I had a business meeting at a coffee shop recently. The place was filled with people tapping away on their laptops, tablets and smartphones.
But there wasn't a laptop stand, tablet stand or riser, detachable keyboard or mouse in sight.
All of these people working away on their digital devices in static, awkward postures got me thinking: wouldn't it be great if we could borrow ergonomic accessories like laptop stands for use while we're working (or just hanging out) at a coffee bar, hotel lobby or space specifically designed for co-working?
Now that we can take our work anywhere - we do. But typically, we don't take our ergonomic accessories with us. It's understandable - who really wants to lug a laptop stand, detachable keyboard and mouse to Starbucks?
But we do need this equipment if we want to avoid the musculoskeletal pain that can arise from years of tapping away hunched over our laptops. And it's going to become increasingly important.
Consider this: between 2012 and 2014, 32,000 new businesses popped up in London's EC1V postcode. They are part of the internet-led 'flat white economy' according to economist Douglas McWilliams in his new book of the same name. McWilliams estimates that right now there are 200,000 people in London working in the flat white economy and that by 2025 this group will make up 15.8% of the UK's total GDP.
Many of these businesses are startups with no permanent premises. Instead, they are run out of coffee shops, hotel lobbies or co-working spaces. And that pretty much guarantees that the people involved aren't using safe computer workstation set up.
So now, along with their latte debt, these flat white workers are clocking up their musculoskeletal debt too. That's the wear and tear they're inflicting on their musculoskeletal system as they sit hunched over their digital devices at Starbucks.
"Repetitive strain injury is caused by working in an extremely repetitive fashion, in one position, for years. Your muscles lock up in that position and fatigue, causing your posture to collapse forward. The unnaturally tensed muscles get inflamed and frequently pinch your nerves and blood vessels," writes Suparna Damany, physical therapist and author of It's Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! RSI Theory and Therapy for Computer Professional.
To help combat a potential epidemic of musculoskeletal disorders such as repetitive strain injury in remote workers, I'm calling on all co-working spaces - whatever shape they take - to provide worker-visitors with a library of ergonomic accessories such as laptop stands, detachable keyboards and mice to borrow from while they are on-site or in-store.
Spaces specifically designed for co-working have the opportunity to get more than the accessories right. Here, adjustable chairs and adjustable desks or tables are an important part of the solution too.
As part of their induction to a new co-working space, workers should be given information on how to set up safely, the importance of taking breaks from digital devices, and standing up and moving during those breaks. This information should be easily visible throughout the space, reminding workers to mind their set up, posture and how much they've moved (or not) throughout their workday.
Coffee shops, hotel lobbies and other locations not used exclusively for co-working may not want to get rid of all of their lounge chairs and low tables, but they can make things better by supplying some ergonomic accessories for loan and offering information to customers about keeping themselves safe. At the bottom of the coffee list, why not have some images of gentle stretches, reminding people to stand up and move every 20 minutes? Or why not hang posters with images of good set up and positioning so customers can use them as a guide?
With a host of health problems associated with sitting, typing and tapping for long periods of time, we need to start thinking outside of the traditional workspace too. Being safe at work shouldn't be the preserve of 9-to-5ers only.