The abrupt workplace shift from offices to dining room tables, kitchen chairs and laptops isn’t just affecting our productivity—it can hurt our posture and cause health problems over time, according to an ergonomics expert at the University of Alberta.
“Work from home is temporary, but we don’t know for how long,” said Linda Miller, clinical assistant professor in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, during a livestreamed presentation last week for nearly 400 viewers across Canada. “And for many, it might be a new way of working in the future.”
Miller, an occupational therapist who is also president of the ergonomics firm EWI Works, cited a recent survey by the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce in which 70 per cent of employers surveyed reported they had employees working from home.
“Often when we think of working from home, we have these beautiful ideas that we’ll have this lovely space that will be very well lit and everything’s going to be organized … but (the reality) is quite different,” noted Miller.
“We have spaces that are shared with kids who are trying to do homework at the same time, or a partner or spouse also trying to work remotely. And sometimes people are trying to find any space that might be even remotely quiet in order to participate in online meetings, like a bedroom or even a stairwell.
“That starts to impact how we perform our work activities.”
Miller said some of the most common problems people experience after the first few days include discomfort in the neck and back.
She offered these tips to help people create a healthy office space at home:
- Whether seated or standing, your work surface should be at elbow height. Try using a cushion to help you sit higher, or put your laptop on a short box to elevate it in your lap.
- Make sure your back and feet are supported. Consider a cushion behind your back to improve your lumbar support. A short stack of books can serve in a pinch as a supportive platform for your feet.
- If you’re working on a laptop, plug in an external keyboard. This will make it possible to elevate your laptop so the top of the screen is just below eye level. If you can’t elevate your laptop, try putting it on a binder to angle it upwards a bit.
- Consider how to share your space with new co-workers. Working in the same space as roommates, partners or children can create distractions. Something as simple as a pair of good headphones can help to minimize noise and help you focus.
- Movement is still important. Aim to change your posture every 50 to 60 minutes, or more often if your setup is not ideal. Without the regular routine of the office, you might need to make a conscious effort to get up and move more often.
“I tried lowering my keyboard and raising my laptop, and I stood up and moved around,” reported one viewer during the livestream. “It’s already made a big difference!”
The livestream was the first in a new series, Rehab Med Live, presented by the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine to make the expertise of its faculty and alumni available to the public in a time of need.