Healthy Ergonomics For Employees Working From Home: Tips From Our Clinician

Annelie Röding M.S., PA-C

As the recent outbreak began, millions of employees like yours were instructed to work from home while having little experience in doing so. While some are now being asked to return to the workplace, other employees will keep working remotely indefinitely, either to reduce risk of COVID-19 infection or simply as a matter of preference.  

Continuing to work remotely can pose challenges to your company’s employees. Many do not have the proper office setup at home, and that can take its toll. When working from home and being restrained to a small physical space, individuals can get deconditioned, a more medical way to say “out of shape.” As a clinician, I hear patients tell me, I’m out of breath, or my lower back hurts, or my wrists hurt; these can all result from poor at-home ergonomics. Similarly, by blurring the lines between office life and home life, working remotely can cause psychological issues such as confusion and anxiety.

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To help prevent these issues from occurring with your workers, I’ve created some tips you can share with your employees to help them be as productive and comfortable as possible.

Create a comfortable space for yourself.

The outbreak forced us to adjust really quickly to working at home, though the expectation was still that we would maintain the same amount of productivity. At this point, no one knows how long you’ll want to, need to, or be able to work from home. To enable you to be productive, take some time to make sure your workspace is comfortable: pleasing, calm, and uncluttered. We may be doing this for a while!

Make sure your setup is ergonomically sound.

We need to make sure we are supporting our physical self. Here are some ergonomic tips:

  • Sit in a chair with lower back support (use a pillow if you don’t have a good chair)
  • Your monitor should be roughly an arm’s length away
  • Your monitor should be at eye level, or just below. If it’s too low, prop it up with books.
  • Your feet should be flat and resting on the floor, with knees at a right angle.
  • Use a separate keyboard and mouse. Unlike a trackpad, a mouse keeps your wrist in a neutral position that can help avoid carpal tunnel syndrome.

Fix your lighting and audio.

Natural light is often cited in proper ergonomics as something to be extremely helpful and stimulating. You should be around some natural light, if available. In addition, there should be good artificial lighting present, so you can work early and late in the day if you need to. If you experience eyestrain, consider getting a pair of anti-glare glasses.

Use a headset or earphones/earbuds during your workday. By eliminating outside noise on video conference calls, this will help other folks hear you clearly. Between calls, listening to music or podcasts can help keep you engaged in your work.

Maintain good energy and mood by sticking with a healthy diet and exercise.

At your company’s workplace, you would have the natural ability to get up, grab your lunch, go to meetings, walk around, visit friends—you could easily walk a mile or two a day without realizing it. At home, with all of these elements just a few steps away, you’re less likely to get the exercise you need. It’s important to take time to move: even if your gym is closed, you can still go for a neighborhood walk or follow along with a workout on YouTube.

Similarly, your intake of food and drink is important. Healthy and balanced meals matter more now than ever. And don’t automatically reach for more coffee. Although you may think caffeine may be making you more productive, that cup of coffee is likely to lead to a feeling of anxiety and irritability, then quickly cause you to crash midday. Instead of coffee, drink a warm cup of lemon water. This can help with digestion and curb your appetite to reduce snacking.

Create a daily schedule.

Keep yourself task-oriented by creating a daily schedule. This includes times you will be working as well as scheduled breaks. As well as keeping your day balanced, adhering to a schedule gives you a satisfying sense of psychological closure at the end of the day.

Separate your work life from your home life.

In the past, your commute indicated the start and end to your day, creating a healthy sense of compartmentalization: you would do your work at the workplace and participate in home activities at home. Now, while quarantining, we’re forced to not just combine these things from a physical space perspective but also a mental health perspective. Patients tell me they are having a hard time maintaining this separation in their head, like “when is it time for work?”

If possible, try to spend time in your workspace area only during working hours, and avoid it after hours. Also, I recommend starting and ending your day with a short walk—this “pretend commute” helps separate your work and home lives.

Listen to what your body says.

Constantly assess what your body is telling you. If you’re being productive and feel comfortable, don’t break your flow. But if you’re stuck, listen to your body—it may be complaining. Does your back feel strained? Give it some extra support. Are your legs cramping? Stand for a bit. Do your eyes feel tired? Give them a break and go for a walk. It's all about listening to yourself and how you feel, and then making adjustments.

Know when to seek help. 

Following these steps should help alleviate your symptoms over time. However, if you don't notice any improvements, we recommend contacting a medical professional.

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