The coronavirus pandemic has led to a dramatic increase in remote working and many of us will now have been working from home since March. For many, it may be the longest period we have spent working from our homes, instead of the office.
But what are the hidden dangers of this new set-up? For one, many of us are waking up with new aches and pains, and part of the reason for this is lack of movement and poor ergonomics.
When in an office environment, we sit at a desk, in a suitable chair and with a keyboard, mouse, and screen directly in front of us, all adjusted to promote a straight back and good posture. At home, however, this might be replaced with a comfy chair with the laptop perched on the arm, or a cluttered dining table.
We also miss out on our workplace routines – whether this be the commute, chatting to our colleagues or popping out for a walk on our lunch break, all of which create natural breaks in our day.
So how can we improve our home-working set-up? Look at your surroundings and try to apply these simple steps from the NHS:
Reduce your risk of back pain by adjusting your chair so your lower back is properly supported.
A correctly adjusted chair will reduce the strain on your back, so choose one that is easily adjustable so you can change the height and back position. If this is not possible, use a cushion or two.
Adjust your chair height so you can use the keyboard with your wrists and forearms straight and level with the floor. Doing so can help prevent repetitive strain injuries. Again, use a cushion to gain those couple of inches.
- Rest your feet on the floor
Place your feet flat on the floor, or use a footrest, which lets you rest your feet at a level that is comfortable. Try not to cross your legs – this may contribute to posture-related problems.
- Place your screen at eye level
Your monitor or laptop screen should be positioned directly in front of you. Try placing the monitor about an arm's length away, with the top of the screen roughly at eye level. The screen should not be too high or too low.
- Position the keyboard directly in front of you
Place your keyboard in front of you when typing and leave a gap of about 4 to 6 inches (100mm-150mm) at the front of the surface to rest your wrists between typing. Your arms should ideally be bent in an L-shape with your elbows by your sides.
You could use a wrist rest to keep your wrists straight and at the same level as the keys.
Try not to sit in the same position for too long and make sure you change your posture as often you can. It’s important to remember that frequent short breaks are better for your back than fewer long ones.
If you spend a lot of time on the phone, try using a headset, as repeatedly cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder can strain the muscles in your neck.
Think about how many times during a normal working day you walk. Your body is used to some form of exercise, whether it be up and down the stairs, popping to the shop for lunch, walking to the car park or just walking over to a colleague’s desk. We spend more time than we realise walking around the workplace, so remember to take exercise where you can.
Aside from the physical aspects outlined above, working from home can have a negative mental impact too. We may feel isolated due to the lack of human contact or anxious about what’s going on in the outside world. To combat this, arrange video calls or pick up the phone to colleagues, instead of emailing. Staying connected and keeping in touch will help you feel part of the team and less alone. Your colleagues may also feel isolated, so ask how they’re doing and think about ways in which you can support each other.
Remember that exercising and taking regular breaks will help improve both your physical and mental wellbeing.
Go here: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus for the latest government guidance on coronavirus.