By Caitlin Smith, MS, OTR/L, ODT
Covid-19 has made working from home the new reality for many Americans. Many employees who are new to telecommuting may find staying productive and comfortable a struggle. While many companies provide ergonomic equipment in the workplace, most employees do not have the access to the same supportive seating or adjustable monitors at home. For those who will only be temporarily working from home, there is less of an incentive to invest in expensive home office equipment. The good news is that there are many adjustments you can make to your home work setup and routine to help prevent musculoskeletal injuries and pain, without needing to purchase an expensive chair.1. Be aware of your home habits. Many of us are guilty of spending our day practicing good posture in the workplace, only to go home and spend hours hunched over our phone. While this may not have bothered you before, these bad habits may have more of an impact now that home is the new workplace.First, notice your posture while you are working from home. Did spending the day lounging with your laptop on your stomach leave you aching? Try to find different spots to work from, such as a countertop to provide a makeshift standing desk and a table to provide a more supportive seated position. Are you checking your phone constantly? Try leaving it in another room when you need to focus. Sharing a workspace with other household members? Consider earplugs or noise canceling headphones.2. Let the pain be your guide. Next, take a moment to notice where you are feeling any discomfort or pain. Is your neck aching? Check the height of your laptop or screen. Try propping your laptop on a thick book or three ring binder to minimize craning your neck downward while reading on the screen or during a Zoom meeting, and switch back to the surface when performing typing-intensive tasks. Is your low back fatigued? Try positioning a towel roll or small pillow for some lumbar support. Or better yet, switch to a new position.3. Develop a routine to alternate positions. While it might be tempting to work from your couch all day, your body will thank you if you develop a routine and alternate between work spots throughout the day. While your couch may be comfy, you are also more likely to lounge and not take breaks to move or switch positions. Instead, move to a new spot and vary between sitting and standing. However, if you are eyeing your bed as a good lounging spot to read through some work documents, think again. This can train your brain to be more alert when in bed, which is not conducive to a good night’s sleep! Practice good sleep hygiene and keep the bed reserved for sleeping.4. Take breaks and make them count. Make sure you are still taking regular breaks and set a timer to remind yourself if needed. Our bodies are meant to move and change positions, which is not happening as much with stay at home policies. If you can safely leave the house for a short walk do so, if not take a couple laps indoors. Alternate walking with stretching or yoga poses. Consider adding regular meditation or mindfulness practice to your routine as well. These are stressful times for all of us, and proactively finding strategies to help manage that stress can help increase your focus and productivity with work tasks, and better yet–increase your overall well being!
Dr. Caitlin Smith is a licensed occupational therapist and is available for virtual ergonomic consultations during the Stay-at-Home period. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to schedule.