Because of COVID-19 many of us have been forced to work from home. Even before the novel coronavirus threw our world upside down, approximately 60% of companies offered telecommuting options, offering employees to work from home at least part time, according to the latest benefits survey from the Society for Human Resource Management. We can assume that percentage will be even higher as more companies have added this capability during the health crisis. Along with this surge in people working from home, a wave of new chiropractic patients have been created by poor ergonomics in our home offices.
Just two decades ago, only twenty percent of companies offered telecommuting. Gallup released a poll recently showing that 43% of Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely. Combine this with current stay-home orders in much of the country and the general increase of entrepreneurs and people that run an online business out of their home; it seems this trend will only continue to grow.
It is important to consider, though, that working in the comfort of your home is not always comfortable. Take your chiropractor’s word for it. On the surface it seems like you have it made – couches, love seats, beds, recliners – lots of places to cozy up with the laptop and get to work. Spend a few hours, days or weeks in those comfy places on the laptop and you might be thinking otherwise. Office chairs and desks may not look comfortable but they are designed to give our bodies the support and proper positioning we need to reduce the cumulative stress that sitting at the computer can cause.
Proper ergonomics should not be exclusive to an office setting and should extend to wherever you work, whether that be your home or the local coffee house. During their chiropractic office visits we ask our patients that work from home to describe their workstation set up. Very few tell us that they have a separate home office with a desk. More often they are using their laptop on the couch or at a kitchen table. We’ve even had patients tell us they work on their laptop while lying in bed (sad face).
Thus, perhaps the most important tip we can offer you when working from home is to have a designated workstation with a comfortable and supportive office chair. Ideally the desk would have adjustable height (sit-to-stand), but we don’t all live in a dream world. For practical purposes, set up your workstation on whatever flat, stable surface you can find and reach comfortably while sitting in your chair with your arms at your sides. It is also important to have an adjustable office chair to get the proper body positioning and height when sitting, especially if you’re using a surface that is not height adjustable.
If you have a desktop computer at home, this usually means better ergonomics because the screens are at a better level and keyboards and mouses (mice?) can be moved to suit your needs. But fewer and fewer people have desktop computers outside of their office as laptops are now the norm. Unfortunately, certain ergonomic features are compromised with laptops for the sake of portability. Keyboard spacing, screen size and positioning, and pointing devices are all poorly designed when it comes to laptop computers. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to have good posture when using a keyboard fixed to the laptop.
Case in point:
The challenge lies in the fact that the keyboard and monitor are attached to each other, so it is difficult to maintain proper ergonomics. The first challenge is that the screen tends to be lower than a traditional monitor and you have to look down on your screen. Instead, you need to place the monitor at a level where your eyes are in line with the top portion of the monitor to maintain proper posture, as shown below.
Secondly, as laptops tend towards smaller and smaller devices, the keyboard gets smaller and is not ideal for typing, and can place undue strain on the hands, wrists, and forearms. That’s why an external keyboard is a great idea, as shown in the photo above. Lastly, people tend to want to keep a normal distance from their eyes to the laptop screen, so they sit a certain distance away from the laptop, but then need to reach for the keyboard to type. This causes the reaching position of the arms and shoulders that inherently forces you into a rounded sitting posture and excessive stress on the upper back and neck.
Despite the poor ergonomics inherent to laptops, there are certain steps you can take to improve your posture and alignment while using them.
- Use an external keyboard to keep your hands and arms in an optimal position.
- Place something underneath the laptop so that the top of the screen/monitor aligns with your eyes.
- You can also use an external monitor that sits higher and then use the laptop’s keyboard as usual. This also helps because external monitors are often larger than your laptop’s screen so you don’t have to lean forward or strain your eyes to see it. See below.
Creating a better ergonomic home office environment is easy if you follow the steps we have outlined above. Doing so will help improve productivity and the quality of your work, but will also help prevent stress and injury, improving the quality of your mind and body. To get help with your home office ergonomics and start feeling better now, click here to take our self-assessment.
Watch this video to learn how to make your home workstation start working for you today.
Additional helpful resources:
*This article was adapted with permission from the Chiropractic Success Academy.