More than seven months have passed since companies switched to work-from-home policies to keep going as the pandemic changed our lives. Fortunately, strategies like video meetings supported by digital transcription services are helping organizations to communicate with their employees seamlessly and get work done. However, for many people, working from the bed or kitchen counter that’s too high or too low has led to back, neck and shoulder pain and other musculoskeletal problems. Making some simple modifications to your working arrangements at home can help you stay productive, injury free and healthy.
The common reasons for neck and back pain or sore wrists and fingers is poor ergonomics when you’re seated in front of your computer or laptop. HR Reporter referenced a University of Cincinnati survey of their 4,300 staff and 4,200 faculty members which found that:
- Many remote workers do not have the tools they need to be comfortable working from home
- While 58% have some type of office chair, 27% use dining chairs while 15 per cent work sitting on beds or couches.
- Up to 41% use chairs that were too low, which resulted in poor body or poor head position, while 63 per cent sit on chairs with a hard surface.
- While 53% of the workers have armrests on their chairs, 32% do not use them or the armrest is improperly adjusted (18 per cent). This can cause contact stress on forearms and strain across the upper back, the report noted.
- More than 90 per cent of workstations have a hard, sharp edge.
- 69% do not use the support of the back of the chair and 73% often do not have any lumbar support.
These findings show just how important it is to have a comfortable work-from-home arrangement to ensure the long-term health of remote workers. Here are five top tips for a safe, ergonomic work-from-home arrangement:
- Ensure correct chair height: Use a chair that will maintain the natural alignment of your spine. The chair’s height should be adjusted so that your elbows rest at the height of your table. This is important to keep your wrists in the correct position and prevent carpel tunnel syndrome. Sit with your feet flat on the floor and your thighs are parallel to the floor. If your chair cannot be adjusted and is too high, use a footrest or a small stool. Allow your arms to gently rest on the armrests and keep your shoulders relaxed and in a natural position. Using an office chair would be best as it would be ergonomically designed.
- Use the right desk/table: There should be sufficient space under the desk for comfortable placement of your knees, thighs and feet. A desk that is too low or too high should be adjusted so that you can sit ergonomically. This means you should sit comfortably as close as possible to your desk with your upper arms parallel to your spine. Use a wrist rest or pad the edge if your desk has a hard edge. Don’t store things under your desk.
- Maintain good posture: To understand good desk posture, you need to understand what bad desk posture means. Rounding your upper back and shoulders hunching forward when you sit at your computer is bad posture. It can lead to pain as it stresses the back, shoulder, and neck muscles. Ensure that your computer screen is level with your eyes and your eyeline is level with your web browser’s address bar. If your screen is too low, it will make you flex forward which will affect your neck.
- Ensure adequate equipment spacing: Ideally, you need a dedicated space for a long-term work-from-home arrangement. If you do not have one, find a niche space where you can work comfortably. Your home office space should be able to accommodate all the equipment you need to do your work – the laptop, external keyboard and mouse, and monitor (if present) as well as any other necessary material. Place your mouse within easy reach and at the same level as your keyboard.
- Don’t work from the couch or bed: It can be tempting to work from a soft bed or couch but this is not good for your body and can lead to musculoskeletal problems, including numbness. It will likely ruin your posture by encouraging you to slump your shoulders and lean forward. A Healthline article explains: “Even if you sit in the bed, you’re still sitting on an uneven surface for an extended period of time, having the monitor at an incorrect height, and likely curving your back. This can create pain either immediately or over time, which can also decrease sleep quality”.
- Change your position frequently, take breaks: As you sit at your desk, it’s important to vary your posture often to avoid back, neck and shoulder pain. Eric Robertson, a physical therapist and spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association says it’s best to alternate your position every hour. Experts also recommend taking regular breaks. An ideal option would be to walk around and stretch for five minutes after an hour of work. This will help relax your body and keep you alert. Another break you should take is from the computer screen. Do follow the 20/20 rule, says BU Today. For every 20 minutes spent looking at a computer screen, spend 20 seconds looking at something else at a distance of 20 feet. This will reduce strain on the eye muscles.
While ergonomics is paramount when working from home, having the right tools, technology and services to support online work is also critical. Forbes reports that 30% of IT executives surveyed by ESG believe that, from a technology perspective, the ability of workers to effectively incorporate online collaboration tools into daily work patterns will be the most significant lasting change of the Covid-19 pandemic. With video conferencing being a top online communication tool, efficient video transcription services can ensure that the content is accurately documented for reference and easy access.