Small changes can have a big impact on your work-from-home setup – PropertyCasualty360 - Freelance Rack

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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Small changes can have a big impact on your work-from-home setup – PropertyCasualty360

The use of a stand to elevate the laptop screen can help with desk posture.
(Courtesy photo)

Here is a simple way to elevate the computer for use with a separate keyboard (with or without cushion).
(Courtesy photo)

An illustration of good posture, sitting close to the desk with height elevation, as necessary, using a cushion.
(Courtesy photo)

With the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of workers suddenly find themselves doing their jobs from home. Although working from home may have initially sounded great (especially that 14-step commute!), by now, you probably see that it can also pose some challenges, including physical, mental, and environmental issues that you may not have anticipated.

Now that the novelty has worn off, it’s time to take a more critical look at your home office setup and reevaluate your workspace through the lens of ergonomics to maximize comfort and prevent injury.

Perhaps you have determined the best-dedicated workspace in your home and have set up the equipment you need, but it still feels lacking. Maybe you already had a home office that worked fine for the occasional task, but it is no longer functional now that you are sitting there all day. Even if you think you have this #WFH thing all figured out, there are probably a few steps you could take to make your experience that much better.

Building a comfortable workspace

Whether working from home is a temporary solution, an occasional situation, or just your normal workplace, these tips can help make your work-from-home environment the best it can possibly be and help you get through your home workday more comfortably and productively.

Keep your work surface at elbow height. The standard desk/table height is 29.5 inches, and the standard countertop is 36 inches. But as people, we don’t come in standard heights! Ideally, you should set your device on a surface so that it is sitting around elbow height, ensuring your forearms parallel to the floor.

If your elbows are falling below the space bar on your keyboard when you are working, then your tabletop is too high. This will force your shoulders to scrunch up and eventually cause pain. People often find themselves sitting on one leg to make this height adjustment, but it is better to simply raise your chair or sit on a cushion. It’s also important to keep your elbows close to your side at the midline of your body; the farther they go in front of you, again, the more tightening you’ll have in your shoulders.

Keep pets off your lap. While we love our fur babies, having them in your lap while working forces you to push back from your workstation and move your elbows away from your body. It’s best to keep pets on the floor while we are working.

Try a sit/stand alternative. The standard 36-inch counter height can make for a great standing work surface. Standing workstations are not for everyone. But if you want to give it a try, research shows that taking 10-minutes out of every hour to work at a standing desk can be beneficial. Eventually, you can work up to longer periods of standing work. Again, just remember to keep your work surface at elbow-level while standing — prop up your computer if necessary — and wear comfortable shoes for support. If your back starts to get sore, or you find yourself leaning on one hip, it’s time to sit down or take a break.

Place your monitor at eye-level. Where you place your monitor can make the difference between having a sore neck and/or back and working from home in comfort. Your posture follows your vision, so if you are leaning forward, looking down, or turning sideways to see your monitor, eventually, your neck is going to suffer. Your monitor should be placed so that your working document is eye-level. You can accomplish this by propping up your monitor on a stack of books or using a laptop stand with an external keyboard. If you wear bifocals, you may find yourself bringing your chin up to look down at a document. In this case, you should adjust your monitor height lower.

If you use dual monitors, place your primary monitor directly in front of you at eye-level, and leave the secondary monitor on the side for occasional tasks or for checking email. If you truly use both monitors simultaneously, bring them together as close as possible in front of you so that they join right in the center of your vision, and angle them in toward you on the sides.

Be aware of keyboard and mouse comfort. One of the easiest mistakes to make is pushing your keyboard forward and working with your elbows out in front of you. Again, the more your elbows get away from the midline of your body, the more tension you are going to feel. Pull the keyboard close to you so that your elbows stay by your side while you are working.

Also, notice the “feet” on the back of your keyboard and make sure that they are in the “down” position. When the keyboard feet are “up” and raising the top of your keyboard on an angle, this forces your wrists to bend up when typing as well. While this angle may seem hardly noticeable, over time, this uncomfortable position will take its toll.

If you use a laptop, working on that smaller built-in keyboard is fine for shorter periods of time. But if you are using a laptop during an 8-hour workday, it is best to plug into a larger external keyboard and mouse to maximize your comfort and reduce unnecessary stress.

When it comes to your mouse, find one that fits the size of your hand comfortably. Too much time using a small travel mouse, for example, can cause strain. Keep your mouse and keyboard on the same surface level, and be sure to place the mouse in a position in which you don’t have to reach forward to use it.

Mind the gap for maximum chair comfort. Finding a comfortable chair to work from and setting it up the right way helps support your spine, thighs and feet. Sitting cross-legged on the floor with a laptop propped up on your legs, reclining on the couch, or working from your bed can seem like the ultimate #WFH lifestyle, but these scenarios are an ergonomic nightmare that will get very uncomfortable very quickly. An adjustable-height chair is ideal, but you can also use a regular dining room chair as long as you set it up correctly.

The appropriate chair height is whatever will allow for your work surface to be elbow height, as described above. But if you’ve raised the height of your chair to the extent that your feet are now dangling in front of you, try getting a footrest or box to support them.

Your chair should also support your spine. To do this, bring the back of an adjustable height chair right up so that the rounded portion is even with your beltline. If you don’t have an adjustable chair, grab a pillow from the couch or bed and place it at your beltline to give you that support. This simple step can make a world of difference over time.

When you are sitting on a chair, remember that to be truly comfortable our body needs a gap of two or three inches between the back of our knees and the front of the chair. If we don’t have that gap, eventually, our body will naturally shift forward to create that space and, in doing so, lose our back support.

Finally, be aware that tucking in your legs and resting them on the bottom part of your chair can create a tightness in the knee and cause strain. Again, a footrest or box under our desk to place our feet can make a big difference.

Once you’ve reevaluated your home office environment from an ergonomics point of view, the best advice is not to stay in one position for too long. Go into your calendar and set a recurring reminder every thirty minutes to one hour that says, ‘Stand up and move!’ Moving and stretching often throughout the day is integral to a successful #WFH experience. Stay positive and remember to wash those hands often, even when you are working from home!

Kathy Espinoza is a Certified Professional Ergonomist at Keenan, an industry-leading California insurance brokerage and consulting firm for health care organizations and public agencies. She is a frequent conference speaker and author of numerous articles on ergonomics, injury prevention and management issues that have an impact on Keenan clients.

This post was originally published by Keenan and is republished here with consent. 

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