With the emergence of the COVID-19 global pandemic, so much has changed in the last few months, including the development of the home office as working from home strategies have been adopted by numerous companies and offices in order to keep their employees safe.
If you are one of the lucky ones who are able to successfully perform your job from the comfort of your home, you’ll know that while it comes with several benefits, without the proper workstation setup and routines that involve getting up and moving around, it doesn’t take long for the aches and pains to begin.
All it takes is to follow these easy tips for setting up a home office space to be productive and make sure your working from home experience isn’t a pain in the neck.
Designate a space as “the office”
Pick a place that is free from distraction. If you set up in the living room you’re just a few clicks away from taking a three hour break for some “Netflix and chill” syndrome.
If you don’t have a separate office room in your house, designate a section of your kitchen table to function as your desk during the work day.
Adjust your desk and chair for optimal alignment
Achieving optimal positioning when sitting at your desk or table can sometimes take some creativity and you may have to work with what you have at your disposal. If your desk is too high and you have an adjustable chair, bring your chair up so that your elbows are bent to 90 degrees.
If your feet no longer touch the ground, find something around the house that you can use as a footrest. Your hips should be level with your knees. If your desk is too short, try adding some books to the feet of your desk to raise it up to the correct height.
If your desk is a comfortable height, check to see the height of your chair. The seat should be at about knee height. If you have arm rests on your chair, adjust them so that the arm rests sit at your elbow creases when your arms are fully extended. The added support will let the shoulders rest and feel supported while typing. Most people will realize their arm rests are often set too low.
If your chair doesn’t have a lumbar support, find a towel that you can roll up and act as a support for you. If you have regular lower back pain, you may consider purchasing a lumbar support or lumbar roll for your chair to keep that lower back supported.
When you are sitting on your chair, make sure your pelvis and glute muscles are pushed all the way to the back of your seat – your spine should feel supported – try not to sit on the front of your chair.
Better yet, consider using a sit stand desk. There are lots of manual crank options or automated ones. Follow this simple diagram to set up your desk for optimal alignment:
Adjust your monitor and keyboard so they are in easy reach.
Check the distance of your monitor from your body. It should be approximately one arms length away. The height of the monitor should allow for your gaze to be straight and never bent forward. Your gaze should reach the top 1/3 of the computer screen. Most people have a monitor that is too low. If you don’t have an adjustable monitor, use a stack of old unused cookbooks to achieve the same goal. Make sure the monitor is directly in front of you when typing – no looking to the side.
Make sure your monitor is directly in line with your keyboard. If you use a standard keyboard, line the “B” key with your belly button and pull your body and chair in nice and close to the desk. When using the mouse, use your arm instead of your wrist when making small movements to avoid overuse injuries in the wrist.
While laptops and notebooks are extremely convenient, they are not ergonomic when used on a regular basis because the keyboard and monitor are attached. Most people will use the laptop to accommodate the wrists comfortably which leaves the neck in a poor position. So, if possible, when using a laptop you should add an external keyboard so you can set the laptop monitor to a comfortable height or you can try an external monitor as well.
Prioritize the Location of your documents and supplies
If you find yourself having to reference documents while emailing or typing, consider having a document holder at eye-level next to your computer screen. If you have a kitchen counter cookbook holder available, this should work perfectly.
Since your phone is likely to be close at all times, consider putting elevated on a phone stand so you are not glancing down at the desk every minute. Make sure you have your headset or headphones with you if you need to type while on the phone. Please don’t place any phone between your head and your shoulder. This causes imbalance in the muscles around the shoulder and neck. With all of the bluetooth headset options today, there is no need to do this anymore.
Drink more water. As a general rule of thumb, we need approximately eight glasses of water per day. Drinking enough water throughout the day has several health benefits, and on top of that, if you’re drinking enough, it’ll ensure that you have to get up from your work station frequently to go to the bathroom, so you’ll get to stretch your legs.
Change it up
Make sure to get up and move around every 20 to 30 minutes. Staying seated in the same position all day will inevitably lead to chronic aches, pains and stiffness. Not many people have a sit/stand desk at home, but it doesn’t mean you can’t make your own. You can get creative. Use an upside down box placed on your kitchen table, or even a bookshelf in the office space – place your device or reading material on the bookshelf.
When your phone rings, use the time on the call to get up and move around. If you’re able, walk out onto a back deck and get some fresh air while on the call.
Consider purchasing a foam roller or massage ball. These can be some of the best tools in the home toolbox for easing up tight and tense muscles associated with the seated position.
Also consider enrolling in a virtual exercise class or create a workout routine that you can perform during your lunch break, even if its just for 15 to 20 minutes, you’d be surprised how much your muscles and joints will thank you for that little bit of planned activity.
Use your commute time
I quickly noticed that the same patients I have been seeing for back pain that started when they have been working from home, also mentioned how they roll out of bed and immediately sit at their desk checking in for work.
We need movement in the morning in order to loosen up the muscles and lubricate the joints in the body, so instead of rolling out of bed and sitting at the desk all in one motion, try to use the time you set aside for your work commute to go for a walk before sitting down at your desk.
Your body will be thankful you did, and that little bit of fresh air will get your morning off to a great start.
Dr. Barber is a certified Chiropractor (CMCC), Contemporary Medical Acupuncturist and a Strength and Conditioning Specialist. After graduating in 2006 from McMaster University with a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology and a minor degree in Neuroscience, he attended the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College and graduated in 2010 with clinical honours.
Using an evidence-based approach, he helps patients with a wide variety of conditions and disorders relating to the skeletal, nervous and muscular systems. He believes firmly in treating the source of the problem rather than the symptoms alone.
Dr. Barber takes pride in utilizing his diverse skill set and knowledge in order to create individualized treatment plans that allow his patients to meet their health and active living goals.
Treatment plans are unique to each patient and may include chiropractic therapy, acupuncture, shockwave therapy, advanced soft tissue techniques and functional range release and conditioning.