Workers across the country are getting settled into their new home offices.
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More than half the US population has been ordered to stay at home, which means there are a lot of remote-work novices trying to figure out the most efficient and comfortable way to work. For some, that means spending a lot more time in their existing home office, while others are setting up shop at their kitchen table, couch or even using an ironing board as a standup desk.
And since there’s a good chance we won’t be returning to work for a while, it’s worth putting a little effort into making your space comfortable and conducive to getting the job done.
Find your space
While any flat surface could work as a desk, you want to look for a space that is somewhat secluded and quiet.
Look for spaces that offer easy access to outlets and good lighting. There’s bonus points if it’s by a window.
“A window not only for the light, but also fresh air,” said Kerrie Kelly, an interior designer and chair-elect for the American Society of Interior Designers. “When we are hunkered down in this way, we don’t realize how beneficial that vitamin D and fresh air truly is.”
In addition to a window, aim to have two sources of lighting, recommended Stephanie Kennedy, a national retail market manager with Room & Board.
“Overhead lighting and then a desk lamp to give you more direct light on your surface and keyboard,” she said. “It can be straining on your eyes to look at monitors all day, and if you don’t have the right light it causes more strain.”
Try and keep work materials organized to avoid having work seep everywhere into your home.
“You don’t want to drag work into the living room or other places you are trying to relax in,” said Kelly.
Get your body right
It doesn’t matter if you are sitting at a proper office desk or your makeshift office in the corner of your living room – how you sit and position your computer is important.
“If your body is aching at the end of day or hour, it is trying to tell you something,” said Kristianne Egbert, a certified professional ergonomist.
When choosing your work surface, look for one that is close to elbow height when you are seated. If the surface is too high, you can use a folded towel, blanket or pillow to increase your height.
And pay attention to how you sit.
Chair: If possible, sit in a chair over the more tempting couch or bed. Try and keep your thighs parallel to the floor and make sure your feet rest on the floor or some sort of footrest (a box is fine).
Elbows: Try and keep your elbows close to your side with your forearms parallel to the floor, creating a 90-degree angle between the upper arm and lower arm, Egbert said.
Get the right hardware
The position of your screen, keyboard and mouse are important.
If you’re using a PC, you want the monitor to be about an arm’s length away with the top third of the screen at eye level, according to Egbert. Laptop users should safely prop up the device so the screen is at eye level.
If possible, experts suggested using an external keyboard and mouse – that will allow you to prop up a laptop to eye-level.
You want your keyboard in front of you with the mouse next to it so your elbows are below your shoulders and your elbows are around 90 degrees, according to Ellen Kolber, corporate ergonomic consultant and hand therapist
Listen to the aches and pains
Your body will give you clues if you need to readjust your home office.
For instance, according to Egbert, if your neck is stiff at the end of the day, that usually signals there’s an issue with your screen.
“You want whatever screen you are looking at directly in front of you, around an arm’s reach away and at eye-level,” she said.
Back pain also means you might need to readjust. If your upper back is sore, Egbert said it could mean your monitor is too far away and you are leaning forward or reaching too much for the keyboard or mouse. “When you see the hunching position, try and bring your shoulders back in line.”
Lower back aches tend to signal you aren’t maintaining the natural lumbar curve in your back. If there’s a big gap between your lower back and your chair that’s a problem. Egbert suggested rolling up a towel or pillow to fill the space.
Add some little things
We’re all under a lot of pressure these days, which can make work stressful and make it hard to focus.
Adding a few personal touches can be a mood booster. Try putting some happy photos, your favorite coffee cup or meaningful knick-knacks around your space to re-energize you.