As we continue to experience this prolonged state of working from home, I find myself terribly uncomfortable. Let’s face it, our homes are not necessarily equipped to be our workspaces, and we weren’t given much notice that our lives would be upended so dramatically, or for so long. If you’ve been working from home these past few months you’re likely in need of an ergonomic check-up. I know, because I need one too – and I’m trained in ergonomics.
Ergonomics is essential to your working environment – wherever it is – to prevent stress on your body. Uncomfortable, repetitive movements can lead to musculoskeletal injury. And since we’re all living under such uncertain timelines for a safe return to work, we’re best served to prepare our routines for the long-haul. It’s important that we make our current situation as supportive and healthy as we can. I’m here to help.
These ergonomic basics will keep you comfortable and productive during your working days from home.
1. Your Chair
As tempting as it may be, try to avoid using the couch or that Lazy Boy recliner as your workspace. They may feel comfortable at the end of a long workday, but they will not provide you enough postural support to complete computer work hour after hour. I recommend finding a sturdy straight back chair, something like a kitchen, dining chair or ideally an office chair if you have one. It’s important to get your feet solidly on the floor and your back well-supported. Can you borrow your office chair from your employer’s office? Look into it.
2. Your Desk
Your lap is no substitute for a solid working surface like a desk or kitchen table. Try to find something that you can pull your chair right up close to that will support your computer and working documents. If you need to create a new working space in your home, consider affordable folding tables that are height adjustable. When your remote working days are over, they’re easily stored or reused.
3. Your Keyboard
Ideally you want to position your keyboard so your elbows are bent to a 90° angle when typing. If you’re using a laptop and find that your work surface is too high,
try connecting a separate keyboard – most will plug right into your USB port. This way your keyboard can be lower on your lap and your laptop can be up on the table. There is so much more adjustability when your keyboard and monitor can be adjusted independently. Again, ask your employer if you’re able to bring your office keyboard home to use remotely.
4. Your Monitor
Typically, we want the top of the monitor to be level with the bridge of your nose. Achieving this height can be difficult if you’re using a laptop. This would be a good time to plug in a separate keyboard or external monitor. If going the keyboard route, your laptop could then be propped up on a book or two to raise the height independent of the keyboard. Keep in mind, if you wear progressive lenses you may find it more comfortable to have the monitor lower since you may be viewing your screen through the lower portion of your glasses.
Try positioning yourself so you are sitting perpendicular to a window. This will provide a source of light and minimize any stress or strain on the eyes relative to glare.
Stay healthy as we continue through this time working from home. As always, reach out to your care provider if you have an injury that needs care. We are here for you.
Dawn Hameline, OTR/L, ATP, CEAS, is an occupational therapist at Rehabilitation Therapies at The University of Vermont Medical Center.