Years ago I worked in the global fashion sourcing industry, living in Sri Lanka and Portugal, manufacturing bras and panties for the Victoria's Secret brand. During that time, I observed that the best garment factories ensure that work stations are designed around the human body. This results in happier people, higher efficiencies, and greater productivity.
Some hybrid version of working from home (WFH) and in the office will be part of our next normal. This calls for a new examination of how we structure our work to benefit our well-being. Ergonomics is the study of people in their work environment. Traditionally, it focuses on modifying work's structural systems to fit the person. A 2019 Gallup study of 7,500 full-time employees found that 23 percent reported feeling burned out at work very often. We have all had to adjust to new ways of working during the Covid-19 quarantine. Since 2020, the root cause of burnout has been a lack of separation between work and one's personal life.
It is important that we design healthy habits, integrated into our work, that ensure well-being. The ergonomics for today should factor in the physical, mental, and emotional dimensions of the person. Here are three ways to design your work to fit all dimensions of you.
1. Your Furniture Really Matters.
Yes, it's still important to factor in the physical accoutrements of your 21st-century work station. Invest in an ergonomically designed chair with great back support and adjustable arm rests. Also make sure that your lighting is adjusted to avoid computer eye strain. And speaking of eye strain, invest in blue light sensitive eyewear, which reduces eye strain significantly.
2. Hack Your Brain.
How we feel in our environment is key to how well or poorly we produce. Thus, factor in the five senses and your emotions into the design of space and work experiences. Retailers, restaurants, and hotels do this on a regular basis. There's a reason why Ikea smells of home baked cinnamon bread, and that the W hotel pipes lounge music through the elevator and lobby sound systems.You can also catalyze certain feelings to get you in the mood to work by modulating temperature, smell, and sound. On a recent Clubhouse conversation I led about creativity, one designer shared how she lights a candle, plays soft music, and drinks a cup of cappuccino to get her brain in the right state of mind. Do not underestimate these hacks.
3. Embrace the Pause.
Push back from your desk, stand up, and take regular breaks. Ensure that you move around. Even if it is limited to a short lap around the interior of your apartment, that's good. If you can take a walk as short as five minutes, or as long as 30 minutes, even better. Write in sprints, from 12 minutes to 30 minutes long at a time. Make sure that all notifications and beeping sounds are turned off. And reward yourself at the end with a glass of water or a walk around the block. Just as interval physical exercise training is effective, pausing ensures that we give our brains the recovery time it needs for deep focused work.
As a result of these resets, you will experience a surge of creativity and simultaneously build up your resilience to quarantine brain fog, and avoid burnout.