Let’s face it: Before we were in the midst of the current public health crisis as a result of the novel coronavirus, working from home sounded like a dream scenario for many. You could take conference calls and work on your computer while wearing your favorite slippers all from the comfort of your home office, kitchen counter-office, dining table-office, sofa-office, floor-office, or bed-office.
In the short-term, any of the above locations would be fine if you did not have a designated workspace with a desk and chair. However, on a continuous basis these makeshift work spaces could lead to aches and pains.
I am not complaining. I am thankful that I can work from home, especially since my child is now completing the last few weeks of fourth grade online. However, my workspace is not ergonomically sound, and I have had to MacGyver a workspace for myself—using items from around the house—to help my productivity and provide support to avoid ruining my posture.
Most experts suggest that you focus on four main areas to create an ergonomic home office:
- Head and neck: To keep your neck, shoulders, and back free from injury, your head should be vertical to your neck. This position creates the least amount of strain. According to experts, every inch your head comes forward exerts an extra 10 pounds on your spine. If you have a monitor or laptop, use books to raise it to a comfortable eye level, one that keeps your head and neck in a neutral, stacked position.
- Hand, arms, and wrist position: Your hands and wrists should be in a neutral posture, similar to your head. Try and keep your elbows close to your side with your forearms parallel to the floor, creating a 90-degree angle between the upper arm and lower arm. Extend your arm and hand forward to lay them flat on the table to avoid creating a hinge at the wrist.
- Seated posture and back support: Similar to sitting in the driver’s seat of a car, find a posture that provides lower back support while sitting back in a way that allows you to see the screen. If you don’t have a fancy office chair that rocks back, try putting a cushion, pillow, or towel behind your lower back to provide lumbar support.
- Behavior: Take frequent but short breaks. Experts suggest about every 20 minutes, take a short one to two-minute break where you stand up, stretch out, walk in-place, or do leg-squats or lunges. Just move your body.
You don’t have to purchase expensive equipment to accomplish the ergonomic suggestions noted above. Here are some of the home-office hacks I have adopted over that last six weeks because I am too frugal to purchase office equipment that I do not need regularly:
- A sit-stand desk from an ironing board. This worked well, except it was not very sturdy. This caused stress because I was afraid, I would drop my work-issued laptop. This hack lasted about two days.
- An elevated desk from a step ladder. This hack was a good idea in theory but failed in practice because I am tall; I needed to place the stool away from my feet. This made seeing content on my 15” laptop screen a challenge.
- I’ve raised my laptop to the appropriate eye-level on my dining-room table thanks to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare and Sweet Home Café Cookbook.
- My desk chair changes from one of the dining room chairs padded with 1-2 sofa cushions—down-filled pillows are not a good option for this, trust me—or the floor with 1-2 cushions to help ease the pressure to my posterior.
- A flat ottoman or Hello Kitty lap desk function as a great option when I feel like moving to the floor.
You may find these tips helpful, but it is always best to consult with a professional if you discover you are experiencing aches and pains that did not exist before.
The California Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) licenses chiropractors, physical therapists, and occupational therapists. To verify the license of a professional, check out DCA’s license search tool at search.dca.ca.gov.