design of office workstations. Standards and rules were developed. Injuries were reduced, and the people rejoiced (well, not that perhaps) but injuries fell dramatically. Then came the laptop. And much of that work went out the window, with the office…
For digital nomads and mobile workers the idea of a workstation is not on the radar.
Think Again – You Have A Workstation!
Your Workstation is the place you sit down (or stand up) and work from. It may be a coffee shop, bar stool, airplane seat or hammock, but if you work there for more than 10 minutes, it is a workstation. And it needs some thought.
A recent survey in the UK found that 79% of people using mobile devices were having health problems, 10% said “nomadic Working” had created long term problems and 5% had been forced to give up their jobs.
RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) is not associated with age, it is associated with hours in front of a keyboard. ( in some areas The term ‘RSI’ has been replaced by ‘CANS’: Complaints of Arm, Neck and/or Shoulder, but RSI is best known)
It is very easy to make a mistake. Especially digital nomads who tend to be young. You are young, active and healthy, and then, suddenly, you are not.
Then it can take months or years to fix even the simplest problems, because you cannot work without aggravating the problem. Imagine not being able to type (at all) for 3 months. How is that online business looking now?
So, lets look at the solution.
The “Workstation” is your whole working environment. For Mobile Office users, the basics are this:
- Avoid glare on the screen
- Have the top of your screen at about eye level
- Have your arms nearly horizontal to the keyboard
- Your feet should be flat on the floor
- Your hips should be slightly above your knees
- You should be reasonably upright, with the chair supporting your back (or no back, forcing you to sit/stand straight)
- You should be able to read the screen without leaning forward or back. If necessary, get reading glasses specially for the computer.
If you have nothing but a laptop, you
are screwed have a problem.
One solution is to raise the screen or back of the laptop with a stand. The options here are endless, so I will not offer a suggestion. It can be a simple as a pair of socks or a glasses case.
Dozens of laptop stands are being sold, from large desk based base stations to light weight folding stands.
The best solution is a stand, keyboard and mouse. This may seem like an impossible load for a digital nomad, but it is not.
The following Article looks at a simple, light, solution for a travel workstation.
Tablets and smartphones
Protecting against iPad neck or tech neck.
the IOS Press web site has an excellent 11 page PDF with the results of a study done into problems caused by the typical low postion tablets are used in.
On its excellent page on Perfect PC Posture, the British Chiropractic Association says “Never sit at the computer for more than 40 minutes; less if possible,”
My personal approach is to use the widely recognised Pomodoro technique that requires working for 25 minutes and the taking a 5 minute break. I have tools in place to reinforce this approach.
Stand up, walk around, roll your shoulders, and head. Make your eyes focus on distant objects. Don’t just switch from work to checking Facebook. Actually make your body move for five minutes. Your body will thank you.
Take Regular Breaks!
Some excellent resources on this subject:
And and excellent Wall Street Journal video: