When the COVID-19 pandemic started back in March, many people were transitioned from an office setting to working from home.
When the transition first happened, many of the people I spoke to had the mindset they would be returning to their office or other workspace by the summer or fall.
At least for the foreseeable future, it’s looking like working from home may be here to stay for many people.
It seems that every facet of working from home has a downside and upside. While there may be fewer interruptions, there is less socialization with others, at least in person.
People no longer have a commute, but may have a hard time not working outside of normal office hours because their work is just in the next room. Professionals with young kids may get to spend more time with them, but as anyone with kids under the ages of 7-8 can attest, it can be a real challenge, especially if both spouses are working from home.
Another double-edged sword is the work space itself. I have evaluated dozens of workstations over the years, from offices to factories, fisheries to excavation sites and just about everything in between. I’ve seen modern offices with slick desks with hydraulic controls to transition between sitting and standing.
I’ve also seen people working with whatever workstation the person who did the job before them had, including chairs that were likely purchased in the 1990s and 50-year-old desks.
Most of the work being done at home due to the pandemic is desk work, so we’ll focus on that. While most modern offices have pretty good desks, chairs, and other repetitive strain prevention devices like mouse and keyboard pads, very few people might have access to those at home.
Here are a few things to think about if you’re looking to set up a workspace in your home:
Encourage proper posture
Generally speaking, a chair with arm rests and a good back support is the foundation for a comfortable work station. The one I recommend most frequently to people can be purchased locally for around $150.
When you are sitting and working, your spine should be mostly straight, your feet should be flat on the floor, and your eyes should be looking about 1/3 of the distance down from the top of the screen.
Work like a T-Rex
The closer your elbows stay to your torso, the less strain there is on your body. When we have to reach far from the body and lift, hold, or otherwise manipulate objects, body strain increases considerably due to leverage. A 1-pound stapler held at the chest can generate several additional pounds of force when it is held away from the torso.
To offset this, set your desk up like a dinosaur with short little arms will be working there. Keep your keyboard and mouse as close to you as possible when you’re sitting comfortably in your chair. Move your phone so that its an easy reach if you spend a good chunk of the day on it.
Keeping frequently utilized items close by also prevents you from breaking your good posture throughout the day.
Get up and move
One of the most common questions I get from people who spend most of their day at a desk goes something like ‘how often should I be getting up to avoid getting stiff?’
Getting up for 2-3 minutes every 45-60 minutes is a great start. For people with sitting/standing work stations, I find that sitting for 1.5-2 hours then standing for an hour or so seems to be a good mix. There isn’t an exact formula and it may vary day to day, so the best thing to do is listen to your body. If you find yourself squirming or rolling your shoulders by 10 a.m., that’s your body telling you it needs some movement.
Speaking of which….
Work some exercise and stretching into your day
One of the barriers to short bouts of exercise throughout the day is that people don’t want to looking goofy dropping down to knock out a few push-ups in front of their co-workers.
Since you’re at home, that barrier has been removed.
Some easy stretches to work into your day that generally benefit people confined to a desk are thoracic stretches, pectoral stretches, and stretching of the neck musculature. Getting on the floor for a few hip, knee, and back stretches is also a good idea. When it comes to keeping your body strong, do a few planks, push-ups, or squats once an hour. It will give you a reason to get up and will even help you maintain focus.
If you’re having new pain now that you’re working from home or need extra help getting set up, give your physical therapist a call to help create a plan that meets your needs and makes your work environment fit you as comfortably as possible.