by Melissa Seifried
updated July 15, 2020
How Do I Set Up An Ergonomically Correct Home Office?
In light of the novel coronavirus, many people are required to work from home in an effort to adhere to the social distancing mandate. If you don’t already have a home office or workstation set up, you may be scrambling to find a comfortable place to continue working. In this post, I will outline how to set up a good ergonomic workstation using what you already have at home. We often think we have to have a professional assessment and purchase expensive furniture or equipment to achieve good ergonomics which is simply not the case!
What is Ergonomics?
Ergonomics is defined as the study of how people fit in their work environment. Understanding ergonomics allows one to optimize and individualize their work environment to prevent unnecessary pain or dysfunction. Good ergonomics allows you to improve your tolerance to prolonged positioning like sitting at a desk. The fact that our bodies are not designed to sit as much as we do can lead to negative health consequences like back pain or tension. The important thing to remember about ergonomics is that your workstation should fit the size and shape of your body, not the other way around! Improving comfort in your home work environment will help you stay productive and healthy in these uncertain times.
How Can I Improve My Home Workstation to Avoid Injury?
Start by deciding on the area of your home where you would like to set up your workstation. Ideally this will be in an area that is uncluttered, bright, and away from distractions like the television or kitchen where people gather. It is also important to choose a surface that is large enough for the equipment you need (i.e. laptop/ desktop, mouse, phone, pad of paper, etc). You should also have a chair with a back (I’m looking at you barstools!) and avoid using your couch or a soft lounge chair as your seating if possible. If you are using a computer, the brightest light source should be to the side of your screen.
Choosing the appropriate surface height for your desk depends on the tasks you perform for work. If your job requires you to draft or draw, you may want a higher surface that allows you to more easily access your work. Jobs that primarily require a computer could be performed in sitting or standing, depending on the need to use other objects like a phone or calculator.
Adjusting Your Chair
When seated at your workstation, start by adjusting the seat of your chair so that the work surface is at your elbow height. You should be seated all the way back in your chair and a fist should be able to pass easily behind your calf and in front of the seat edge. Your knees should be at right angles with your feet flat on the floor or on a small stool or stack of books. If you have an office chair that already has a lumbar support, make sure it rests in the natural curvature of your lower back. If you try, you should not be able to slouch in this position! You can also place a small cushion or lumbar roll to create this support. This is our favourite lumbar roll that we recommend often in the clinic. Your elbows should be able to rest either on the desk surface or on arm rests slightly below desk height. Your shoulders should be relaxed and away from your ears.
Your monitor should sit right behind your keyboard if they are separate. The top of your monitor should be adjusted to be at the level of your eyes or slightly below whether you are sitting or standing. The screen can be raised using stacked books or you can raise your chair and place a stool under your feet when sitting. Most ergonomists also suggest keeping your monitor about 20 inches from your face (approximately 50cm) to avoid slouching forward to view your screen. If you don’t have a measuring tape, use your arms length as a guide. If you wear bifocals, it is also recommended that you lower the monitor an additional 1 – 2 inches.
It is important to place important objects — such as your phone, calculator or printed materials — close to your body to minimize reaching. If you can’t comfortably reach something when sitting, it is best to stand up. You should move your mouse so it is comfortably within reach and on the same surface as your keyboard. While typing or using your mouse, it is best to keep your wrists in a neutral position with your hands at or slightly below the level of your elbows. If you frequently talk on the phone and type or write at the same time, place your phone on speaker or use a headset rather than cradling the phone between your head and neck.
Tips and Tricks for Staying Healthy While Working From Home.
Tip 1: Take Breaks!
Take frequent and short breaks every 20 minutes. Stand up, walk around, perform a few stretches, get some water, take a washroom break or pet your dog. Prolonged positioning can lead to tight muscles, stiff spines and potentially pain down the road.
Tip 2: Exercise!
If you are able to safely do so, get some fresh air! Go for a walk (while maintaining proper social distancing) or a bike ride. Do a home workout using objects around your house or perform body weight exercises like push ups, jumping jacks or crunches. Many gyms and fitness studios are offering online yoga, pilates or calisthenics “boot camp” type classes for free right now. Try and perform 30-60 minutes of physical activity daily to maintain both your physical and mental health!
Tip 3: Stay Social!
Make use of video chat and collaboration tools to stay connected to friends and family. Set up weekly “check ins” with your co-workers where you don’t talk about work! It can be difficult to be socially isolated from those we are used to interacting with on a daily basis and virtual platforms are excellent tools to combat the negative repercussions of seclusion.
If you are having trouble setting up your home workstation, we encourage you to set up a virtual physiotherapy appointment with one of our registered Physiotherapists. We can assess and provide individualized recommendations on how to adjust your workstation to maximize your comfort at home. Stay well everyone!
Melissa is an experienced physiotherapist in private practice at Cornerstone Physiotherapy in downtown Toronto. Much of her caseload includes workers who use computers, desks, and static workstations extensively. She has advised hundreds of patients in the basics of great ergonomics!
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