Working from home: Tips for a safe at-home work environment

In the Age of COVID-19, working remotely has become commonplace among office workers.  While it certainly comes with its perks – lack of a commute, flexible schedules, increased quality time with our families (questionable if this is a perk for some of us, I’m sure) – there are also some real risks to general health and wellness with our new normal. 

For many of us, our work life balance is blending together – a personal example: I am writing this blog at 12 AM because I can’t find a more productive time while balancing homeschooling, cooking, and meetings.  Behavioral disorders are on the rise as a result – the risks for increased stress, depression, insomnia have all increased during the pandemic

Weight gain is another common theme of this pandemic. A recent poll by WebMD found over 50% of respondents reporting gaining 1-5 lbs., with another 25% gaining 10 lbs or more.  Much of this weight gain can be tied to several factors: increased alcohol intake, stress eating, lack of activity.  Whatever the cause, the changes to our homelife is placing increased stress on our bodies in ways that could have long lasting effects. Added weight places greater strain on our heart and cardiovascular systems.  It makes it more difficult for us to fight off infections (particularly concerning given the current state of affairs) and can strain our muscles and joints, leading to greater risk for injury (low back and neck pain are most common).

To make matters worse, for many of us working from home comes the plight of poor ergonomics.  Pre-Covid, most of us had a decent office chair, a desk, and a workstation with a relatively good ergonomic set-up. Now many of us are working on the couch or at the kitchen table, slumped over our laptops for hours on end.  While short term, these postural abnormalities are fleeting, without the distraction of co-workers to chat with down the hall or the need to step into a meeting, we’re spending longer periods of time in those poor postural positions. This can cause major structural changes to our spinal alignment, and lead to long term pain and discomfort if left unchecked.

Here are some simple ways that you can minimize your risks:

  1. Set personal time on your work calendar
    You’re not likely to miss that work meeting, because most of us link greater importance to our work calendars than any personal one.  Place boundaries on your time, and sprinkle in some “You time” throughout the day
  2. Set reminders on your computer to get up and move around every 30 minutes
    It’s easy for us to lose track of time when we get involved.  With many of us working from home now from the couch or the kitchen table, our necks and back are at greater risk for injury.  Using your work computer to set audible reminders to get up and move every 30 minutes will reduce your risk of injury related to poor posture.
  3. Connect with your team
    Make sure to connect with your colleagues and friends. An easy way to do this is to build social time into your work meetings, where you talk about non work topics. Adding a face to the interaction can help overcome some of the isolation you may feel during this pandemic.
  4. Use household items to augment your workstation
    Sitting on a soft couch, try placing a baking sheet or tray under the cushion to provide more support.  Improve your sitting angle by rolling up a towel and placing it behind your lower back or under the edge of your bottom.  Mirror your laptop to the TV screen so you can maintain your neck in better alignment.  If you’re at the kitchen table, grab a chair with armrests and roll a towel behind your back.  Consider placing an extra cushion on top of the seat to raise you up to a more optimal sitting position and plugging in your laptop to an old computer monitor that is raised up to eye level to limit slouching.
  5. Take a walk
    You risk for covid is lowest during the day in open spaces. During one of your midday work breaks (see item 1 from above) get outside and take in the fresh air now that summer has arrived. It will help your mind and your heart!