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Working from Home? Take a Stretch Break, Then Read These Ergonomics Tips

Toby Graham /
man working remote

“Stop slouching! Sit up straight! Hands on your desk!”

Who could have known those strict teachers were preparing us for life in a pandemic?

As the COVID-19 crisis rages on, forcing millions of us to work from home, it’s important to connect with one’s inner disciplinarian (mine’s Mrs. Zielinski from the 3rd grade) and stay aware of one’s posture and physical well-being at work.

Many workplaces are designed with ergonomics in mind. They’re built to maximize personal comfort and minimize strain while people do their jobs for hours at a time.

Your home office is a different story. Whether you’re working at a desk, dining table, couch, bedroom, or stack of boxes in the garage, there’s a good chance your setup is less than ergonomically ideal. Maybe you’re hunched over a laptop right now, sitting in a cramped corner of the room, scrolling with one hand and feeding a child with the other—all of which could be hindering your productivity and comfort.

Plus, it’s bad for your health. A substandard setup could lead to musculoskeletal disorders, nerve pain, and other injuries down the line.

Whatever your current workspace looks like, take a few minutes to pause, stretch, and then familiarize yourself with the following ergonomics basics from EHS Today.

For Better Ergonomics, Think “NEW”

What is ergonomics? Workplace safety and engineering experts Anand Subramanian, Brandy Farris Miller, and Jeffrey Fernandez say it’s “about fitting the tasks being performed to the capabilities of the human performing them.”

Subramanian, Miller, and Fernandez write that anyone can implement some ergonomics fundamentals in their home workplace with little effort. Their first tip is an easy mnemonic device: “N-E-W.”

N stands for Neutral Posture:

“Attain a proper posture while performing sitting or standing work; a neutral seated posture should include sitting with the neck straight, shoulders straight down loosely at the sides, elbows at a right angle, wrists straight, low back supported on the back rest of the chair, 90º at the hips, 90º at the knees, and feet flat on the floor or on a footrest.”

E stands for Eye and Elbow Height:

“Whether seated and standing, ensure that the keyboard (ASDF home row) and mouse are positioned at the elbow level. The top of the monitor should be at or slightly below eye height.”

W stands for Work Area:

“Keep items that are used often in the primary work zone (the area when elbows are at the sides and the hands are moved side to side, see figure); keep items that are used less often in the secondary work zone (area within the outstretched arms). In the office, the keyboard and mouse should be in the primary work zone, centered with the user and the monitors.

12 Easy Ergonomics Tips

In addition to those NEW principles, Subramanian, Miller, and Fernandez offer a dozen tips for setting up an ergonomically correct home office that balances comfort with productivity:

  1. Adjust the height of your chair or seat so that your thighs are parallel to the floor. Your feet should be resting flat on the floor or a footrest, and the back of your thighs should not be compressed.
  2. Make sure your chair is properly adjusted to support your lower back and mid-back. You should be able to sit back in the chair without pain or strain.
  3. Make sure the home row of your keyboard is at elbow height—whether you’re sitting or standing.
  4. Keep your forearms roughly parallel to the floor. Adjust the height of your keyboard, mouse tray, or desk if you need to.
  5. Keep your wrists straight and flat, and your hands in line with your forearms.
  6. Keep your elbows close to your sides. Your arm rests should support the weight of your forearms. Avoid hunching your shoulders forward.
  7. Place your monitor at or slightly below your height while seated or standing to reduce neck strain.
  8. Make sure your monitor is 20-40 inches (about an arm’s length) away from your eyes. Dual monitors should be located closely together and at the same height and distance.
  9. Reduce eye strain by taking micro-breaks and following the 20-20-20 rule: take a 20-second break every 20 minutes by looking at things at least 20 feet away.
  10. Stretch often, at regular intervals throughout the day. Don’t stay seated for long periods. Think about placing infrequently used items (such as your printer) in a different location or room, so you have to get up and walk to use them.
  11. Make sure you have any items you frequently need to do your work nearby. You shouldn’t have to twist or reach to access them.
  12. Optimize your lighting. Task lighting is best for printed materials; diffused light is better for computer work. Avoid or minimize glare whenever possible.

For more guidance about ergonomics, including considerations for choosing and setting up home office equipment, read the full article at EHS Today: “Ergonomics Recommendations for Remote Work.”

For other tips about keeping your employees safe and productive during the COVID-19 pandemic, be sure to visit KPA’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

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