With the arrival of COVID-19, many people suddenly and unexpectedly found themselves working from home. There was no real time to prepare the home workspace, and even if you had time, you soon found that the shops had sold out of laptops, desktop computers, monitors, keyboards, chairs etc. If you needed it, they didn’t have it. This led to many people at home working hunched over their laptop at their dining table or kitchen bench. These conditions are fine for the short term but, as I’m sure you have discovered, take their toll over the long term.
In an ideal world, your office-at-home workstation would be set up ergonomically to prevent aches, pains and long-term health issues that can arise from working at a computer for long periods of time, such as headaches, eye strains, neck pain and back pain. (This guide from WorkSafe Qld will show you how to set up an ergonomic workstation). But the situation we find ourselves in is far from ideal. Achieving that ideal setup is just not possible for many who are working from home at the moment. So, we’ve got a few simple tips and hacks for you that will help you to work comfortably in your home office.
ADJUST YOUR LAPTOP
- If at all possible, get yourself an external mouse and keyboard – preferably wireless to cut down on the number of cords lying around. Having an external mouse and keyboard will allow you to:
- Raise the height of your screen by placing something underneath your laptop – you can use books, reams of paper, shoe boxes, board games, whatever you have! Ideally you want the top of the screen to be at eye level or lower to reduce visual fatigue, although it is worth noting that this may vary depending on different types of eyewear.
- Try to maintain proper posture while working at your laptop and be aware not to rest your arms on the table.
- If you have a small laptop screen and you’re finding it difficult to work with, try using the accessibility options to magnify what appears on the screen to reduce eye strain.
ADJUST YOUR CHAIR
If you’ve been working at home for a few weeks now, you will have discovered that dining chairs are not ideal for your workstation. If you can, invest in a good, supportive office chair or ask your employer if you can borrow one while working from home. If this is not possible, try the following ideas:
- Add something, like a cushion, to the seat of your chair until you are at the right height to work comfortably at your laptop. You’ll then need to create a footrest for yourself using books, boxes or a small stool.
- Once your chair is at the right height, add some back support using a rolled-up towel. A towel is far from perfect, and you’ll need to adjust and re-roll it as it shifts and flattens out during the day, but it’s better than nothing.
ALTERNATE BETWEEN SITTING AND STANDING
When you don’t need to be sitting at your computer, don’t be. Stand up while making and taking phone calls. Or better yet, walk around your house or yard. Grab yourself a headset or earphones and do your Zoom meetings while standing or walking also.
TAKE REGULAR BREAKS
Taking regular breaks is more important than ever when working from home. When in the office, you move around more than you realise: walking to the printer/scanner; going to speak with a colleague; making a cuppa etc. When working from home, everything tends to be within arms’ reach. Working at a less than ideal workstation means you’re at greater risk of developing aches and pains so you need to be conscious of taking regular breaks. Aim to get up from your seat and take a 5-minute break at least once every hour. You might use these breaks to go for a walk around the house or yard; make a cuppa; make a phone call; or do some stretches.
Regular exercise helps both your body and your mind. Stretching can be particularly helpful when working at a computer for long periods of time. Instructions for stretches that can easily be done at or near your workstation can be found here. These stretches can be readily incorporated into your daily work routine. You could choose a different stretch to do during each of your regular break times throughout the day.
Aches and pains are often the first indications that something is not quite right. Don’t ignore them. Listen to your body and make the necessary adjustments to your workstation, routine and habits. Spending a small amount of time now, to make simple improvements to your at-home workstation could save you from future work-related injuries or health issues.
*This article contains general tips which may not work for everyone. Please contact your health provider if you require more specific advice.