Due to stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic, much of the nation’s workforce is now working from home without adequate furniture, equipment, or space. An inadequate work environment can lead to health problems, such as chronic neck and back pain, muscle strain, and fatigue.
Following are recommendations to make working from home more comfortable:
1. Computers: People are used to sprawling on sofas, casually resting their computers on their laps to shop, send emails, check social media, or watch movies when home. Now, however, those same laptops are serving double duty as office equipment.
But laptops are not designed for working long hours, and proper posture is nearly impossible to achieve when using a laptop, even one positioned on a desk. By their very size, laptops cause users to tilt their heads down instead of looking straight ahead. Constantly looking down can cause neck and shoulder strain that can lead to headaches and muscle pain.
When possible, opt for a desktop computer instead of a laptop. If you have no other choice than to use a laptop, invest in a separate monitor and a wireless keyboard with a mouse. With a detachable keyboard, the laptop can then be placed on a stand or a stack of books to achieve proper monitor placement, which is at arm’s length, with the top of the screen at about eye level.
When using your laptop on your lap, prop your feet up on a stool so that your knees are a couple inches from the surface of the seat. The same benefit can be achieved by placing the laptop on a two- to three-inch binder, with the wide end on top of your knees. Change positions often when using a laptop. Occasionally stand, placing your laptop on a high counter, which can increase circulation in your legs and help with fatigue.
2. Chairs: Office chairs tend to be ergonomically designed, but most people do not have a chair at home that adjusts in height and has proper lumbar support. When seated at a desk, knees should be level with your hips and your wrists should remain straight, with your hands at or below the level of your elbows.
If you do not have a proper office chair, do the following to create a similar effect:
• Use a pillow or seat cushion for greater comfort.
• Change your posture throughout the day.
• Use a rolled towel to create lumbar support and a pillow if back of chair is stiff and hard.
• Put your feet up on occasion to stretch your legs.
• Take breaks, doing a few quick stretches or taking a short walk around the house.
3. Desks: Proper desk height is important when you are staring into a screen and handling a keyboard all day. Your work-at-home desk or table should have proper clearance for your knees, thighs, and feet. If the desk is too low, prop the legs on sturdy blocks or boards. A too-high desk can be a problem too, so, if able, raise the chair or sit on a cushion. Footrests can help support feet and offer a platform if the desk is too high.
Be sure elbows are close to the body and bent at an angle of between 90 and 120 degrees. Hands, wrists, and forearms should remain straight, aligned, and somewhat parallel to the floor. Pad the edge of the desk to create a more comfortable place to rest your wrists or forearms.
Office ergonomics are important for good health. Check with your employer on ways to be compensated for any necessary equipment needed when working from home, or if you can borrow office equipment to use at home.
Sources: California Legislative Information, https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=2802.&lawCode=LAB; Indiana University: Protect IU, “Ergonomic Tips for Laptop Users,” https://protect.iu.edu/environmental-health/occupational-health/ergo-program/office/laptop.html; Mayo Clinic, “Office Ergonomics: Your How-to-Guide,” https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/office-ergonomics/art-20046169; NBC, Make It, “Cheap Ways to Make Your Work-from-Home Space More Ergonomic and Better for Your Back,” https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/19/ways-to-make-your-work-from-home-space-ergonomic-better-for-your-back.html; US Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Computer Workstations eTool,” https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/positions.html; US News, “The Benefits of Using a Standing Desk,” https://health.usnews.com/wellness/articles/the-benefits-of-using-a-standing-desk.
Photo courtesy Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/office-ergonomics/art-20046169.