Work Space and Health

I’ve decided to completely reorganize my office.

I work from home, and my office is a small room just outside the dining room. It’s a fairly small room, with an open doorway. I’m constantly being interrupted by kids, pets, and my husband since there is no way to close the door. When we moved here I brought along my huge executive desk. The desk is just about as long as I am tall, and has a lot of deep drawers for storage. I love it, but with the huge desk against one wall there are only 3 feet of clearance between the desk and opposite wall. It’s just not enough room to move around, and I have very little space to store things I use every day, like reference books. Plus, I moved to a standing desk almost a year ago, and lots of desk drawers are no longer convenient. The walls are the same color they were when we moved in, and ugly tan. So, it’s time for a new desk, some new shelving and storage solutions, a curtain over the doorway, and fresh coat of paint. Oh, and while I’m at it, I’m going to create an outdoor workspace that allows me to type standing up.

What does this have to do with health?

More than you might think.

The average person spends 40 hours each week, or more, in their workspace. Granted, I work from home, and most of my work involves the computer, so I’m able to work from absolutely anywhere. My favorite spot is outside under a tree in our yard, and I take my laptop outside frequently.

Most people don’t have the flexibility that I do, and are tied to whatever workspace their company gives them the majority of the time. That’s unfortunate because the average work station does absolutely nothing to promote mental, emotional or physical health. As someone who works in an office you have little control over most of your environment. Things like number of windows in the room, how close your desk is to the window, the types of lighting used, and work schedule are completely beyond your control. So you have to learn to make the best out of what you have. If you can’t create a truly health promoting workspace, you can at least create one that doesn’t zap your physical, emotional and mental energy.

Rig up a place to stand while you work. Take the time to move paper files, reference books, and anything else you need to a shelf that is easy to reach from a standing position. Move your computer monitor to a shelf, podium or even stack of books on your desk, making the monitor comfortable at standing height. Do the same with your keyboard. When you’re just starting out at a standing desk remember that you very well might have to sit down after 15 or 20 minutes. That’s okay. Try standing for 15 or 20 minutes out of every hour. When that’s comfortable, increase to half an hour, and continue to increase the time you stand until you are standing all, or at least most, of the day.

Work outside in the sunshine as often as you can. Getting enough Vitamin D is as important to health as eating well, and your body can’t make Vitamin D without sunshine. If you absolutely can’t work outside, then make it a point to spend your lunch and other breaks outside in in the sun.

Keep a houseplant on your desk. Plants, especially those sold as “houseplants” tend to be very good at cleaning impurities from the air. Office air isn’t known for being fresh, but keeping a plant or two on your desk will help clean the air in your personal space. U

Keep something that produces negative ions in your workspace. Whether you choose a salt lamp, or another method of negative ion production, don’t neglect this health protecting molecule. Negative ions bind with particulates in the air and weigh the pollutants down, causing them to fall the the floor. This means you breathe in less indoor air pollution.

Use colors you like, and that stimulate you mentally. You probably can’t paint the walls of your office, but if you work in a cubical you might be able to put fabric on the dividers. Color effects our mood, our outlook and our productivity, so choose colors that make you feel and work your best.

Don’t ignore scents. Scents have a similar effect as colors on the human psyche. Scents can stimulate your mind, enhance creativity, relieve stress, and help you think clearly. Many offices have a “no scents” policy to protect those who have allergies and sensitivities, but there is nothing stopping you from keeping a bottle (or several bottles) of essential oil in your desk, and taking a sniff from the bottle when you need a bit of motivation, stress reduction, or creativity.

Open them, if you’ve got them. Are you lucky enough to have a window in your office? Keep it open as often as you can. The fresh air will do you, and your coworkers good.

Control the clutter. This is one is something I very much need to work on. My desk tends to get very cluttered regardless of how often I clean it. But, even so, a cluttered workspace makes for a cluttered mind. It’s easier to think when your surroundings are neat and organized. From an energy standpoint, it makes sense. The energy enters your work space and travels around the room. Lots of items tend to slow that energy down, and send it bouncing off in different directions. That causes the energy of the space to become scattered. Scattered energy often causes scattered thoughts. So, make an effort to have a place for everything, and put everything in its place.

Maintain a healthy work/leisure balance. No matter what your bosses think, working 12 and 18 hours a day is not good for your productivity. Working tediously long hours is also not good for your physical and emotional health, and it’s not good for your family life either. The most productive employees are those who maintain a good work/leisure balance. Those who take time off to play and enjoy family, friends, and life in general tend to return to work more refreshed, clear headed and creative than those who put in extra hours. Remember that the next time you have a looming deadline and are tempted to put in 18 hour days– your productivity just might benefit from a few hours away.


Tell me your thoughts.