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With the recent COVID-19 outbreak, many employees are being encouraged to work from home.  Regardless if this is a new practice for you, or something you do frequently, it’s important to understand that musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) risk factors can be even more abundant outside of a company cubicle.

The temptation to sit in bed with your laptop and a cup of coffee or to take phone calls from the couch with your feet up on the ottoman, leaves you susceptible to many risks that aren’t present in a typical office environment. Here are a few ways to improve office ergonomics at home.

Consider your environment 

Be sure to choose a work surface that emulates a desk. Working at a kitchen island or on the sofa might sound fine, but there are a slew of awkward postures you’ll find yourself in. Always make sure that your workstation has ample leg space; working in front of cabinets or drawers will limit how close you can get to your computer and may cause increased back flexion and upper-limb reaches.

If you have a desk, odds are this is going to be your best bet. One good thing about choosing to work at an existing desk rather than on the couch is that it’s often in a dedicated room. Do your best to find a distraction-free place to get down to work. Take it from me—a pet roaming around or barking can be difficult to ignore when trying to get into the “work groove.” Closing the door and emulating the office environment will help you focus on your tasks.

Make sure you have good lighting. Open the blinds and turn on the lights to keep your workstation well-lit. Working in a dim room will make it harder for you to read the notes you take on paper and can increase the contrast between your computer screen and the rest of your workstation. Position your monitor or laptop screen at a 90-degree angle from the light source to avoid glare.

Consider your equipment

Let’s say your workstation at the office is great. You’ve got a fancy chair with lumbar support and seat-pan depth adjustability, a sit-stand desk, and an external monitor on an articulating arm. Moving from all of that great equipment (or even run-of-the-mill equipment) to the home doesn’t have to mean sacrificing the perfect setup.

For a low-cost laptop stand, the Goldtouch Go! or Nexstand Laptop Stand raises your screen to eye level and minimizes the neck flexion commonly associated with laptop use. If you really want to save money, there are even templates to build a laptop stand out of cardboard you have lying around.

Once you’ve placed your laptop screen at an appropriate height, you’ll need some input devices. Should you need to purchase a new keyboard and mouse, the Logitech K360 keyboard and Microsoft Wireless Desktop 900 are great low-profile options that will allow you to keep neutral wrist postures while typing. Logitech’s MX Vertical mouse is a hot item at our office, and the Goldtouch Wireless Ambidextrous mouse is another great choice.

Laptop stands, low-profile keyboards, and ergonomic mice are great, but there’s one more thing you’ll need to have at home: a good chair. While I’m not suggesting you go out and purchase a brand-new top-of-the-line ergonomic chair, be sure that whatever you choose to sit on enables you to work in neutral postures. Your shoulders should be relaxed, and your elbows and hands should be at the same height while you’re typing. Use a chair with lumbar support if you can. If it’s not an option for you, roll up a towel and place it at your low back, or purchase a lumbar support, like the Fellowes Mesh Back Support, to help promote neutral back postures. Keep chair height in mind also; you should be able to maintain solid foot support on the floor with thighs roughly parallel to the floor. If you notice your feet are dangling or are not quite flat on the floor, grab a box or that old phone book from the bottom of the closet to help you out.

Consider your habits

I don’t know about you, but getting out of the house helps me break some of those bad weekend habits.  Bingeing on the newest Netflix content and snacking on some chips and salsa might be an alright way to spend a Saturday, but having those things an arm’s length for an entire work week?

Try to stick to a routine during your work-from-home time, just as you would at the office. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and limit snacking. While you won’t be able to participate in idle water-cooler chat to get up and stretch your legs, why not take advantage of the extra home-time to get a few odd jobs done? Taking micro-breaks to complete a load of laundry or tidy up the kitchen will get you out of your chair and give you more time to enjoy your evenings too.

Working from home can be great! It’s a comfortable environment and the commute can’t be beat, but with that comfort comes some risk. Considering how you’re completing your daily tasks and taking the necessary steps to mitigate the risk factors will enable you to work in both comfort and safety—especially if you choose not to change out of your pajamas all day.

For more tips on how to work smarter from home, read these blogs with tips from our certified professional ergonomists: