Top tips for working from home during the “new normal”
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in not only a global health crisis but has also drastically shifted the way people go about their daily lives, including how they work. Even as economies across the globe re-open, many companies and organizations are adopting more flexible hours, providing more options to work from home, and in some cases going fully remote. This has ultimately created a “new normal” where people can now expect to work from home more than they ever did before– and they may not be prepared for it.
“As our society shifts toward working remotely, some people may not have access or ability to set up a proper home office and may find themselves working in unconventional spaces,” says Dr. Leah Lawson, chiropractor at Bayside Wellness in Collingwood and Vitality Health in Barrie, Ontario. “When we introduce areas that we don’t normally work in, such as behind a dining room table or on the bed, we begin to see effects on our body such as low back pain, neck stiffness, headaches and wrist pain. As such, it’s important to set up your working space as optimally as possible to prevent future injury, no matter where you choose to work.”
As experts in spine, muscles, and joints (musculoskeletal) care, chiropractors such as Dr. Lawson can support people working from home in any space to keep their neck, back, hips, and knees safe. Below, Dr. Lawson shares her tips for adapting to working from home safely and for setting up an optimal semi-permanent workstation during the new normal.
Working behind the dining room table
“One of the most common living spaces that people use as a home office is the dining room table,” says Dr. Lawson.
To optimize this space and prevent future injury, ensure that you:
- Are not crooked on the chair and your posture is straight. Don’t hunch over.
- Move your hips all the way back against your chair.
- Use a bin or a stack of books to raise your laptop, iPad or any other working device so that the top of the device is at your eye level.
- Use a separate keyboard so that it’s positioned at your elbow height.
Working on the bed
“It is not recommended to sit on a bed or couch where your body is not supported for a long period of time,” says Dr. Lawson. “However, if you find yourself needing to work on a bed or couch where your body cannot be fully supported, it is best to do this for short periods of time.”
The ideal posture for sitting on a bed is with your hips moved toward the headboard or wall, a pillow propped against your low back, and another pillow on your lap to give leverage to your work device.
- Sitting cross-legged and leaning over your device. This can cause knee, hip and neck issues.
- Laying straight out with your neck flexed, looking down at your device. This can cause neck problems.
Working on patio furniture
“As Ontarians who often experience long winters, you may want to take advantage of nicer weather by moving your workstation outside,” says Dr. Lawson. “However, working on patio furniture can cause pain and injury if not done properly.”
For example, you should not be leaning back on the patio chair as this can hurt the upper back and neck. Since patio and backyard tables tend to be low, leaning over a laptop or device can also strain the upper back, hips, and knees.
“The optimal posture for working on outdoor furniture is to scooch your hips all the way back in the chair and use a pillow against your low back for lumbar support,” says Dr. Lawson. “Add a pillow or any other prop to lift your device so that it’s as close to the eye level as possible. And, of course, stay hydrated and use sun protection!”
Top tips for setting up a semi-permanent workstation at home
While all of the above is helpful for making use of spaces to work in around the home, it’s “extremely important to take the time to set up a home office properly to prevent injury in the future,” says Dr. Lawson.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when setting up a semi-permanent workstation at home:
- When sitting in your chair, ensure that your hips are all the way back and your back is touching the back rest of the chair.
- Ensure you have a pillow for your lower back for support.
- Raise your device or screen so that the top is at your eye level.
- Use a separate keyboard and mouse so that they can remain at elbow height.
- Use a tea towel or any other towel to roll up under the wrist to help prevent wrist pain.
“Remember that anywhere you work – whether from home or at the office – you should ideally be sitting for only for 30 to 50 minutes before you change positions or postures,” says Dr. Lawson. “Take a few minutes to get up and walk around or perform a few stretches. This can go a long way for your body.”
As not everyone will have access to a home office with a proper workstation as we enter the new normal, following the tips above can help lead to better health in any space.
“Adjusting to a new environment, such as working from home can be stressful both mentally and physically,” says Dr. Lawson. “It’s important to take the time to set up your workspace properly to make this process easier and decrease risk of future injury.”
Seek professional advice if your issues persist
Always a seek professional opinion if your issues persist. Booking a virtual appointment with a chiropractor near you is a great starting point. You can also visit Find a Chiropractor Near Me, our chiropractor locator tool to find a chiropractor closest to you. In Ontario, you can visit a chiropractor without a referral from a medical doctor, nurse practitioner or other health care professional.