Melissa MacDonald DC
How to Home-office
Updated: Apr 30, 2020
Thankfully, improved remote working technology and 24/7 connectivity are available in today's day and age. Prior to the pandemic, telecommuting was used to allow for schedule flexibility, and reduced commute times.
However, it is important to consider that working from the comfort of your home is not always comfortable for work. We have spent some time discussing workstation ergonomics, whether it is in previous articles, blog posts, or in our clinics with patients. The majority of those discussions were geared towards office workstations where the employee likely has a designated workstation with a desktop computer and comfortable (or not so comfortable) office chair.
But proper ergonomics should not be exclusive to an office and should extend to wherever you work, whether it be your home or the neighborhood coffee shop. Most of the concepts on proper ergonomics we have previously discussed can be applied to any workplace. However, there are some important things to consider when working from your home.
When we ask our patients that work from home to describe their workstation setup, very few tell us that they have a separate home office with a desk. A more typical reply is that they work slouched over a laptop on their couch or at the kitchen table. We’ve even had patients tell us they work on their laptop while lying in bed. Laptop use can lead to an array of both immediate and long-term injuries.
Perhaps the most important tip we can offer when working from home is to have a designated workstation with a comfortable office chair. While this would preferably be a height-adjustable desk, not everyone has space or budget to have a freestanding desk in their home. If that is the case, then set up your workstation on a stable flat surface such as a kitchen/dining table or a countertop. Granted there are now affordable options for making any surface an adjustable height desk.
It is also important to have an adjustable office chair to get the proper body positioning and height when sitting, especially if you’re using a surface that is not height adjustable.
If you have a desktop computer at home, then follow the ergonomic guidelines we have previously discussed in the following post “Pain While Sitting? Let's Fix That.” But fewer and fewer people have desktop computers outside of their office as laptop computers have become more ubiquitous for their portability.
Ok, if you are not going to have a standing desk then having an ergonomic chair is going to be the next best thing. Ergonomics simply means that the chair will conform to the shape of your body and provide comfort while working. If the chair:
Forces you to lean forward it can cause poor posture
Is too low can cause strain on your wrists
Choose an easily adjustable chair, so you can work comfortably for long hours. The last thing to consider is the upholstery. You'll want to make sure that the covering is hypoallergenic, the worse case would be to buy an expensive chair that you're allergic too.
Unfortunately, certain ergonomic features are compromised for the sake of portability. Keyboard spacing, screen size and positioning, and pointing devices are all poorly designed when it comes to laptop computers. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to have good posture when using a keyboard fixed to the laptop.
The laptop is always a challenge when trying to sit ideally when working. The challenge lies in the fact that the keyboard and monitor are attached to each other, so it is difficult to maintain proper ergonomics.
The first challenge is that the screen tends to be lower than a traditional monitor and you have to look down on your screen. As you learned previously, you need to maintain the monitor level, so your eyes are in line with the top portion of the monitor while maintaining proper posture.
Secondly, as laptops trend towards smaller and smaller devices, the keyboard gets smaller and is not ideal for typing, and can place undue strain on the hands, wrists, and forearms.
Lastly, people tend to want to keep a normal distance from their eyes to the laptop screen, so they sit a certain distance away from the laptop, but then need to reach for the keyboard to type. This causes the reaching position of the arms and shoulders that inherently forces you into a rounded sitting posture and excessive stress on the upper body and neck.
Despite the poor ergonomics inherent to laptops, there are certain steps you can take to improve your ergonomics when using a laptop.
If your laptop is your main computer, use a keyboard that you link to your laptop, instead of the laptop’s keyboard. Place a stand underneath the laptop so that the screen/monitor is at the optimal height that aligns with your eyes. If the laptop is your secondary computer, use a stand for the laptop so that you don’t have to look downward to see the screen. Then when you need to type on it briefly, move the laptop to an optimal place in front of you to type.
When working, lighting is something that isn't often considered from home. Natural lighting can provide you energy and help with the creative process. This can be challenging in the midwest as during the winter months there may not be many days of sun. There are light boxes that can be utilized to replace the light and create neutral energy.
Additionally, for the video conference calls having good lighting can help make a more professional appearance.
For video calls we recommend:
No windows or large light sources in the background
Have light shining directly at your face if possible
Purchasing an indoor lite kit
When working from home one of the hardest things to do is have set office hours. This is to limit interruptions, especially for those with kids and pets. It can be easier to do if you have a stand-alone office with a door, but this isn't always possible. Set rules about when people can come in if the door is open or closed, or have a sign on the back of the chair.
The decor is where the fun can happen and help lift your mood and create a fun office environment you enjoy day-in and out. Picking the right color to energize, improve focus, and increases productivity have been studied in the research. Generally speaking, blues and greens are soothing and calming, and reds and oranges promote innovation and optimism. Another step can be adding plants, not only do they help purify the air but also provide a calming touch.
Air-Filtering plants that are also hard to kill:
Snake Plant or Mother-in-Law's Tongue
Have a flexible furniture plan that allows you to assess the functionality of the space on a weekly basis and adapt when needed. A pro-tip is to not have your back to a door. This can create stress on a subconscious level. Things to consider:
Did you feel comfortable?
Did you look forward to going to work?
How was lighting during video calls?
Creating a better ergonomic home environment is easy if you follow the steps we have outlined above. Doing so will help improve productivity and the quality of your work, but will also help prevent stress and injury while improving the quality of your mind and body. This is your oasis in this stressful time.
· The Desk Jockey Manifesto
Content was curated through the Chiropractic Sucess Academy