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Desk in home with laptop and office chair

Tips for Improving Home Office Ergonomics

For many office workers, there was an abrupt and almost overnight shift from office to home at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This transition was initially expected to be temporary which meant improvising on hard dining room chairs, in converted toy rooms or hunching over laptops on couches or beds. However, two years later, many people are continuing to work from home, at least part of the time, and poorly designed workspaces are causing carpal tunnel syndrome, shoulder and back pain and other significant musculoskeletal injuries.

Proper office ergonomics, or creating a workspace that fits your needs, can reduce discomfort, fatigue, pain and injury and maximize productivity. Here are a few areas to focus on to make sure you have an ergonomic work area at home.

  • Posture: When you are doing seated work, particularly at a computer, make adjustments to your workspace to ensure that your elbows are at a 90-degree angle in line with your hands, wrists and forearms. Armrests should support the weight of your arms, keep your shoulders back and relaxed and your wrists in a neutral position. Avoid leaning forward by stacking your shoulders over your hips and your head over your shoulders. Make sure there’s clearance for your knees, thighs and feet under the desk or table you are working at, keeping your thighs parallel to the floor and feet firmly planted on the ground. If the chair you’re using doesn’t make this possible, use a footrest or a small stack of sturdy books. Ergonomic experts suggest that if you are able to invest in one home office item, a good office chair with adjustable features will help you maintain this optimal work posture.
  • Computer Equipment: Place your computer screen directly in front of you, about an arm-lengths away. The top of your screen should be at—or just below—eye level and tilted slightly away from your body. If you wear bifocals, lower the monitor one to two inches for viewing comfort. Keep your mouse within easy reach, your keyboard centered and frequently used items should be positioned close to your body to prevent reaching. Use headphones or a headset for phone calls, rather than cradling your phone between your ear and neck, and other add-ons like document holders can be helpful depending on the work that you do. It isn’t advised to use laptops for an extended period of time as they create a forward head posture which can cause neck and shoulder pain. If this is your only option, raise your laptop to eye level on a stack of books or a monitor riser and plug in an external mouse and keyboard to keep your neck and head in a neutral position.
  • Movement and Breaks: Even with the best ergonomics, your body isn’t designed to sit all day. After setting up your workspace in a way that protects your body, set reminders to move and stretch every 30 minutes and vary your positioning regularly. If possible, walk around during phone calls wearing headphones and set up a standing workstation on a dresser or ironing board for short intervals. To prevent eye strain and headaches, follow the 20-20-20 rule where every 20 minutes you take 20 seconds to stare at something 20 feet away.

Proper home office ergonomics including good work posture, correct equipment alignment and frequent breaks can all help you stay more comfortable at work. Always listen to your body and talk to a medical professional if you feel pain during or after your workday.

If you need more personalized advice based on your space, physical limitations and specific equipment, an Occupational or Physical Therapist at VHA Home HealthCare may be able to help. Contact VHA’s private services team at (416) 489-2500 ext. 4649 or by email at privateservices@vha.ca for more information.