Tips to make working from home healthier and safer
Last spring, during the early stages of the pandemic, many Americans found themselves regularly working from home. Most people do not have a home office, so suddenly kitchen tables, bedrooms and quiet corners became makeshift offices.
Now, many months later, medical professionals are seeing an increase in the number of patients complaining of neck and back pain, eye strain and other concerns related to the work environment.
ProHealth Care’s occupational therapy team offers the following tips to make working from home safe, healthy and comfortable:
1. Locate your home office away from distractions.
2. Take advantage of natural light. Position your work surface and chair perpendicular to windows. Use sheer curtains to let in light while also blocking glare.
3. Use a desk or a work surface that allows you to sit upright, directly facing the surface, with your upper arms at your sides and your forearms and hands resting on the surface at a 90-degree angle.
4. Use a chair that allows you to sit with both feet on the ground and your knees and hips at a 90-degree angle, with your back touching the back of the chair. Allow at least two fingers of space between the edge of your chair and the back of your knees. If your chair has armrests, their height should allow for a slight lift in the shoulders and they should be used for rest only.
5. If possible, adjust the chair height, seat depth and lumbar support. A firm pad on the chair seat can also help with some adjustments. If your feet do not touch the floor, consider using an adjustable foot rest.
6. Ensure that your home electrical system is safe. Check electrical outlets for any loose fixtures, loose or cracked outlet covers, or crackling or other sounds when turning on lights or equipment. Don’t hesitate to contact an electrician. Place cords away from high-traffic areas and secure them next to walls with electrical tape.
7. Use a surge protector for all digital equipment such as computers, laptops, monitors and printers.
8. Place your computer screen at a height that allows you to sit comfortably with your back upright and your eyes 20 to 30 inches from the screen. Tilt the screen 10 to 20 degrees backward. The center of the screen should be 15 to 30 degrees below eye level. If you wear bifocal or trifocal glasses, you may need to lower your monitor.
9. Use a floor or desk lamp. Talk to a knowledgeable lightbulb retailer about the best bulbs for your space and needs. Consider installing a dimmer switch if you use overhead lighting. You may wish to invest in full-spectrum lighting or a light therapy box or lamp for use during winter or in darker spaces.
10. Adjust monitor brightness to match the room light. Use a warmer, more yellow, screen tone in dark rooms and the evening. Use a colder, more blue, screen tone in bright rooms and daylight. Blink often and keep moistening eye drops nearby for use whenever needed. Adjust documents and apps for type sizes and styles that prevent squinting or eye strain.
11. Take work breaks, for snacks, lunch, or just to move around. Stand and stretch every 15 minutes. Stretch, walk or exercise for at least 15 minutes at lunchtime and 30 minutes after work. Look away from the screen frequently and gently move and stretch your neck, back, arms, shoulders, hips and legs often.
12. Drink water throughout the day. Eat nutritionally balanced meals – away from your work space. Keep fresh fruit, raw vegetables and healthy nuts on hand for occasional snacking. Do not drink hot or open beverages at your desk.
13. If you find music calming or lightly stimulating, stream it at a low volume. Invest in headphones if you need to cancel out noise.
14. Be mindful of the safety of your surroundings. Remove obstacles such as throw rugs and toys. Pay attention to stair steps and use handrails. Be sure to check stovetops and other potential hazards before starting or returning to work.