Ever feel like you live at the office? In this, the era of WFH, an entire workforce has become swiftly acquainted with the oft-dreaded, more oft-embraced concept of working from the dining room table. The standard for corporate attire has plummeted from suits, collared shirts and leather shoes to sweats, T-shirt and Uggs – and that’s when you’re ‘dressing up’ for a Zoom call.
For some, working remotely has sent productivity skyrocketing. For others, the lure of an afternoon binging Euphoria will prove too strong. Either way, we’re bound for a few more months of sitting and staring at our screens at home.
Understandably, given the rapidly evolving circumstances, most households were set up as pre-COVID escapes from our professional lives. Even after COVID took hold, we weren’t planning on letting work rule the roost for longer than a few months, and our furniture certainly wasn’t designed for long stints of work. Welcome to the brave new world of back pain, wrist tenderness and neck ache.
“Don’t let that faint whisper of back pain develop into a disc bulge,” advises Rebecca Feros, a physiotherapist on Sydney’s northern beaches. I spoke to Feros, who’s been in demand in years from clients seeking ergonomic home set-ups, in an effort to ensure these ailments don’t strike you before your time. “When you’re young, it’s just the pits, so I’ve been working hard to get out there and hopefully prevent any long-term damage,” explains Feros between dishing out advice that would be equally appropriate upon a return to the office.
In the words of Fifth Harmony’s prophetic 2016 hit Work From Home, “you don’t gotta go to work, but you gotta put in work”. As for help with your sloppy at-home work fashion choices, that’s all you.
ISO DO’S AND DON’TS
If you’re not willing to splash cash on a brand-new ergonomic set-up (and who could blame you?), Feros has some baseline tips on protecting your body from the perils of at-home labour. Heed her expert advice on ‘social-distancing’ yourself from painful and unnecessary ailments:
• Pretend a co-worker is in the room with you. When you’re in the office with colleagues, you wouldn’t sit slumped in your chair or with your legs on the desk, so don’t adopt those postures at home.
• Avoid working from the couch simply because it’s there. Sure, the temptation to lounge on a bed of pillowy goodness is attractive, but save it for your off-duty Netflix binges. There’s bound to be plenty of them coming up as winter arrives.
• Set a timer on your phone to get up and move around the house for stretching and short walks. Gone are the days of walking to meetings, coffee runs and moving your car from the 2-hour parking zone, so replace those with in-house mobility runs at the same intervals.
• Track your snacking. With the fridge and pantry so easily accessible throughout the day, the lure of constant snacking will be ever-present. However, if you apply your office routine, including the times you eat, to your new home set-up, you’ll be on track for kilojoule maintenance.
LIVING AL DESKO
Make sure yours is cushioned with lumbar (lower back) support to keep your trunk upright and spine neutral. The height should be set so your elbows are positioned at 90° to your desk. Keep your feet flat on the floor and avoid crossing ankles and legs.
If possible, extend your laptop to a second, larger display, keeping your work as central as possible. If you’re lucky enough to work off two screens, position yourself equally between them, keeping the screens an arm’s length away. Set your screens at a horizontal angle of 0°-20° to your direct eye gaze. In layman’s terms, your eyes should be looking slightly downwards. If working solely off a laptop, ensure the screen height is elevated and use a wireless keyboard and mouse.
Keyboard and mouse
Maintain a neutral wrist position whenever possible while using both your mouse and keyboard, even using a rolled-up hand-towel under your wrists to reduce pressure. The best indicator of proper typing form? Elbows positioned at 90°.
Prop up the pages or use improvised document holders to allow neutral eye gaze. Same guidelines as for your screens.
Ensure warm lighting is abundant. Open your blinds, letting in as much natural light as possible, and move a lamp into the room to support the overhead lighting.
From time to time, you may want to relocate to a bench to replicate a standing desk. Make sure its height allows for your elbows to maintain a neutral 90°, with shoulders relaxed. Distribute your weight evenly between your feet, favouring a split-stance position, alternating your forward foot. Avoid tilting, advises Feros. Reduce ground-reaction forces on your body by wearing supportive shoes and by standing on soft ground, like carpet or a rubber mat. Avoid standing on floorboards and tiles barefooted.