Millions of employees have sought remote working practices with the emergence of COVID-19 and the resulting mobility restrictions and social distancing policies. This sudden transition led to improvised workspaces — the sofa, bed, and kitchen table have all doubled up as at-home workstations for many people.
And as a large portion of the workforce adopts work-from-home (WFH) arrangements to evade the pandemic, signs are emerging of another health crisis with potentially severe consequences.
Injuries and discomfort related to work practices are rising, says the American Chiropractic Association. It notes that 92% of chiropractors are now reporting increased patient complaints of musculoskeletal issues such as neck and back pains.
With all signs pointing towards a prolonged presence of COVID-19, WFH injuries only stand to surge as employees continue to telecommute. So, if left untackled, its impact could have long-term ramifications for employee health and wellbeing.
Essential Ergonomics to prevent WFH injuries
The CDC defines ergonomics as “the scientific study of people at work.” It’s about designing an optimum work environment. And this is just as essential as adopting healthy work practices to prevent WFH injuries.
For example, working on the laptop slouched in bed or leaning back on the sofa are common practices that lead to musculoskeletal injuries. Sustained exposure to poor posture and extended periods of immobility can affect muscles, joints, ligaments, nerves, and spinal discs and result in pain, discomfort, as well as long-term injuries.
So, while you change your work practices and restrict yourself to a designated workspace at home, it’s equally important for you to design it in an optimum manner to minimize the risks of WFH injuries.
In fact, healthy work practices and ergonomics should go hand-in-hand to maintain physical wellbeing while telecommuting. So, here are essential ergonomics to integrate into your at-home office environment to prevent injuries, improve comfort, and boost productivity.
1. Choosing the right furniture for your home office
When you’re required to spend an extended time in front of your laptop, it’s essential to select an ergonomically designed office chair with back support. Ensure that the height and armrests are adjustable to help maintain the correct posture.
Change the chair height so that the laptop or computer screen is at eye level. Sit straight and adjust the armrest so that your arms are resting comfortably at a 90-degree angle with elbows, forearms, and wrists at the same level. Keep knees aligned with the hips and bent at a 90-degree angle. If the chair is too high to place your feet on the ground, use an adjustable footrest for support.
Select a regular work desk with sufficient legroom underneath. Its height should accommodate the physical alignments required to maintain the correct posture.
2. Placing the computer and accessories
The placement of the laptop, computer, keyboard, and mouse should follow ergonomic requirements to help prevent long-term injury.
- Place the mouse and keyboard at an easily reachable distance and at the same level as your forearms and wrists. This will help prevent back and wrist injuries due to leaning in or excessive straining.
- Keep the computer screen directly in front of you with your eye level fixed 2–3 inches below the top edge of the screen. Your head should comfortably remain straight without tilting up, down, or sideways.
- The laptop or computer would often require an elevated stand for taller individuals. And if you are a laptop user, opt for a detachable keyboard to help maintain the correct physical alignments.
3. Keeping things at hand
Twisting and straining are common causes of work injuries. To avoid these, keep all essential items such as stationery at an easily reachable distance from where you’re seated.
When reaching for non-essential items stored away from your desk, ensure that you get up and walk over to them. Alternatively, a rolling chair can also help you to quickly move about.
De-clutter the workspace and keep necessary items in dedicated storage areas. This is not only good for your mental wellbeing but will also help prevent injuries caused by falls and slips.
4. Lighting up the workspace
Your work area should be well lit to avoid unnecessary eye strain. However, check for any glare caused by overhead or wall lighting.
Set up your workstation in an area that gets plenty of natural sunlight. It will not only light up your workspace but can have plenty of mood-boosting effects. However, place the laptop at a right angle to the window to avoid glare.
Moreover, adjust the screen glare and take short breaks every 20 minutes to focus on a distant object.
If you need to work late, use a blue light filter. Many modern devices come equipped with Night Light settings to adjust blue light, which you can also set up to activate automatically in the evening.
5. Making provisions for regular movement
As you ergonomically design your workspace for maximum comfort, you also need to consider the importance of movement. Prolonged periods without moving can increase the risk of several health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and blood pressure.
Therefore, make provisions to integrate movement into your workspace. For example, set up an adjustable standing desk so you can switch between sitting and standing work positions. However, ensure that it’s ergonomically designed to maintain posture and physical alignment with the laptop.
You can also integrate simple practices such as standing up and moving about when answering phone calls. And schedule breaks for regular stretching exercises at least every 50–60 minutes.
The abrupt transition to remote work arrangements has led to a notable rise in WFH injuries, as employees covert their living spaces into makeshift offices with little guidance.
The severity of these injuries or the risk of experiencing them depends on your workspace ergonomics as much as it does on your work practices. This is why ergonomic interventions are essential to minimize injuries, ensure long-term wellbeing, and optimize your work productivity.