Working from home. This popular perk comes with a lot of great benefits: minimal interruptions, unlimited snacks, and the freedom to take that conference call in your bunny slippers!
As employers become more flexible, more and more employees are joining the population of remote workers. Often, with great delight. The pros of having your very own private office are many, but like most things, there are some cons too. Particularly concerning are the physical effects of working at a desk that is not set up for an 8-hour day. (If you’re reading this from “the comfort” of your couch, you know exactly what we’re talking about.)
An ergonomic office
If you’ve been experiencing mysterious pain in your neck, shoulders and back, take a look at your home ‘office’. Is it set up ergonomically, or are you working in an environment that could be doing real damage to your body?
First things first, get off the couch! It’s a terrible place to work from – trust us. Then read our tips for tackling common ergonomic issues below.
(Psst! Setting your space up for success doesn’t have to be expensive. Check out these IKEA hacks if you’re feeling skeptical.)
- Adjust your desk so that it’s the right height for you. If it’s too high or too low, you could be unknowingly injuring yourself. So what’s the trick to getting it right? It’s simple, really. If your elbows are naturally resting at a 45-degree angle while you type, you’re good to go! If not, it’s time for an adjustment. The adjustment can be the height of your chair or your desk – whichever is simplest.
- Organize your desk in a way that your monitor is directly in front of you, and at least an arm’s reach away. This setup reduces the risk of craning and straining that may occur if the thing you are staring at all day is not in your direct line of vision. And we all know what can happen if we’re trying to read text that is too close or too far away. Squinting, blurry vision and headaches, be gone! Also, make sure your monitor is at eye-level and you aren’t looking up or down. If you are in a laptop, looking down – with your chin resting on your chest… you will experience upper back & shoulder strain. See tip #4.
- Use a footrest if your feet do not reach the floor. If your feet are dangling, you are putting unnecessary pressure on the backs of your legs and tilting your lower back. Getting a footrest will decrease or eliminate joint strain and pain. A simple cardboard box will do… no need to get fancy!
- Invest in a headset and/or a laptop stand. If you’re using your shoulder to hold up your phone while you talk and type, you’re asking for trouble (a.k.a. neck pain)! And if you work with a laptop, it very likely is hardly at eye level. A stand (or a cheap hack that will do the trick) will help ensure your laptop is at the right height. But now what about your keyboard? See tip #5.
- You may want to consider adding an ergonomic mouse, keyboard or wrist rest to your collection. Okay, okay. I realize we said you wouldn’t have to spend a lot. But guess what… you still don’t! Many of these items can be found for a fraction of the price in online buy & sell groups. And if you’re really lucky, your employer may cover these expenses in the name of workplace health.
Inspired to make some BIG changes? Browse the Ultimate Guide to Office Ergonomics.
A more proactive you
While avoiding muscle pain and injury is directly connected to your office setup, a good chunk of it is on you too! With that in mind, make it a habit to:
- Support the weight of your arms when using a keyboard. If your arms are unsupported while you type all day long, your neck and shoulder muscles will be doing the majority of the work. Another reason to make sure your desk is at the right height! (And if you must work on your couch from time to time, some firm pillows might just do the job.)
- Avoid craning your neck and slouching. If your desk is set up ergonomically, craning your neck shouldn’t be an issue. Slouching, however, is an issue for most of us. If you’re trying to break the habit, try setting your alarm as a reminder every 30 minutes, for example.
- Stretch often! A quick and easy antidote to the sedentary life of an office worker, commit to incorporating stretches into your daily routine. Some of the best stretches can be done while you work (how’s that for multi-tasking?). From “desk angels” to the “armpit stretch,” this article shares some great ideas to get you moving and alleviate neck and shoulder pain while you’re at it.
Is carpal tunnel syndrome a concern?
You may have heard that using a laptop inevitably results in carpal tunnel syndrome. So are we all doomed? Not necessarily. Ergonomic extras, like the wrist rest mentioned above, can help prevent a carpal tunnel diagnosis.
If you’re worried about your wrists, symptoms to look out for are tingling and numbness in your hands, and possibly weakness in your thumb and fingers. Make sure to seek out treatment at the earliest signs—the sooner carpal tunnel is detected, the easier it is to reverse. If symptoms begin to wake you up in the night, or if they are getting in the way of your daily activities, do not delay in making an appointment with your doctor. Irreversible nerve damage can occur if left untreated.
If you’ve been experiencing pain in your neck, shoulder, back or wrists—but just can’t give up the WFH gig—all you need to do is incorporate the tips in this article to set your home office (and YOU) up for success!