At Novus, we look out for your members’ and employees’ health as well as manage their health risks as they happen through the pandemic. This article is a sample of material you can share with your team members; your population will find trusted information on ergonomics as they work from home.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of us have been working from home. Many individuals dream of going back to the office… And it is not surprising.
Overnight, people were told they would now work remotely to avoid the virus and we had to urgently transform a space that may not have been made for it, often without any help. A lot of us stuck to the sofa or the kitchen table for a long while, as we thought we would go back to “normal” in a relatively short period of time.
Back and neck pain started to set in. The impossibility of finding a good position to work in as well as the impossibility of ignoring work – as the work-laptop lies on the kitchen table after work hours – has made us want to go back to our workplace to find a semblance of normalcy. But after months, and the second wave coming in, working from home might end up being the new normal for a lot of us for quite some time.
Having a good posture, a correct chair height, adequate equipment spacing as well as certain tools will help you achieve what we refer to as good office ergonomics. This will help you avoid injuries and be more comfortable as your body position will be as “natural” as possible.
So, if you have not yet abandoned your sofa or kitchen chair, there is no time like the present to prevent injuries and help your productivity through good ergonomics.
Set Up a Workspace
You might have left the office to work from home, but good ergonomics still applies. Although many companies sent the majority, or all their employees to work remotely with laptops, the devices are not made for you to spend long hours on. As practical as they are, without a good setting, they are adding pressure to the body, especially the back and neck. Setting up a designated workplace will help you avoid injuries.
Remember your adjustable chair, your monitor stand riser, your keyboard, and mouse, etc.? All of these help you achieve good posture. With ergonomic-friendly tools, you will be able to prevent musculoskeletal disorders that can affect your lower back, neck, shoulders, elbows, forearms, hands, and wrists.
Moving from your kitchen table or your sofa will force you to resort to creative solutions if you do not have the money to equip yourself right away. There are solutions for you to be comfortable and have a good ergonomic home office without breaking the bank.
Your Mental Health Is Also at Risk
If you are still unconvinced, let us mention that creating your own workspace will not only help you achieve a better posture, it will also help you mentally leave work where it belongs at the end of the day. Remember when you used to get out of the office to commute? It might have been tiring at the time, but this was the moment when you would transition mentally from work to home or vice versa.
When working from home, it is easy to take a quick look at your emails after work hours when your laptop is still on the kitchen table or next to the sofa. Working remotely has its advantages but being constantly available is certainly not one of them. Having a designated workstation will help you achieve that feeling of leaving “the office” and relaxing after a good day at work.
Where Do I Set Up My Workspace?
Finding a quiet space out of living areas will help your mental health in the long run. Try to set up your new workplace where your chances of being disturbed are few, such as the basement, guest room, or a sectioned off reading nook. Set some ground rules if your children and/or partner are in the house with you (if you have to take care of your kids, having a flexible schedule will help you as well). If you do not have an extra room to put your desk in, make sure that you still have physical separation such as a room divider or a bookcase. This will also help you separate work and home hours. Try and stick to a regular schedule to make sure you do not overwork yourself.
Natural light is good for your physical and mental health, as well as for reducing eyestrain. Setting your desk closer to a window is therefore a good idea, but make sure to avoid any glares that could bounce off of your screen. If your basement is generally dark and is the only place where you can be quiet, add more lighting to avoid feeling secluded in the dark.
As with any office, make it your own with art and decoration that make it a place you want to sit in front of all day!
- Keyboard and Mouse
Having a laptop is great because you can move around the house and set up anywhere you want. But after a while, you feel hunched over, and your fingers and wrists are cramped in a weird position.
Buying an external keyboard and mouse is a great, and relatively affordable, investment that will help you a long way. When you have them, make sure they are within easy reach as well as both on your kitchen table, countertop, keyboard tray or desk. If buying these accessories is not in your budget, make sure you keep your laptop at a distance and that your wrists and forearms are supported by your table or desk.
To reduce extended use of your mouse, try and learn some keyboard shortcuts. Feeling adventurous? Alternate your hands to operate your mouse!
If you only have your laptop, make sure you are not sitting too close to the screen as it puts strain on your eyes. If your laptop has a small screen, you can also buy a monitor. Having two screens can help you not only achieve better ergonomics, but also be more productive.
You should keep both your laptop, and monitor, at about an arm’s length. Make sure your forehead lines up with the top of your screen/monitor to avoid a tilt in your neck (this can add up to 60 pounds of body weight on your neck!). This can be achieved with a monitor stand riser; it will help you raise your screen to eye level so that you are aligned and can avoid neck pain. If you do not want to invest in one, this is where you can get creative: put old dictionaries or books or some boxes to good use and raise your laptop to eye level!
To prevent eye strain throughout the day, make sure you look away from your screen every 20 minutes for 20 seconds and look at an object that is about 20 feet from yourself. This is called the 20-20-20 rule.
Having a good chair is important. If you work full-time, you will spend at least seven to eight hours a day on it. Buying a chair is a good investment if you know that you will not likely return to the office in the next few months, or ever if your employer decides that you can continue working remotely at the end of the pandemic. Money is probably a factor, but it is better to spend extra bucks on an adjustable chair then spend hundreds at a physiotherapist after months of being uncomfortable.
Do your research and take time to go to the store and try chairs to get the one that fits your body size as much as possible and is comfortable. When choosing, make sure that it is adjustable, and that it offers lumbar support. If there is a gap between your back and the chair, you can put a lumbar pillow or a rolled towel. If you do not have the luxury of buying an adjustable chair, and are stuck on your kitchen chair, the rolled towel trick still applies!
Your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle and directly under your shoulders. Your wrists should be flat on the table as well. This will prevent strain leading to injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, etc. Having an adjustable chair will help you get your elbows to match the height of the table. If on your kitchen chair, you can sit on a pillow or cushion to elevate yourself to achieve the most ergonomic position.
If you cannot reach the floor (your thighs should run parallel to the floor, your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and your feet flat on the floor), make sure to have a footrest. If you do not have one, you can stack a few boxes or use a flipped recycling bin.
You can even work standing to move around more; that is where a laptop comes in handy! Use a countertop, but make sure you still apply the same conventions as if you were working sitting. Remember, you want your screen to be high enough, so you do not have to bend, and your elbows must be at a 90-degree angle.
Changing Your Work Environment Might Not Be Enough
Let’s face it, changing your work environment might not be enough. The reality is that when we all had to work from home, a lot of us abandoned our routines as we tried to adapt to the situation. Gone were the walks to the office, the strolls on lunch break, getting up to go to the coffee machine and chat with our colleagues or going to the gym right after work.
Working from home does not mean that you must stick to your chair all day. On the contrary, try and move at least every hour. Get up and complete a few stretching exercises for one to two minutes. Tilt and rotate your head, stretch your wrists, shrug your shoulders, etc.
Do not forget to get your eyesight checked if you spend most of your time in front of the computer. You can also adjust text size as well as lighting on your screen.
Check out more health tips on our blog.
- Ergonomic Chair, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
- Home Office Ergonomics: Your Prolonged Remote Work from Home Guide, Government of Canada.
- How to Make Your Computer Workstation Fit You, WorkSafeBC.
- Office ergonomics modules, Institute for Work &Health, et al.
- Quick steps for setting up your temporary laptop workstation, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services.
- Setting up, organizing, and working comfortably in your home workspace, WorkSafeBC.
- Stretching – At the Workstation, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
- Telework / Telecommuting, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
- Working from home? 6 tips for setting up your workstation, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services.
- Working from home: A guide to keeping workers healthy and safe, WorkSafeBC.
- Working in a Sitting Position – Good Body Position, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.