Working from Home – Ergonomic considerations for a happy body

Tips and resources to work comfortably

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Mother holding a baby while also working on the computer
UNICEF Armenia/2020/Biayna Mahari
24 November 2020

As the seasons change, COVID-19 continues to require some of us to work remotely – this has its mental and physical toll. Of course, it is important to stay active either indoors or outdoors, but this might have been much easier on sunny days.

This article will help you set up your 'new normal' work-station as best as possible and considering ergonomics (optimal way to position your body while working), offering practical tips you can use when you don't have the ideal home work station. We hope to help you avoid the common eye strain from screen fatigue, or neck, back, or hip pain that is often too common. Breaks and attunment with your body will be paramount to avoid feeling sluggish and depleted at the end of the day and can have a positive impact on your overall wellbeing.

Do you have eyestrain?

  • Use a blue light filter for your phone.
  • Reduce brightness of screen to match your surroundings.
  • Blink! It helps moisturize your eyes, or use eye drops
  • 20-20-20 rule, every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds
  • Sit one arm length form your screen
  • Avoid screen glare = avoid your computer facing a window; ideally your screen should be 90 degrees (perpendicular) to a window with lots of natural light
Illustration on sitting in the right posture while working
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Use an external monitor or books under your laptop, so the top of your screen is at eye level․

Do you have neck or back pain from working from home?

  • Make sure your head is above your shoulders and your neck is not poking out. Get your body used to a good posture in sitting
  • Try to do gentle standing stretches for your entire spine at least once an hour (10 min full body stretch, stretches for neck)
  • Avoid working from the couch or bed where your neck, shoulders and arms have little mobility
  • Use and external monitor or books under your laptop, so the top of your screen is at eye level

Do you have tight hips?

  • Hips are not meant to be bent 8 hours a day in a sitting position. We need to spend time standing/walking to release tightness in our hips, provide blood flow and lubrication. Walking is not just good for your mind but essential for your body
  • Gentle yoga with hip opener positions can help tremendously. If you can, lay a mat near your work area to remind you to take 5-minute stretch breaks once an hour. You can rotate stretches throughout the day to keep it interesting

Some people find kneeling stools used a few hours a day also give hips some relief/openness.

Illustration on sitting in the right posture while working
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Making it work with what we have

  • Look at the image on the left
  • Laptop keyboard can be used with an external monitor (gaining benefits of compact keyboard)
  • A pillow has been used to effectively raise the chair height
  • Monitor has been elevated using books
  • An extended desktop is used with the external monitor as the primary screen
  • Note that neither the lumbar support nor foot support in this setup is ideal but can work for short-duration postural variety. An appropriate height box or a stack of books could also be used to improve foot support.

5 key tips to avoid sitting all day long

Move as much as possible during your workday. ‘Sitting is the new smoking’. Try to save sitting for the periods you are typing emails or report writing. During times you are in a meeting or listening to a webinar, take the opportunity to stand, stretch on a mat next to your desk, or do some light walking to your kitchen to make a cup of tea.

Divide your workday into chunks. When the 9-5 makes hard to maintain mental and physical focus, it helps to divide the workday into two 4-hour chunks with a short walking/exercise break in the middle to help you restore your focus in the afternoon and reduce fatigue at end of work day.

Illustration on sitting in the right posture while working
UNICEF

Minimize the number of meetings you have. We are all experiencing Zoom fatigue and it is causing many to work longer hours to catch up with other work. Try to be selective about the meetings you need to attend and share your choices with your manager, so you can work within your schedule and attend meetings where you are more active.

Mark the end of your workday with a ritual. Once you finish your workday, store away anything that reminds you of work (e.g. notebook, work laptop, external keyboard/monitor). This signals to yourself the beginning of your evening/down time. Some set an alarm to mark the end of day and try to remind themselves to stop. Some go for a short walk immediately at the end of the workday to ensure there is a hard stop.

Drink lots of water and take lots of breaks. Let’s face it, it is not easy to work from home, and we can often be more productive than at the office, but need more frequent breaks as there is less socialization time. Try to ensure you are hydrated and you don’t feel guilty about scheduling breaks; avoid 6 hours of continuous Zooming in your calendar.

Workplace ergonomics is the science of designing the workplace, keeping in mind the capabilities and limitations of the worker.

 

Medical Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to promote understanding of ergonomics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.