While the Federal Government has announced a number of relaxations on social distancing restrictions, many of us will still be working from home for a little longer. And maybe even into the future. The benefits of remote working are undeniable. Increased productivity, lowered office space costs and a happier and healthier workforce - it's likely that many of us will have a few days of "work from home" introduced to our regular working weeks.
We spoke to physiotherapist and ergonomics expert Jennifer Thompson on the logistics of work from home life. We've already written about productivity tips and key stretches to help you work out the kinks in your neck. But in the long term, we need to set ourselves up for comfort and to prevent injury - especially if work from home will be a permanent part of our routines moving forward.
"‘Ergonomics really isn’t the most glamorous term out there and the moment I mention it to my patients, I see the boredom set in. But, ergonomics can really be your best friend. It’s got your back. Literally," says Thompson.
"Being in the comfort of your own home during these unique times, we can find ourselves sitting and working for longer by switching up desk chair to the couch for the duration of the day. If you’re slouched, sitting too upright and overloading muscles or contorting into a pretzel whilst you tap away at your keyboard, you’ll end up overloading structures in your body, under-using others, creating imbalances and therefore pain."
With this in mind, she's shared her tips and quick hacks to creating a safe and healthy workspace with us. And it's certainly not as difficult as we imagined, plus most of us will already have the tools we need laying around the house.
"An ergonomic workspace reduces risk of injury and productivity is increased, it is win-win."
Location, location, location
You don’t need a lot of space or to take over an entire room for your home office. So, let there be light. Bringing daylight into the space will affect productivity very positively. The best possibly light for human eyes is natural sunlight, that’s what we’ve evolved to see. Ensuring natural light is present whilst you are fixated on the screen will put less strain on your eyes. Following the 20:20:20 rule is imperative to keep your eyes fresh and reduce the risk of headaches and blurred vision from the screen time during your work day.
Every 20 minutes, look 20 metres away for 20 seconds. Your eyes with thank you.
Hold your head high
Did you know, your head weighs about 5.4 kilos? And every 2.5cm that chin pokes forward as you look at your screen, your head gets about 4.5 kg heavier.
So, peering forward at that email can make your head weigh up to about 19kg. That’s some heavy lifting. Those upper trapezius muscles and postural stabilisers are over-working in order to counteract the weight of that head. So, looking down at your laptop for hours on end is best avoided.
Turn your laptop into a proper workstation by propping it up on a few books, a wooden crate or even a shoebox - and get your hands on an inexpensive keyboard and mouse. This way you’re allowing a more neutral spine and head posture, opening up your chest and having the screen at eye-level ensuring a reduced load on your upper postural muscles. The same principle can be applied to your phone. Resting your elbows on a surface so they are higher whilst you scroll and tap away allows your phone to be at eye-level, and counteracts the weight of your head increasing if you were to look down.
Every 1-2 hours, give yourself a double chin, hold for 5 seconds, relax and repeat 10 times. This will activate those deep neck flexors that need a little extra love throughout the day, resetting your neck posture.
Take a seat
Use your chair for all its capacity and sit right back and relax. If you are able to use an office chair and adjust the backrest, I strongly advise becoming familiar with its functions and allow a more relaxed recline, around 110 degrees is ideal. Otherwise any dining room chair with a solid back support is recommended.
We need to forget the old-school thinking of ‘sit upright and tall’. Not only is it out-dated, but it can actually cause more havoc on the body than what we thought because at the end of the work day, gravity will always win. When you try and sit up and tall you are actually causing your postural muscles to be overactive, which in turn will cause them to fatigue quickly and you will just end up slumping forward, and the uphill battle against gravity begins again. Using a small pillow or rolled-up towel to rest in your lumbar region and allowing your body to recline back more into the back-rest will ensure your shoulders are supported, and your postural muscles aren’t overly engaged throughout the day.
Think of your sits-bones (pelvis) as a clock-face on the chair. Tilt forward and back to 12’o’clock and 6 ‘o’clock. Then side to side to 9 ‘o’clock and 3 ‘o’ clock. This helps redistribute the pressure in your lumbar vertebral bodies and wake up those postural muscle fibres.
Your best posture is your next posture. In your work-day, try to move a little, a lot. In times of social distancing, you can always count on fidgeting to be your friend. We have a few lost opportunities to move during the work day with no commute, no walking to meeting rooms or coffee shops. If you take a phone call do it standing up or take your laptop over to a bench for an hour and turn this into a standing desk at home. Your body will thank you for it. This concept is called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) and is the catchall term for activities like fidgeting and can reduce any undue strain from sustained postures throughout the day.
Try to get up every hour and move around the house, drink that little bit of extra water so you’re getting up more for the bathroom (and most importantly keeping hydrated) and even use a waste-paper basket in the next room.