Working at home doesn’t mean you should forget about proper ergonomics. If you’re working hunched over a laptop on the couch or dining room table, you might be at risk for some musculoskeletal discomforts.
A typical office workstation has an adjustable task chair on casters, a separate keyboard and mouse and a monitor that is approximately at eye level to promote an upright, supported and neutral working posture. We may not have all these things at home, but it will help to aim for this configuration.
We don’t know how long we’ll be at home, so it’s best for our bodies to set up our work environment as though stay-at-home orders will last a while. Below are tips to better posture and ergonomics for your remote office.
Position your monitor so that your trunk and neck are in a neutral posture. For most people, the top of the monitor should be just about eye level. A quick way to determine the proper height and distance for your computer monitor location, is to sit up straight with a neutral neck and hold up a printed piece of paper without looking down or changing your posture. This should give you an approximate location where the monitor should be placed.
If your monitor needs to be raised, place it on top of a few books or boxes. You might need to connect a separate keyboard and mouse if you are working on a laptop. If you wear reading or multifocal glasses and look in a downward angle to view the screen, a lower level for the monitor is appropriate to maintain a neutral neck posture.
The keyboard and mouse should be approximately a forearm length away when sitting back in your chair to avoid unnecessary reaching and leaning forward. A separate keyboard and mouse positioned at the correct height and distance can be very helpful and necessary if you are trying to raise your laptop screen to promote a better viewing angle.
Not everyone has an adjustable task chair at home. You can, however, make an effort to provide more support for sitting. Without casters it takes more effort, but slide the chair in close to the computer to allow support for the trunk and to minimize unnecessary reaching or leaning forward. If additional support for the lower back is needed, consider using a small rolled-up towel or small pillow to provide lumbar support. Proper lumbar support can improve the posture of the upper trunk and neck also.
Try to find a work surface that is at your elbow to decrease contact stress on your forearms and reduce unnecessary stress on the shoulder. Sometimes a pillow or towel on the seat of the chair can help adjust your height in relation to the work surface. For shorter individuals, when raising up your sitting height to meet the level of the work surface, you may need to find a small box or books to support your feet so you can sit back in the chair. Also, make sure there is ample clearance under the table for the lower legs so you can sit close to the computer while still using the back support of the chair.
Even in an ergonomically correct position, it is important to vary your working posture throughout the day. Take occasional “micro breaks” from the sitting position and stand during part of a conference call when you are not engaged on the keyboard. If your workday involves long stretches of coding, calculating, designing, writing, or otherwise, consider using a “Pomodoro” timer (free online or on the app store) to break up your time into focused working increments with regular breaks. Doing so can increase productivity and encourages healthy regular movement.
Making simple adjustments to increase your support, reduce awkward postures and break up static postures can increase your comfort level while working on the computer or laptop at home.