Are you feeling body or neck strain from long hours at work, especially now when you are working at home? 😥 The whole pandemic that has been forcing upon us has changed a lot of work and lifestyle behaviours, not just in Singapore but around the world too. Since the first half of 2020, millions of people have shifted their offices to their homes, and doing remote work. What was meant to be a slow-moving, 5-10 year shift in working culture from office to remote work became a reality in a matter of months. This work-from-home culture may actually be around for quite some time yet, or even increasingly looking like it is going to be a permanent thing for companies, such as Facebook and Kelly Services.
As every remote worker are settling into a new work lifestyle, problems are already arising, as our activity levels decrease, and we find ourselves eating, working, relaxing, sleeping all in the same space of 10 or 20 metres. Reducing levels of movements can lead to pains and aches, and sedentary behaviour can even lead to heart diseases, diabetes mellitus and stroke, according to Dr Gan Wee Hoe, head and senior consultant of the department of occupational and environmental medicine at Singapore General Hospital.
The good news is that according to experts, many of these health problems can be alleviated or prevented by taking simple measures to improve your workplace ergonomics. It is thus very important to create a user-friendly, ergonomic working environment at home. Here are some tips and ideas for you to create a more conducive, ergonomic workspace at home, with minimal effort and just some discipline required!
1. Must work or do your activities at an appropriate height
Your job may require you to stand for long periods of time, or you may be like many office workers doing desk-bound work. You need to make sure your working height allows you to position your elbows and wrists in a relaxed, flushed position and does not make you bend over or lean forward. Of course, while a good, appropriate height helps you, there has to be a conscious effort to maintain a good posture! This will promote better wrist and spinal alignment during those long hours, and avoid strains and body aches. There is also a growing popularity towards adjustable / standing desks, as they can give workers the option to sit or stand while working.
2. Practise the 90/90/90 degrees position
Try to memorise this 90/90/90 rule and apply this to have a neutral position daily! This means that your eyes are directly above your shoulders and are looking forward at 90 degrees, and your elbows are resting just nicely on the desk or on the armrest at 90 degrees. And that’s not all. Your hips and waist are positioned at 90 degrees to your thighs, and your knees are at 90 degree intersection between your calves and thighs. Finally, your feet are nicely touching the floor fully and are perpendicular to the floor. (No crossing of legs! 😅🤣)
3. Use a good, ergonomic working chair
Just as you may be willing to invest in a good mattress because we spend one-third of our lives sleeping, it is worthwhile to be sitting on an ergonomic office chair as you are spending good amounts of time working at least 5 days a week. If you find that you have to adapt to your chair, such as positioning your hips and legs to feel comfortable sitting on it, or having to slide your bum forward so that you can maintain eye level height with the laptop screen, then your chair is likely not suitable for you. A good working chair is often adjustable, provides good lumbar support and CAN adapt to you. You should be able to adjust the seat height and the armrests, and have proper support for your shoulders and your back.
4. Must follow the 20/20/20 rule
Take good care of your eyes by adopting the 20/20/20 rule! For every 20 minutes of looking at the computer screen, use 20 seconds to take your eyes away and towards something green and pleasant around 20 feet away (That’s around 6 metres away!) By having regular short breaks, your neck and eye muscles get that crucial reliever session and this helps reduce your eye strain and any neck pain too.
5. Minimise your workspace clutter
It’s important not just to be comfortable, but also to feel comfortable and at ease while doing work at home. Cleaning and clearing up your desk work surface and removing unnecessary items will let you be more focused during work. This is essential because according to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, clutter can provide distractions in your work area. And what happens when you get distracted much? It can lead to stress, more fatigue and attention problems.
6. It’s important to loosen up your fingers and wrist
Just as you apply the 20/20/20 rule to your eyes (see above item), it’s important to free up your hands and wrist during rest time too! This is especially if you are seated and typing on the keyboard for the most part of the day. Typing for too long can bring about impingement or carpal tunnel stress. Over time, this can cause carpal tunnel syndrome, which includes pain, numbness, tingling sensations, and weakness in the hand and wrist. Do give your fingers and wrist a gentle stretch every 20 minutes while you peer out from the window and gaze at the outdoors! 😊
7. Stand up and move around after every 20 minutes
So besides your eyes and hands, your whole body and legs needs a short workout too during work breaks too! You may not want to go out, but this ergonomic tip can be done at home too. Simply stand up or move away from your workspace and walk around the house. You can also take the chance to refill your cup or water bottle, or might as well go to the bathroom. Moving around reduces physical discomfort and musculoskeletal pain, as it rehydrates your discs and lubricates your joints.
Help remind yourself on the importance of workspace ergonomics
The challenges to applying all these are to be able to follow them through and become habituated with these adjustments. It may take a while for these tips to become a habit and be part of your lifestyle. One way that may help is to pen these down on a sticky note and stick it on your monitor screen. Or you can list these ergonomic tips in your smartphone and set them as a daily gentle reminder at different times of the working day.