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Ergonomics @ Home: Tips on Working From Home

Ergonomics @ Home: Tips on Working From Home

Woman working on a laptop on the floor

Tips on Working From Home

If you are temporarily or newly working from home, here are some helpful tips for a better workstation set-up as well as safe working habits.

#1. Chair

Find a comfortable chair option that will provide you with back support in an upright and slightly reclined position. This means the hips are all the way back in the chair and the bottom tips of the shoulder blades are making contact with the backrest.

Look out for the following issues:

Front of the seat hitting the back of your knees?

This can result in less back support or can result in contact stress against the back of the knees. Look for an alternative chair with a smaller seat or add a cushion behind your back to push you slightly forward without losing back support.

Chair too hard?

This can be uncomfortable over time and can reduce circulation to your lower body. Consider adding extra cushioning to reduce areas of contact stress. A pillow, blanket, towel can go a long way!

Chair lacking back support?

If the inward curve of your low back is not supported by the chair or if your back has round outwards to touch the chair you may not have enough support and may get a sore back after sitting for a while. Consider adding a small pillow or folded towel to provide additional lumbar support. Make sure the lumbar support is not pushing you too far forward though – your hips and shoulders should still be in contact with the backrest! You can also consider purchasing a backrest support such as the Obusforme Back Rest Cushion which can be added to most chairs and also has wide and tall options.

Feet don’t touch the floor?

If your feet are unsupported it’s difficult to maintain a good sitting posture and there will be more stress on your low back and thighs. Use a footrest or alternative (sturdy binder, box, pack of copy paper or even a cushion) to support your feet and ensure you have a stable base of support.

A couch your only temporary option?

Slumping into a soft couch can result in a sore back over time. See if you can rearrange cushions/pillows to provide some back support, particularly in the low back and upper back. Aim to be supported in an upright and slightly reclined position.

#2. Work Surface

Whether you’re in a home office, kitchen counter, dinner table, etc., try to position your worksurface or yourself so that your keyboard and mouse are at elbow height. Your elbows should be relaxed by the sides of your body (just as you would be when standing), and the forearms should be horizontal/parallel to the ground.

Look out for the following issues:

Work surface too high?

This can cause you to elevate your shoulder resulting in increased tension or overuse discomfort in the shoulders and upper back. Try sitting up higher by putting a cushion or some towels on your chair to bring you up to the work surface…if that lifts your feet off the floor, put another cushion or box there to support your feet.

If there’s a slightly lower surface around go for it!

Surface too low?

This can cause you to slouch or hunch to reach down to the computer when typing or mousing.  Consider propping your equipment on a raised surface (textbooks, boxes, etc).

#3. Keyboard and Mouse Position

First of all you should be using a peripheral keyboard and mouse. If you are typing directly from your laptop it’s harder to use good working postures. Assuming you have both a keyboard and mouse, they should be positioned close enough that you aren’t having to lean or reach in any awkward way to use them. Reaching forward with the elbows straight and wrists bent backwards is a common reaching posture. Winging of the elbows, or side bent wrists are also other awkward postures we might see that can contribute to overuse discomfort.

Look out for the following issues:

Only have a peripheral mouse and typing directly on the laptop?

If you have the keyboard at a good typing height, then the laptop screen is likely too low and could be causing hunching.  Consider purchasing a basic keyboard that you can plug in along with the mouse.

Have a specialty ergonomic keyboard or mouse at work?

If you have a specialty keyboard or mouse in the office, plan to bring them home with your so you can ensure good ergonomics working from home as well.

Keyboard and mouse too wide?

If you find yourself reaching out excessively wide to use the mouse, this can put stress on the shoulder, wrist or hand over time.  Consider a compact keyboard to keep the mouse within closer reach.   These are available with or without a number pad, depending on your needs.

#4. Monitors

Ideally, the TOP of the monitor screen should be positioned at or slightly below eye-level. If you’re using a laptop, the screen will likely be considerably lower than this. Don’t worry – we have solutions for you!

Look out for the following issues:

Monitor too low?

This results in neck flexion and hunching to view the screen.  Be sure to use a peripheral keyboard and mouse (bring them from work if needed) and then just raise the laptop up on some books.  For an truly ergonomic set up, consider a height adjustable laptop stand.  Don’t be fooled by high prices and gimmicky options, this is all you need:

Monitor too far away?

If you find you can’t see the small laptop screen and are squinting or leaning forward to view it, then you lose the upper back support you should be getting from your chair.  Try pulling the laptop closer or enlarging the font if you can’t pull it nearer.

Bright windows an issue?

This can causing you to squint at the screen in an awkward posture and also increases eye strain.  See if you can position yourself and equipment perpendicular to a window OR adjust your blinds to help reduce any glare.  DON’T just turn the laptop screen though, that will cause you to work with your neck twisted.

Eye fatigue?

Environmental lighting and the computer screen are all different at home than what works for you in the office.  To reduce eye fatigue, ensure you are taking breaks away from the screen by following the 20/20/20 guidelines (every 20 minutes, take your eyes off the screen for 20 seconds, focus on something 20 ft away). You may also want to consider adjusting your monitor settings as well to reduce eye fatigue (brightness, contrast, color, etc.).

#5. Don’t Forget to Move!

Regular movement is key for healthy bodies as well as reducing musculoskeletal risks that arise from static work postures, awkward postures and repetition. Look to incorporate movement often throughout the day.

Move every 20 mins.

This can be a quick refresh exercise like a shoulder or wrist stretch, standing up out of your chair and reaching upwards to unload the discs in our back, or even some ankle pumps to encourage lower body circulation.

Stand at least hourly.

Static postures are hard on the body and result in reduced circulation and muscle fatigue.  Stand up every hour and give yourself quick movement break.  Walk to the kitchen to get a drink of water or do a back stretch or look out the window and take a few deep breaths. 

Change where you work.

If you have been sitting at the kitchen table to answer emails and now have to do some on-line reading, try taking the laptop to a different room. Make sure the screen is still at a good viewing height, but allow yourself some time to sit in a different position (with good posture) for a change.  If you have to make some phone calls, try doing them from standing or as you walk around indoors or better yet, in the fresh air.

Willpower not the greatest?

Put a sticky on your monitor, set a timer on your phone, or use a nearby cue (every time you talk on the phone you put your headset on and walk around).

If you haven’t got your home office set up quite perfect yet, then regular movement breaks and changes of position will give your body some recovery time and reduce overstress of any particular area.

Looking for more refresh exercises or stretches?

We’d be happy to provide you with individual-specific ones.

We hope these tips help to provide you with a safer and more comfortable work area! 

Are you interested in a home office ergonomics assessment?

We offer a customized virtual ergonomics assessment specifically for home office workers.

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