How to Ensure Good Ergonomics When Working from Home

I have seen too many social media posts of people working from home during quarantine to stay silent any longer.

I think many of us take for granted the ergonomics of our workstation at the office.  Proper chairs with armrests, monitor height, keyboard placement, and a host of other factors help us to avoid muscle and joint problems during our normal work day. Unfortunately, most of us haven’t had anything resembling a normal work day in almost 2 months.

Here are a couple of simple suggestions for those of us who will be continuing to work from home for a while longer:

  • Your Mom was right – sit up straight. If you inadvertently left your stand up desk at work, take more frequent breaks to stand up and stretch your legs and also to give your spinal muscles something productive to do. The hunched over sitting position in the photo above is a prescription for low back, neck, and shoulder pain with a possible end of day headache thrown in for good measure.
  • If possible, work on a desktop computer instead of your laptop. The laptop has convenience and portability on its side, but it comes with a cost.  A monitor that is too small for a full day of work will cause eye strain and neck and shoulder tension and cause you to hold your head forward of your shoulders.  Additionally, the height of the laptop screen causes a hunching of the shoulders and neck strain. At the very least, get the middle of the laptop monitor at eye level by stacking a couple of books under it.  This, of course, puts your wrists in an awkward position, which is why a desktop is better for long hours. Or at least a detachable keyboard attached to your laptop – a relatively small investment for your health.
  • Get a decent chair – not your bed or couch, and roll a towel up to support a proper low back curve. Optimally, you should use a good quality desk chair with lumbar support and arm rests. If one is not available, a firm chair like a kitchen or dining room chair is a second best option. Scoot all the way to the back of the chair and sit upright.
  • Take frequent breaks. With the kids home from school, the dog needing to go out, and the daily online delivery people ringing the bell,  this will generally take care of itself. It is important to change positions frequently to give your muscles and joints a break, especially if the ergonomics of your home workstation are different than the one you are used to.
  • This may sound obvious, but make sure the majority of your work is in front of you, not to the side. A balanced work posture is far better than looking off to the side for hours. A recipe book stand makes a good substitute for a document holder to get your work upright and stop you from having to look down all day.
  • Stretch your neck and shoulders during your breaks. Check out a few of my favorites neck stretches here.

These are just a few of many things we can do to make working from home easier during quarantine. For those desiring a deeper look into workplace ergonomics, Cornell University has an excellent collection of research-based suggestions. You can find these at http://ergo.human.cornell.edu.