Setting up the perfect work-from-home office amid COVID-19

Keyboard, typing, hands,

What is Ergonomics? Ergonomics is “the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment.” For many of us this environment has changed, looking more like an at-home office or a makeshift room in your house.  This change in the workplace environment can be a disruption to some, leaving one absent of the comforts found at their workplace.

Setting up the proper work environment plays a major role in preventing injuries and having a successful work day.  It is easy to fall into the habit of poor posture, inability to focus due to internal/external stimuli, or even staying sedentary for extended periods of time. 

What can we do to ensure proper ergonomics when working from home?  Listed below are a few suggestions/recommendations to improve overall ergonomics:

First, we want to make sure that our workspace adequately fits us – it is not a one-size-fit-all!

  • Monitor Height: Your eyes should be roughly at the top of the monitor, minimizing the need to strain your neck by continuously looking up.
    • Monitor Distance: Roughly should be an arm’s length away.
    • Keyboard and Mouse: You should be able to access the keyboard with arms close to the body and flexed with wrists in neutral (straight-not bent up/down).  The mouse should be close to the side of the body so that you are not continuously extending your arm.  Position the keyboard so that the “H” key is at your midline.
    • Items: Frequently-used items should be located near the body to limit excessive reaching forward, to the side and twisting. 
    • Arms: Have at 90 degrees flexed by your side.  Arm rests are beneficial to have to rest your arms in that position.
    • Backrest: Find a chair with lumbar back support.
    • Knees: Should be bent 90 degrees with legs parallel to the floor.
    • Feet: Should be flat on the floor or on a footrest.

Second, adapting the environment or features on the computer.

  • Enlarge font: You should not have to be squinting in order to read something.
  • Standing: Incorporate standing throughout the work day.  For example, if you are on the phone (utilizing speaker phone is best for ergonomics) take the call while standing up.
  • Lighting: Avoid glares on the computer screen (don’t face a window or have it to your back). You don’t want too little or too much light.
  • Noise: Eliminate distracting loud noises.
  • Air quality: Pick an area with good ventilation.

Lastly, my favorite, frequent short breaks. Frequent breaks during work?! Yes, this promotes good circulation and helps prevent eye strain and fatigue.

  • 20-20-20 Rule: Every 20 minutes spent on the computer, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
  • Take breaks every 30-60 minutes
    • Movement break: Take a two-minute walk around the house, get a glass of water-stay hydrated!
    • Seated break: Stretches you can do right at your desk
      • Separate and straighten fingers. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat five times
      • Shoulder shrug. Raise shoulders towards the ceiling. Hold 3-5 seconds. Repeat five times,
      • Side head tilts.  Slowly tilt head to left side, hold for six seconds. Repeat to right side. Repeat five times.
      • Interlace fingers, then straighten out arms in front of you (palms should be facing away from you) Hold 5-10 seconds and repeat twice.
      • Interlace fingers then turn the palm upwards above your head as you straighten out arms. Hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat twice.
      • Hold onto lower leg just below the knee.  Gently pull bent leg toward the chest. Use the right arm to pull bent leg across and toward the opposite shoulder. Hold for 10 seconds. Do both sides 3-5 times.

By incorporating some of these recommendations into your work regimen it can help prevent chronic back problems, stress, shoulder/neck pain, eye strain, headaches, drowsiness, depression, or anxiety. 

Written by Kathryn Brank, OTS performing her clinical fieldwork at MRMC Rehabilitation and Sportsmedicine, under the supervision of her clinical instructor and employee Erin Culross, OTR/L, CHT.

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