Working from home, working at home, working remotely, working with kids: COVID-19 created sudden shifts to our shared vocabulary about how and where we work. Recent studies have reported that up to a third of U.S. employees are currently working from home full time. These workers are largely in professions that can be entirely performed with the use of computers, such as business, technology, architecture, legal, and financial fields. The physical task of working from home in less than ideal ergonomic situations can cause the at-home worker to experience musculoskeletal discomfort, which, if not addressed, could turn into an injury. Setting up a home office that is ergonomically grounded is good for workers physically, and it can reduce unneeded healthcare and/or workers’ compensation costs due to injury.
One of the biggest challenges of working from home is having a dedicated space to work. Working at the kitchen table, couch, bed, and recliner are less than ideal places to work from an ergonomic perspective. Therefore, knowledge of basic ergonomic principles can help create improved workstations at home, which increases efficiency and productivity.
The ability to self-assess your home office is an empowering step in taking care of yourself. Here are some simple questions to ask when assessing your home office:
- Are my feet in contact with a stable surface?
- Is my keyboard about one inch below my elbow?
- Is the top of my monitor at eye level?
Under ideal workplace scenarios, the answer to all three questions would be “yes.” Selecting a home workstation location that is properly set up is key to preventing soreness and injury. To confirm your workstation is set up to fit you, a simple sideview picture of you sitting at your workstation can provide you with feedback to determine if the workspace is set up properly, or if further adjustments need to be made.
Changing positions and stretching is also an important part of injury prevention. Take regular breaks throughout your workday to stand, walk, stretch, move, and breathe. Taking time to focus on your physical health is important so you can stay healthy, avoid pain and injury, and be present for those around you, personally and professionally.
Resources abound for in-depth ergonomic assessments and interventions when pain and complex situations are present. Reaching out to a trained professional like an occupational therapist can help make improvements in your home office, often with ergonomic guidance, injury prevention intervention, and equipment recommendations.