If someone told me four months ago that a pandemic would start, I would have probably laughed. However, this is a new reality, and we have reached the point that “working from home” is the best way to limit the speed of the transmission. In academia, we have also faced new challenges as seminars are cancelled, exams are being re-scheduled online, university buildings are staying shut, and meetings are being transferred to a variety of online platforms. Those who stuck at home, free of illness and related COVID 19 burdens, are now dealing with other health concerns mostly related to the musculoskeletal system and the absence of occupational health and ergonomics. The symptoms can include recurrent pain, stiff joints, headaches, dry and sore eyes, dull aches and loss of strength.
I am sure that many of us have increased our screen time and have improvised our “workstation.” I have actually found myself working at a desk some days, slouching on the couch with my laptop or sitting at the kitchen table during the afternoon. And then my back was aching because the kitchen chair was too low, the table was too high, and I was hunching over my laptop.
So, this is what I have learned, and I would like to share it with you:
Your workspace matters but you can take some simple steps that will help optimise your posture and improve your comfort when working at home.
1. Work at a “desk” (whether it’s a kitchen table, TV tray, or folding table) where you can fit your knees, feet, and thighs comfortably underneath. Your feet should be flat on the floor (or use a box) and your lower leg should be at an approximately 90-degree angle to your thigh. I actually invested in an office chair but some household items can be used to help you adjust your position. For example, use a rolled-up hand towel for extra lower back support.
2. You will be at the right height to work if your forearms are parallel to the floor, resting on the desk and at a 90-degree angle to your upper arm. Now, if your desk is too high you can adjust your chair up (if you can) or try sitting on a sofa pillow.
3. The top of the screen should be at your eye level when you are seated. If you don’t have an adjustable desk use some books to raise your work surface. Your chin should be pointing straight forward. If your chin is down, then the screen may be too low or if your chin is up then the screen is too high.
4. Use a separate keyboard and mouse with your laptop if possible. Laptops are not very ergonomic. If you do so, position the keyboard and mouse directly in front of you within easy reach.
5. Follow the 20/20/20 rule: for every 20 minutes spent looking at a computer screen, you should spend 20 seconds looking at something else 20 feet away. This gives your eye muscles a break and helps reduce eye strain.
Finally, explore this interactive infographic http://covid19.ergonomics.org.uk/media/CIEHF%20WFH%20Infographic.html from the chartered institute of ergonomics and human factors (2020).
And do not forget, keep hydrated and make sure you get up, walk or move around.
Glykeria Skamagki Assistant Professor in Physiotherapy, Committee member in Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Occupational Health and Ergonomics (ACPOHE )