Now let’s talk about setting up a home office that works ergonomically as well.
Make sure it has these features
- Privacy so work can be done without interruptions.
- Lighting that accents the work area without causing glare, especially on computer screens.
- Adequate power accessibility to plug in all the devices required.
- Start and stop times just as you would at the office to help delineate “work” time from home and family time. A specific routine will make adjusting easier for everyone.
- Consider opening the windows to let fresh air in and setting A/C and heaters so they’re comfortable. If it’s too cold it can be hard to function, too warm and you can feel lethargic, low energy.
- Decrease distractions. If you can’t find an isolated place, try using noise cancelling headphones.
- Use a headset so your neck isn’t strained every time you use the phone. Not available? Then make sure you don’t input data or write while using one. Otherwise the strain from trying to keep it secured between you neck and chin for even a few minutes will exacerbate pain.
Choose a workspace
If you work from a couch, don’t be tempted to lie vertically or sink deep into the comfy cushions. It may sound wonderful, but it’s not supportive and can lead to muscle strain and numbness of the lower extremities. If you have no other options, sit straight into the back of the sofa and plant your feet on the ground. If possible, use a tray table. If not, use a book or pillow to raise the laptop screen so you’re looking at the center to minimize neck pain. Use a cushion or rolled up towel behind your lower back for lumbar support. Keep your shoulders relaxed and elbows at your side, arms at ninety degrees, and wrists straight. Since it’s difficult to maintain this position for any length of time take a break every 20-30 minutes.
Make sure your feet are planted flat on the ground, sit into the back of the chair, use a lumbar roll for improved support. Bring the laptop to the edge of the table and use books or a cushion to lift it to where you’re looking into the center of the screen. You may want to attach a keyboard and mouse to allow a more natural posture, less arm movement and reduced need to reach for items. If the table is bar height, add a footrest so your feet don’t dangle or use cushions to lift your legs so that your thighs are parallel to the floor and your knees are at a ninety degree angle. Or take advantage of the height and stand while you work.
It may be tempting to use your bed as a work space, but don’t. It’ll disrupt your sleep cycles since proper sleep hygiene recommends using your bed only to sleep. It is also close to impossible to set up a situation that properly aligns your spine and arms while inputting data when reclining in bed. Your spine curves in non-anatomical ways no matter how firm the mattress or positioning of back rests and your head is forced to bend forward and angle downward to see the computer screen, straining the neck and eyes.
Unique temporary desks from what’s on hand
- An ironing board can actually work as a make shift, temporary and portable desk due to its multiple height settings options.
- Even removing a shelf from a bookcase and stacking books under it until it’s the proper height can work temporarily. The recommended height is 29 inches.
- An upside down laundry basket with added books to achieve the proper height can work as well. Just make sure they are stable for the time you’re working on them so injury or damage to equipment doesn’t occur.
Unlike separate monitors, laptop screens generally sit too low. The screen should be at eye level to decrease head, neck, shoulder and eye strain. A simple solution is to add a few books in order to elevate it to the proper level.
Wherever you work
- Stay relaxed. Too often, we draw our shoulders up and clench our teeth. For most this is a default position when we’re stressed or focusing on a task. It puts tremendous pressure on the jaws, neck and shoulder blades, leading to pain and headaches. Periodically think to drop your shoulders and open your mouth. You can’t clench when the mouth is open. Then close your lips.
- Make sure everything needed- keyboard, mouse, phone, stapler… are within reach. Otherwise, constantly stretching to retrieve an item can lead to neck, arm, shoulder pain.
- Maintain proper posture. Keep your chest, head and shoulders erect and aligned. Slumping forward let’s the head drop and compresses the chest making it harder to take a full breath at the same time it stresses all the upper body muscles.
- Remember, every inch your head falls forward increases the weight on your upper back and neck by ten pounds!
- Take a break. No one should sit or stand for long periods of time. Every 30 minutes, move. Whether it’s a quick stretch, bathroom run, or when more time permits, an outdoor excursion for fresh air and sunshine. It’ll improve your focus, productivity and lessen pain.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Too often we forget how much hydration impacts our ability to function. Just a 1% drop in hydration can lead to a 12% drop in productivity. A 3-4% drop in hydration can result in a 25-50% drop in productivity! Remember, our bodies are predominantly water. Drinking fluids can make a huge difference in improving concentration, focus and energy while decreasing fatigue.
The US National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine recommend:
- 15.5 cups of fluid (3.7 liters) per day for men.
- 11.5 cups of fluid (2.7liters) for women.
It’s estimated 20% comes from our food intake but the rest needs to be from water and other beverages. You’ll know you hit your goal if you’re rarely thirsty and your urine has little color.
Next week I’ll talk about home activities that can benefit from ergonomics changes.