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A lot of Australians have recently made a shift to working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With many companies and offices taking safety precautions and allowing employees to work remotely to assist with implementing social distancing. While we know that flopping onto the couch with a laptop on our legs isn't the most ergonomic of postures; few have the experience or the furniture and equipment for setting up our own workspace efficiently.
It is well documented that back and neck pain, along with occupational injuries are caused when we put too much load on the body tissues. These loads can vary from force (e.g. lifting and pushing), repetition, awkward postures, and time.
Now laying on the couch, completing your normal work hours on your laptop, with your neck kinked and arms bent in awkward positions, is a sure-fire way to cause pain. Sitting upright, with good spinal curvature, will provide a more even distribution of load on the body. However, this does not mean that sitting in that posture all day will save you from pain. This is because any posture for too long a time can accumulate load and lead to injury.
There are two foundations to ensuring you can efficiently and effectively work from home. The first is having a dedicated space at home that can be your place of work; this includes utilising the appropriate ergonomic furniture for you. The second is strategically planning your workday; varying your posture, scheduling time to move, building core fitness and spinal health.
Your Work-From-Home Space
The location of your home office within the house is critical. It should be neither too isolated, nor too public. If you have multiple bedrooms in your house, one of the rooms could be used, in smaller homes, carving out a distinct space within the living room could work well but I recommend using screens or wooden partitions to give you some separation from the rest of the house.
An ergonomically designed chair and an organised table are very important for effective functioning. It is imperative to keep the whole space organised and clutter-free. Do your best to prevent this from becoming a children’s place for arts and crafts or you will find very little ‘work’ gets completed come Friday afternoon. Make sure you have space for paperwork along with your laptop or desktop computer. Storage for files and stationery is a must. Both height adjustable and sit stand tables provide benefits and a monitor with the top of the screen sitting at or slightly below eye level or laptop stand, positioned to avoid glare is recommended.
When looking at a home office chair I recommend one that is height adjustable, has an adjustable backrest provides lumbar support, has adequate seat pan depth and width with an adjustable tilt. The best ergonomic chair isn't the one that gives you the best posture or costs the most; it's one that enables posture change. Change your posture often and you are well on your way.
Natural ventilation, windows and spaces with appropriate light fixtures promote functionality and efficiency. Office lighting has three components: task lighting, ambient light and accent lighting, give all three some thought based on your primary work function. Make sure your workspace is free from excessive noise and free of trip hazards. Give some thought to your power outlets and wiring including network, system and printer requirements. You want to make sure that power points are accessible, and wiring concealed in safe locations. Look for cable organisers that give some flexibility to move.
It looks like we will be working from home for some time yet due to COVID-19 and given that many of us work 8-10 hours a day in the home office now, it is key that the place creates a warm, welcoming and homely atmosphere. Go on and give it some of your personal style. Add a piece of art, photographs (maybe of your co-workers, or more of your extended family), a treasured mug, inspiring quote, or even some company branding is a way of adding personality and joy into the space.
Planning Your Workday
Working from home can be a challenge, especially when it is a temporary or new arrangement. We all know a different home life and a lack of social contact, particularly over an extended period, may lead to anxiety, lack of motivation and loss of involvement in decision-making within the organisation. You can ensure efficiency and look after you physical and mental health with a few simple strategies.
It is important to maintain contact with your work colleagues. Companies should have strategies in place to ensure clear and regular communication is maintained. Scheduling regular video conferencing through zoom, meet ups or bluejeans (to name a few) is a great way to remain engaged, focused and provide some social interaction while enabling social distancing. It also gives everyone a chance to peer into each other’s homes, which gives you a better insight to your work family as individuals, not just co-workers.
Schedule Time to Move
One of the most important and often overlooked pieces of an efficient workplace is to schedule adequate rest breaks, stretches, and time to complete some preventative exercises. Plan activities that vary your posture and movements at intervals throughout the day. If you do primarily desk work, try to break it up with tasks that get you out of your chair, like standing for phone calls if you can. Our rule of thumb is to change your posture every 20-30 minutes.
Try This Stretch!
Stand up from your chair, start by raising your arms over your head and hold for 10 seconds. Then reach a little higher and farther back for another ten-count. Inhale deeply, working into an upright and stress-free standing posture. Slowly lower your arms and relax. This stretch has been shown to help remove some cumulative loads on your back. Do it 4-5 times throughout the day.
The team at Prescribe Australia have been flat out helping workplaces across the country adapt to the massive change in the way they work. Our university qualified allied health professionals are using video conferencing, telehealth and virtual ergonomic assessments to assist people that we would usually deal with face to face. I would be happy to assist any business who reaches out through this blog, via LinkedIn or through our website www.prescribeaustralia.com.au
Finally pay attention to your body. Identify what triggers your discomfort and learn to make posture adjustments to avoid these triggers. I wish you all the best in working from your home office and hope you all stay happy and healthy amongst the rapid change we are experiencing.
Business Partner - Prescribe Australia
BScEx GDipExRehab AEP ESSAM