Face it, your temporary home office might become permanent

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Home office -- The Hot Mess Press

Working from a home office seems to become less temporary than we thought. When we initially went into lockdown, telecommuting was a temporary situation. None of us realized then that it would be for much longer than 14 days of quarantine. Setting up a home office was also temporary, and you might have compromised comfort and health. Does your setup include a cramped desk, inadequate light and a desktop computer at an uncomfortable distance away?

Somehow, you also developed aches and pains that have never been a problem before. Let’s blame that on COVID-19. Holding your body in awkward, uncomfortable positions could cause stress in your ligaments, tendons and muscles. Additionally, nerve damage is possible, causing even more discomfort. If diabetes or arthritis is an existing condition, you face an increased risk of developing chronic pain.

Mother and Child in Home Office
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NEWS FLASH!! Working in a home office is no longer temporary

Now is the time to consider the ergonomics of your home office. It will likely be no easy task, especially if the rest of your family also needs ergonomically safe spaces for office or school children. I take my hat off for moms and dads who manage to practice their careers from home in circumstances that include bored children who can’t understand the new dynamics. Here are some tips for improving the ergonomics of your home office.

Woman at desk in Home Office
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Home office ergonomics start with legroom

Sitting with your knees up against desk drawers or a cabinet is looking for trouble. The distance to your computer’s keyboard and screen could cause eye problems. Similarly, your shoulders, back, hips and legs will develop muscular strain.

In like manner, sitting at a too low desk for hours is also ergonomically unsafe. You can use sturdy wooden blocks or bricks to elevate your table or desk to a comfortable height.

Ideal home office
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The correct height of your home office chair is essential

If you can’t place both your feet flat when you sit at your desk, it will cause an awkward posture. If your chair is adjustable, set it at a height to allow that; else, use a stack of books or a footrest under your feet.

Furthermore, your office chair must provide low back support. If you use an ordinary hardback dining chair, choose it with ergonomics in mind. A chair that allows your knees and hips to be level is most suitable, even if you have to use a seat cushion. You can add support for your lower back by propping it with a rolled-up towel.

Arm in Cast
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
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Position your keyboard wisely

You should not have to stretch your arms to work on your keyboard. Do not disregard this bit because it is crucial if you want to avoid developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Whether you type or use a mouse, ensure that your hands and elbows are at the same level, and tuck your elbows close to your sides. Hold your wrists straight, but avoid resting them on the edge of your desk. If they do, cushion them with a folded washcloth or something similar to prevent blood flow problems to your hands. Symptoms of the beginning of carpal tunnel syndrome include pain and tingling in your hands and arms.

Man at standing desk
Standing Desk
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Working at a standing desk could avoid back or shoulder pain

If you can work at a standing desk for some of your office hours, you might prevent muscular pain. Be creative if you don’t have one. If you use a laptop, move it to a high counter or onto an ironing board. Begin by limiting the standing time to about 30 minutes at a time. You don’t want to cause sore feet and legs in your effort to prevent back and neck pain.

Woman at home office desk
Example of poor lighting
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Ensure proper light in your home office

It is crucial to get the light in your office just right. Natural light is best but avoid glare. Instead of having a window behind or in front of you, position the desk with the window to the side of where you sit. Furthermore, adjust the shades or blinds on sunny days to ensure your computer screen is brighter than the incoming light.

Man with Lower Back Pain
Lower Back Pain
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The angle of your screen is crucial

Avoid having your computer screen too low. That will have you tucking your chin down to your chest, increasing the risk of back, shoulder and neck pain. It should be at eye level and about an arm’s length away from you. Bifocal wearers should position the screen about one or two inches below eye level.

Most importantly, stick to the 20-20-20 rule. It is vital to protect your eyes, and this is how the rule works. After looking at your computer screen for 20 minutes, stare at something that is 20 feet away from you for 20 seconds. That brief change in your focus allows your eyes the essential rest to prevent hurting them.

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Use your phone in hands-free mode

If your job includes a lot of phone use while working on a computer, use a headset or use it in speaker mode. Pinching it between your ear and your shoulder is a sure way to develop a stiff neck. Furthermore, if it is a tablet, place it on a stand or alternate your hands to hold it.

Woman with stiff neck
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Make yourself number 1

Nothing is as important as your health. Regardless of your workload, take frequent breaks. Even taking only one or two-minute breaks after every 20 to 30 minutes can prevent muscular problems. Don’t stay behind your desk during breaks; get up, move around and gently stretch your muscles. Remember, no job is worth living with chronic pain.

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