Modern technology allows many jobs to be done remotely. Working from home has its perks, but one of the most difficult aspects for many people is setting up an ergonomically safe workstation. I’ve seen some imaginative work-from-home setups. Some people work from the couch, with a laptop on their outstretched legs, and two dogs curled up and snoring at their side. Wait. That’s me right now! Some people have set up on dining room tables, and I’ve even seen pictures of people working from their tubs! What?! For infrequent short stints these set-ups might be okay (except the tub… please don’t ever work with electronics in the tub!)
The reality is, many people do not have access to a proper desk and ergonomic setup with their makeshift home office. Whether working from home is a new and temporary arrangement for you, an ongoing but periodic thing, or your permanent situation, a safe ergonomic station is critical to your comfort and wellbeing. With the help of pillows, towels, books, and a binder you can make some subtle but very effective adjustments to optimize and maintain your postural health and wellness.
A good workstation starts with the chair. You can reference one of our previous blogs: “Chair Ergonomics” to ensure that you have the best guidelines. A folded towel provides great lumbar support. Books can act as a footrest. And don’t be afraid to get out your travel pillow if you want a little head and neck support.
Next, build your set up around the comfort of your chair. Look at your keyboard and mouse. You want your arms to rest at your side, with the keyboard just a few inches above your lap. The keyboard should be tilted slightly away from you to allow your wrists to remain neutral or slightly flexed. Your wrists should never be flexed backwards. Proper wrist angles will help reduce the potential for carpal tunnel concerns or tendinitis at the elbow.
This is going to be a tough one depending on what you have at your disposal. You can prop the keyboard up on your lap with a TV tray, or a binder with the wide end closest to you. Add a towel roll along the front of your keyboard to provide a resting place for your wrists. If you don’t have either of these, you can MacGyver something out of a cardboard box, some duct tape, a towel, and probably a safety pin for good measure. Ideally, though, you can invest in a sliding keyboard tray that you can install under whatever surface you are working from. There are lots of clamp-on versions that can easily be removed if you are working from a multi-purpose table.
Your screen is best set about an arm’s length away from you, adjusted for any vision concerns. The height of your monitor is best when your natural gaze falls in the top 1/3 of your screen. Prop your monitor up on some books until you’ve reached the desired height. Proper screen set up will help you prevent forward head carriage, which is a leading cause of headaches, jaw pain, and upper back pain, and inevitably leads to the dreaded “Dowagers hump.” This hump is the body’s defence as it thickens the tissues at the base of your neck to try and brace against the weight of your head pulling everything forward.
If you are working with a laptop, there are limited ways in which you can make it safe for frequent long duration use. Its design forces you to choose between neck comfort or arm and wrist comfort. If you are able, consider adding a monitor or keyboard to transform your laptop into a desktop station. If you are stuck with only the laptop, a binder comes in handy here too. This time, place the wide end closest to your knees; this gives the screen some height while lowering the keyboard slightly. Place a towel roll under your wrists to maintain a neutral angle. And tilt the screen back slightly to encourage a more neutral neck.
Before you can get to work you also want to make sure you have all your necessary tools at your disposal so that you are not using ill-fitted substitutes. For example, if you were used to having a regular landline receiver or hands-free phone at the office, get some headphones for your cellphone so that you aren’t cricking your neck to hold that ultra-thin cellphone to your ear. And place an end table or TV tray beside you so that your tools are all nearby, to avoid extending and reaching at awkward angles.
Now that you’ve got your station set up perfectly, get up! The key to avoiding the pitfalls from desk and computer work is taking frequent movement breaks. Even with perfect ergonomics and perfect posture, your body is not meant to sit still in the same position for long periods of time. We shared an excellent TedTalk on this topic in a previous blog: “Why Sitting is Bad for You.” The bottom line, to use our favourite motto: MOTION IS LOTION. It’s a catchy phrase, and is at the core of most of the homecare we give our clients. A stagnant body leads to stagnant blood and lymph flow, nerve congestion, stiffening of the muscles, and the list goes on. It’s simple laws of physics: An object that is at rest stays at rest. But, an object that is in motion stays in motion!
Good luck, and happy homeworking!