7 ways to minimise the aches and pains of working from home
As a result of the Cornovirus outbreak, there is growing support for working from home rights to be enshrined in law, so how can we keep physically healthy while working at home? Our expert ergonomics team have some tips.
Movement – the body is designed for movement and many aches and pains stem from a lack of it. Even working from home it is important to take regular breaks and move around, and if your workstation is less than ideal this becomes even more important.
- Sit or stand? – There is a lot of debate about whether sitting or standing is best. The short answer is neither (or both!). Both sitting and standing have their advantages and disadvantages. Not many people have a height-adjustable desk at home so they have to choose one or the other. What is more important is, whatever you choose make sure everything is set up correctly...more on this in the next tip!
Lap tops – although great for working on the move, laptop computers have one basic problem which is that the keyboard and screen are joined together! If you can only manage a basic setup then use a separate keyboard and pointing device (mouse, touchpad, etc). These can then be placed at the right height for your hands – and the screen can be raised on something (books, DVD cases anything as long as it is stable). Obviously, if you have a separate screen then this makes it even easier.
Screen height – much is written about having the screen at ‘the right height’, often stated as about eye height. The real answer is that it depends. It depends on what you are doing and how good your typing skills are. What do you mostly look at when you are working on your computer? Is it the screen – or the keyboard? If it is the keyboard then screen height becomes less important – although it is good to have it raised so you can sit up and look straight at it when checking what you have typed or doing other more screen-based activities such as scanning spreadsheets, etc. Be aware of your general neck posture – sitting or standing looking downwards with your neck forward will create tension in the neck muscles.
One screen or two? – If you have plugged in a screen then you possibly have the choice of using both this and your laptop screen (of course you might have the luxury of two separate screens anyway). What is the best layout? Side by side or top and bottom? Again you need to think about how you work. Many will mainly work on one screen – with the other very much a secondary source (perhaps for looking at file listings or keeping an eye on emails). These should have their ‘main’ screen in the optimum position – and the second one is less important because you don’t look at it very often or for very long. If you genuinely work equally across both screens then both should be at the optimum height alongside each other. But, do make sure that whichever screen you are using is in front of you – turn your chair to face it if necessary.
Work at the right height – sitting or standing it is important that whatever you are working with, keyboard or mouse, is around elbow height. Sit or stand too low and you risk hunching your shoulders and creating tension.
Are you sitting comfortably? – as in a normal office environment having a good chair supporting you properly (and at the right height) is important. If you are making do with a basic kitchen chair then perhaps use cushions to raise you to the correct height if needed and to provide lumbar support – and move about more often.
It's wise to remember that even when working from home your employer still has a duty of care for you. If you are struggling then speak to them to see how they can support you.
IOM Ergonomics and Human Factors