Working from home, while rewarding and convenient, can often times curb productivity. Distractions are ever prevalent, especially with the presence of children, spouses or pets. There is another productivity killer that could be present. Bad posture, dim lighting and uncomfortable work settings can lead to a series of injuries and musculoskeletal disorders. Some injuries, such as carpel tunnel and sprains, could keep you out of work for weeks! Below are some ergonomically friendly ways to avoid injuries while working from home, while increasing overall productivity.
What Causes Injuries When Working From Home?
When working from home, it is very important to remember your posture. Bad posture is the number one cause of lower back pain. Some problems with posture could be standing in one place too long, which causes foot and leg aches and even varicose veins. If your lower back is curved forward while you are sitting or standing it can lead to mild or severe lower back pain. When your head inclines too much either forward or backward, neck pain can ensue. Repetitive hand or finger motions, such as typing or texting, can lead to wrist strain, sprains and even fractures in the long term. All of these posture problems can be easily avoided with simple techniques that can save you trips to the doctor. Some ergonomically friendly tricks even restore your energy, making you more productive in your work.
Repetitions in movement can also cause significant stress to the body and limbs. According to OSHA, there are certain amounts of repetitions per minute that put you at risk for injury. For shoulders, you should not exert force on them more than 2.5 times per minute. For upper arms, elbows and the wrists, that number is more than 10 times a minute. And for fingers, you should not exert them more than 200 times a minute. Learn more about ergonomically friendly work station that are recommended by OSHA here.
How Can Wrist and Finger Injuries Be Avoided?
Make sure to take breaks when typing and texting for work at home. Often times entrepreneurs and remote business workers will use their wrists well over 10 times a minute when typing E-mails or use their fingers well over 200 times a minute when sending text messages. Slow down and take breaks in between messages. Stretch your wrists everyday for at least 5 minutes. You can also do finger exercises to strengthen the muscles. Be particularly weary of the thumbs, which are used the most to text. Make sure to give your thumbs a break and move them in circles to get blood flowing.
How Can Back and Neck Problems Be Avoided?
By improving your posture, you will ultimately be more productive in your work. Back and neck pains cause measurable distraction that can take away from your productivity. A lot of people like to work from their beds when they work at home. This is okay in small doses. However, it is more productive and safer for your back and neck to sit at a desk to do most of your work.
If you have a sitting workstation at home your posture should be as follows to avoid injury:
- The angle between the upper arm and the forearm should be 70 to 135 degrees.
- The angle between the upper and lower leg should be 60 to 100 degrees.
- The angle between the torso and the thigh should be 90 to at least 100 degrees.
- The feet should be placed flat on the floor.
You might also have a standing desk at home or prefer to stand for hours during the day. In this case the best posture to reduce aches and pains are as follows:
- The work surface should be 2-4 inches below elbow height for precision work.
- The work surface should be 4-6 inches below elbow height if lifting light weights and working with bins or other materials.
- The work surface should be 6-16 inches below elbow height if lifting heavy weights.
Workstation Adjustments For More Productivity
If you are usually slouched over a table while standing, perhaps to look at blue prints like an engineer, designer or architect, then it might be in your best interest to get a pop-up table. A pop-up table can help your back, and also help you see your work in a whole new light because of the different angle. This helps posture while encouraging creativity as you see your blue prints in a different way. You can get a pop-up table from any furniture store, and most of them are pretty affordable.
For anyone who sits at a computer all day, back and neck pain may seem inevitable. But there are ways it can be avoided. One way is to invest in a standing desk. A standing desk will force you to stand up, getting blood to flow in your legs and preventing blood clots. Best of all, standing desks don’t have to be expensive. You can even make one yourself. Your productivity will increase substantially with the addition of a standing desk to your remote workspace.
Instead of doing all your work on your laptop, try to get a big monitor. This will prevent neck strain by allowing you to keep your head level and your shoulders back. This also increases your work flow because it is easier to navigate on a bigger screen. Consider investing in a monitor that is 30 inches for maximum efficiency.
The chair that you use is also very important to your posture, back and neck. Try to get a chair that adequately supports your back and legs. Make sure that the back adjusts separately from the seat. Padded seats also help. The chair should be easily adjustable while seated so that it does not cut into your work flow. A swivel chair is ideal. The chair should also have adjustable arm support so that you can rest your arms when they get tired.
To protect the eyes from damage from the computer screen, OSHA says that your monitor should be between 18-30 inches away from your eyes at any given point. This will also make your eyes less strained, which will allow you to keep working at a steady pace without having to take breaks. Make sure to also look away from your computer screen for 10 seconds at a time once every hour. Looking at something in the distance can help to refocus your eyes and help you be more productive.
What are some ways you’ve found to make your workstation more comfortable and ergonomically friendly?
Originally published Oct 29, 2014, updated Aug 11, 2020