Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, a record number of Americans are working remotely this spring and summer. Back in March, when WFH was still largely a novel concept and people were sharing photos of their desk setups on social media, working in bed seemed like a dream. Months later, those who have experienced repetitive stress injuries like tendinitis, muscle strains, or neck injuries know the truth: in the long run, ergonomics are just as important in a home workspace as they are in a traditional office setting.
Aside from employers’ legal WFH considerations, like meeting EEOC requirements for accommodating disabilities and paying for workers’ comp insurance, it’s generally the employee’s responsibility to ensure they have an ergonomically friendly setup at home. Since ergonomics make for happier and healthier workers, many companies will provide ergonomic supplies for workers, but they are not required to by law, either in-office or for remote workstations.
Fortunately for those who don’t have a home office, making ergonomic adjustments to your WFH setup is relatively easy if you know what to do. Small behavioral changes can make a big difference, and you can often use things you have around the house to make slight adjustments to your workstation. Read on for DIY ergonomic workspace tips.
Shift your screen to the proper eye level
A well-adjusted monitor may spare you back, shoulder, and neck pain. Your eyes should be level with the URL address bar on your web browser when you look directly at your screen. If you don’t have a monitor stand, you can use old textbooks or sturdy boxes to bring your monitor up to the right level. If you’re using a laptop, try to get an external keyboard, mouse, and laptop stand, if possible. Your screen(s) should be an arm’s length away from your face.
Give your chair some TLC
Having a supportive, comfortable chair will maximize your chances of pain-free telework. If possible, use an adjustable office chair with armrests. Adjust the height so your hips are just slightly higher than your knees. If needed, you can use boxes or books to keep your legs at the right angle and avoid dangling your feet.
If you don’t have an office chair, you can make adaptations to a dining room chair, which likely sits lower than an office chair would. Sit on a firm cushion or tightly folded towel to raise your hips and make sitting more comfortable. You can also put a small pillow behind your waist for lumbar support. Try to keep your arms at a 90 degree angle, using towels or washcloths for additional support if needed.
Take regular breaks
It’s important to get up and walk around regularly, especially if you don’t have a sit-stand desk. Getting up once an hour will ensure you get some steps in during the day and don’t sit for too long at once. Taking longer breaks for walking, yoga, or other forms of exercise is also highly beneficial. And be sure to take time away from your desk to eat a healthy lunch rather than snacking mindlessly throughout the day.
Go easy on your eyes
Whether you’re working in an office or at home, eye strain is always a concern for those who work on computers. To combat it, follow the famous 20-20-20 rule of ergonomics: every 20 minutes, look away from your screen and focus on something 20 feet away (or close your eyes) for 20 seconds. Setting an alarm may help you get into the habit of taking these mini breaks.
Light is also a factor: if the lighting in a room is too bright, you may experience increased eye strain or headaches. And sitting right next to a window can cause glare on your screen. If your external lighting is good and you’re still having eye strain issues, you can adjust the contrast, glare, and warmth in your computer’s display settings. F.lux, a free tool that makes your display adapt to the time of day, is also helpful in reducing eye strain.
If you must sit on a couch or bed
If your circumstances require you to work from your couch or bed, there are still some ergonomic accommodations you can make. On a bed or couch, place pillows behind your back and under your thighs. Put your laptop on some kind of lap desk or tray, and position your screen slightly below your eye level. But for anyone doing WFH for more than one day at a time, it’s far better to sit at a table or a desk if at all possible.
Be willing to adjust
You might do your best to follow all these ergonomic tips and still find yourself in pain. If that happens, take the pain as a signal that something isn’t working. You may have to reassess your setup, do additional research, and possibly ask for help from others so you can further improve the ergonomics of your workstation.
Even if you are young and healthy, ergonomics are still important. Bad habits can build up over time and leave you with significant pain later in life. Taking the time now to establish good habits and relieve or prevent pain as you work from home can make all the difference.