To control the coronavirus infections, most of the workforce is working from home. Unlike pre-COVID times when you worked only a few hours at home in a week in less than ideal ergonomic conditions, you are now working from home 40 plus hours a week or more on your laptops in temporary workstations and improvised home offices. According to an April survey from the American Chiropractic Association, 92 percent of chiropractors said that patients report more neck pain, back pain, or other musculoskeletal issues since the stay-at-home guidance began.
Hence the need to take proactive steps to design and set up the workspace at home to protect your health. Ergonomics is the study of how humans interact with the physical systems in their environment. Given below are some tips to help you replicate the best ergonomics setup possible, and stay safe and comfortable, even if you’re working from home away from the office.
7 ergonomic tips for ‘work from home’:
1. Designate a separate workspace.
Create a dedicated space for work, preferably only for you so that you can set up your computer equipment correctly and customise it according to your needs, so that you don’t waste time adjusting it when you begin work. Set your table or desk in a quiet and private corner or room of the house. Avoid using the bed or sofa/couch or dining or kitchen table as your work station. A separate workspace will help you make a physical and mental distinction between work and personal time at home.
2. Set your work table.
Your screen needs to be at an arm’s length away. If needed, put your laptop on a stand or a stack of books for the right line of sight: eye level or slightly below. Proper workstation height promotes better wrist alignment and prevents elbow pain. It would be wise to invest in work accessories and additional tech equipment in the long haul. For example, a mouse, that is better for your wrist than a trackpad. If working on sofas or beds is unavoidable in a shared space, then use pillows behind your back or under your thighs and create a tray to put your laptop on.
3. Find the right chair.
Invest in a good office chair with low back support and a seated cushion. If using a kitchen or hard dining chair, insert a firm seat cushion and roll up a tightly folded soft towel or blanket to place behind your low back area. Make sure your feet are not dangling from the chair. Adjust the height of your chair so that your thighs are nearly parallel to the floor and your hips are slightly higher than your knees. This will reduce stress on your lumbar spine. If the chair height cannot be adjusted, place your feet on some boxes or a footstool/pedestal under the desk.
4. Optimise workplace lighting.
Ensure proper lighting, not too bright neither too dull, whether natural or through artificial sources such as lamps. Avoid sitting right next to a window or sit perpendicular to it to reduce glare on your computer screen.
5. Practice proper posture.
When sitting, make sure your back is against your chair, shoulders are relaxed, and your arms and elbows are relaxed at 90-degree angles. Maintaining a good posture for extended periods takes practice. So keep checking your during the day and adjust it if needed.
6. Follow the 20-20-20 rule.
For every 20 minutes of screen time, look away for 20 seconds at anything 20 feet away. This will serve as a rest to your eyes to reduce strain. Set an alarm on your phone for this. You could even keep a potted plant at the designated 20 feet from your workstation for something green and pleasant to look at.
7. Plan your work breaks.
Schedule frequent micro-breaks for snacks, beverages, to refill your water bottle, and for meals, just as you did in the office. It's important to stay well hydrated and nourished. Besides serving as a breather to improve work efficiency, these breaks will serve as an opportunity to stand up, walk around, and let your eyes have a rest from the computer screen. In any case, stretch and move after every half an hour to banish posture fatigue. Moving intermittently throughout the day, outside if possible, or even to a different room, helps to vary your posture to avoid strain.
To serve as reminders to stand up and move from time to time, you can download free break timers such as Break Timer, Micro Breaks, etc. This will also help you to get in as many steps as possible during work hours.
Good habits take practice, whether at home or at the office. Pay attention to any pain, strain, or discomfort which signals how the body is feeling, and accordingly tweak your workstation. Now is the time to develop good 'work from home' habits, so that you can promote work productivity along with a healthy lifestyle.