Safe and Sound -- Ergonomics Best Practice for You Home Office

April 22, 2020

Are you sitting comfortably? No, really comfortably? Maybe not, if you're among the many thousands of Angelinos who suddenly find themselves working from home.

While protecting yourself and others from the perils of the Coronavirus outbreak, you could be risking your health in another way.

Your usual workplace may have been set up by experts to ensure comfort, safety and efficiency -- better known collectively as ergonomics. But you probably can’t say the same about your home workstation.

However, a few simple steps and precautions should solve most of the potential issues.

Ergonomic Tips While Working from Home

Good working ergonomics are about having the right equipment in the right position and taking care of your body while you work.

You should already be using many of the best ergonomic practices at your office and it's a case of translating them into your home office.

Your Workstation

Don't be tempted to sit on the couch or sprawl on the bed with your laptop. It may seem alluring at the outset. But, after a while, you'll start to experience discomfort that signals it wasn't a good idea.

As a minimum, you should have a flat surface like a desk, table or even a kitchen countertop (though the height of the counter might not work) -- but not a low coffee table.

The center of your screen should be at eye level. If you have to look down (that is, with your chin tucked into your chest), you'll end up with neck and shoulder problems. You can easily adjust a monitor to achieve the right height but if you have a laptop you might have to stack sturdy items underneath to raise it. Or, of course, you can buy a monitor stand.

If you don’t have a comfortable, ergonomically-designed chair, you might have to make do with existing seating. But you can still get the most out of this by choosing a firm but cushioned seat and sitting as upright as possible. If needed, use pillows both to raise your height and for back support.

Wherever you sit should enable you to place your feet flat on the floor. Otherwise, consider using a footrest. Elbows and knees should be bent at right angles.

Once you have the right position, move the monitor back and forth to achieve a comfortable reading distance. If space makes this difficult, consider using your PC's settings to increase the type size. And don’t sit too far from the keyboard. You should be close enough that you don't have to stretch your arms.

How About a Standing Desk?

Many ergonomic experts support the use of standing desks, and maybe you already use one at work.

Having one at home might seem a luxury but they're not as difficult to create as you might imagine.

We already mentioned the idea of a kitchen countertop. Using this, or in fact any other flat surface, you can install either a monitor arm with keyboard tray or a simple converter or riser that you can buy online for $50 to $100.

Just Keep Moving

Whether you're standing or sitting, your physical well-being depends not just on your posture but actually on moving around.

From your eyes, through your shoulders and neck, down your spine to your feet, regular movement is critical.

Experts say you should look away from your screen as much as once every 20 seconds, and then you should actually take a proper screen break of five minutes every hour. Set a timer on your phone or PC to remind you.

This isn’t only good for your eyes. Regular body movements avoid cramps and other muscular problems. You should even move around often but gently in your chair. If you're standing, keep your feet comfortably apart and frequently switch the pressure from one foot to the other, and take seating breaks.

More Ergonomic Tips for Working from Home

Here are 7 more actions and activities to help you make your home working as safe and comfortable as possible.

  • If you use a laptop, consider replacing it with an external keyboard and monitor. They're much more ergonomics friendly.
  • Ensure you have good lighting. If it's too dark, the resulting contrast of your computer screen might cause eye strain. But don’t position a light so it shines directly onto the screen, especially if it has a reflective surface. Actually, it's a good idea to position a small table lamp behind the screen if you can.
  • Don’t crowd your work area. You might be used to a big desk expanse at the office, but your home workspace might be much smaller. Leave your drinks/snacks in the kitchen or at least away from your work area. That'll also help you avoid too much snacking!
  • If your job involves regular phone usage, wear a Bluetooth or wired headset or use a desktop speaker and microphone. Don’t tuck your phone between your ear and shoulder. You'll regret it.
  • Dress for work. This might sound a bit crazy. Isn’t the whole luxury of home working supposed to revolve around working in your pjs? Well, you could. But efficiency experts say this approach can lead to reduced productivity, whereas if you wear your regular work clothes, you're more likely to get into the right, efficient mindset.
  • Cut yourself off. If you share your home with others -- family or friends -- create your workspace where you won’t be disturbed. And let them know that you don't want to be interrupted. If you can, use a separate room and shut the door. If you're in a nosy environment, wear noise-canceling headphones.
  • Exercise while you work. If you're seated, consider using an under-desk exercising device. These usually have pedals or a modified version of a step machine. You can buy one for under $100.

For more guidance and tips on home office ergonomics, see this useful article from PC Magazine:

Final Thoughts

The Coronavirus outbreak has led to a very sudden and fast switch to home working for many. So quick in fact that you and your employer might overlook a very important type of protection -- insurance.

You should check with your employer what your insurance status is while you work from home, including protection for any workplace equipment and liability coverage.

Many aspects may be covered under your homeowners or renters insurance or by the business, but you need to know. If you're not sure and would like to discuss this, please get in touch with the team here at Aldrich Taylor Insurance.