Useful Tips to Make Working from Home Safe and Comfortable

SPD’s senior physiotherapist, Lin Jingyi, offers some useful tips to make working from home safe and comfortable, in this first installment of the Work From Home series.

After a long wait, our circuit-breaker period is finally over. However, it will still be months before normalcy is resumed as the country’s reopening will be a gradual and careful one. Until then, many of us will still need to work from home. A home is a place where we return to rest and is not designed for work. Now that we are all having our makeshift work stations at home, are we doing it right?

A well-arranged work area will allow us to function at our best. This means having good work station ergonomics, where we make sure to get the right chair height, space allowance, desk posture, and habits. SPD’s senior physiotherapist, Lin Jingyi, offers some useful tips to make working from home safe and comfortable, in this first installment of the Work From Home series.

An example of maintaining good posture while working

Chair
Does your back feel well-supported when you lean back on your chair? Otherwise, consider back support such as a lumbar support cushion or a pillow. When seated, your thighs should be parallel to the floor with your feet resting flat on the ground. Use a footrest if the chair is too tall and your feet cannot reach the ground. If there are armrests, your arms should be gently resting on them when your shoulders are relaxed.

Make sure there is about 4-finger widths space between the edge of the chair and the back of your knees. If you are seated too far into the seat, blood circulation will be restricted. Avoid sitting too far out on the edge of the seat too if you want to keep your back well supported.

Desk
Always ensure that there is no clutter beneath the desk. You need space for your thighs, knees, and feet! The height of the desk is optimal when your shoulders are relaxed as you work. If they are constantly shrugged, it means the desk is too tall for you. If you have to slouch to reach the keyboard, the desk is too low. It is too low when you have to slouch to reach for the keyboard. Keeping your shoulders shrugged or slouched for prolonged hours during work causes the muscles around the shoulders to be tensed. This gives rise to ailments such as neck soreness and headaches.

Consider getting a wrist rest or some padding over the edge of the desk if you find the edge too hard and uncomfortable.

Monitor
The position of the monitor should be directly in front of you and placed about an arm’s length away. The tip of the screen should be at your eye level, if not slightly lower. If you are using a desktop, place the monitor directly behind the keyboard. These strategies help you to maintain a good head and neck posture and keep you well-aligned forward.

Keyboard and mouse
Your mouse should be placed on the same surface as your keyboard so that it is easily accessible. Where possible, adjust the sensitivity of your mouse to improve your productivity. You can also consider switching the mouse to the other side of the keyboard every now and then so that your hands take turns to operate the mouse.

Items on the desk
Keep frequently-used items within close reach. This helps to minimize the need to reach for them. Avoid reaching for items beyond comfortable limits and stand up if required. If there is a need to use the phone and type at the same time, try using the hands-free function. The key is to always keep your shoulders relaxed!

Good Habits
Move it! – The human body is not designed to stay still for prolonged hours. It is good to break away from your deskwork every 30 – 40 minutes. Get up, stretch out a little, or get yourself some water.
Keep your wrists straight when you are typing. Maintain your arms close to your body, and your hands level with your elbows. This posture reduces the stress on your shoulders. Where possible, using shortcut keys on the keyboards minimizes the mouse usage and helps to lessen the load on your shoulders and arms too.

But what if I can only sit on the floor to work on my laptop?
Some Yoga and meditation articles suggest sitting on the floor is beneficial as it helps to stretch your hips, knees and ankles. Unfortunately, not everyone has flexible joints, to begin with. In fact, sitting on the floor and reaching forward to type on your keyboard pulls your sitting bone (pelvis) backward. This will make your lower back go into a concave which is not its natural position. (Refer to the illustration below)

Bad spine curvature when sitting on the floor

Rounding your lower back and hunching forward add stress to your spine, muscles and nerves. It is common to develop backaches and discomfort in the buttock areas. To overcome these problems,find a cushion that lifts your hips off the ground such that they are positioned higher than your knees. This helps to maintain the natural curvature of your spine. If you are working on a tablet device, consider propping yourself upright with cushions below your elbows. (See illustration below)
Cushioning right

How to cushion right while seated on the floor. (Image credit: https://hullopillow.com/pouf/ and http://www.ergo4students.com/e-learning.php)

Seats with back supports can be found on various online shopping platforms if you need that extra support for your back and something for you to lean (refer to the image below). In addition, you may need to consider a low desk to place your laptop.

A variety of seats with back supports can be found on various online shopping platforms.

As the human body is meant to move, staying in the same position for prolonged periods can cause stress to your joints, muscles, spine and nerves. Keep changing positions – cross-legged to both legs stretched out, or with your knees bent to keep your blood circulation going. Make sure your muscles get to work every now and then. Get up to walk around every now and then. Psst. No one will see you pacing around during online meetings.

Reference:
1. Mayo Clinic Staff (27 April 2019) Office ergonomics: Your how-to guide (webpage). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/office-ergonomics/art-20046169
2. Oyama, Hideki & Teraoka, Taku & Noro, Kageyu. (2002). Development of floor-cushion with pelvic support – ergo zabuton-. Proceedings of the 6th International Scientific Conference on Work with Display Units. pp.685 – 686

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