In March 2020, cubicle warriors across the country rushed to turn their home offices, kitchen tables, and even bedrooms into functioning (and Zoom-worthy) workspaces while they waited patiently for the go-ahead to return to their offices. Now, almost a year and a half after our country’s first COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, many people are still working remotely — and many experts expect this new way of working to continue. Hundreds of thousands of former office workers will never return to an office (or may return for only part of the workweek).
Are you one of those workers? As we move toward this future, now might be an excellent time to reevaluate your workspace and your routine. By making a few simple adjustments, you can turn your home office into a more ergonomically friendly area that can benefit you both mentally and physically.
“Invest in a good workstation for your regular home setup to make sure you’re in the best ergonomic position possible to decrease risk of injuries,” recommends Laura Currens, DPT. “I love standing desks because they can help you move around during your day.”
Sarah Court, DPT, couldn’t agree more. She says that getting up for frequent stretch breaks and walks are also great ways to get the blood flowing.
“Get up as often as possible,” she adds. “Set a timer for a reasonable break time and stick to it. Stand up, do a lap, drink some water, stretch — you’ll feel better!”
Here are some more tips on staying active during your workweek.
When it comes to working from home, it’s all about mixing things up.
“You’re not always at your desk when you’re at your office, and the same can be true for home,” Court says. “Create a few different ‘office’ locations around your house if you can. For example, one where you’re sitting at a table, one where you’re standing at a counter…. This gets you to move around instead of sitting in one place for eight hours.”
She also recommends switching up your sitting style.
“Variety is your friend,” she stresses. “Tuck a foot under your leg, change your leg cross, put a foot up on a yoga block or a book, and so on. The same goes for standing. Use a high stool to perch or put a foot up on a block.”
Speaking of standing, both Currens and Court stress the importance of getting up from a seated position frequently.
“Standing in itself is not automatically healthier than sitting,” Court points out, “especially if you stand in the same position for eight hours.”
However, she does note that standing increases a person’s tendency to shift around, which is ideal.
“Move in small or big ways as often as possible throughout the day — even if it’s just weight shifting side-to-side while standing,” she advises.
Currens adds, “You can use an exercise ball to sit for part of the day, or mix it up by doing hip marches or standing hip exercises while standing to avoid being too static.”
Don’t have a standing desk? A tall counter or a stack of books makes a great substitute.
Keeping your blood flowing will help you keep your energy levels up.
“Doing easy movements to get blood flowing, like wrist circles, shoulder circles, spine twists, hip circles, and ankle pumps, can help you wake up and feel good,” Court says.
Currens suggests turning meetings into times to move.
“You can do seated calf raises, pelvic tilts, scapular squeezes, marches, and arch strengthening exercises during Zoom meetings,” she recommends. “Or do yoga toes, which is lifting your big toes up while moving the other toes down. Repeat on the other side.”
Yoga balls are also a great way to keep things moving.
“You can do simple pelvic tilts forward, backwards, and side-to-side while sitting. Your core has to be on to maintain balance. You can also do shoulder rolls and scapular squeezes, which is squeezing your shoulder blades down and back.”
“To maintain a proper sitting posture, you should be on your sitting bones with your belly relaxed, your ribs down —not flared — and your neck in a neutral alignment,” says Currens. “Avoid having your head come forward and into a slouching posture.”
She also recommends:
• Checking your keyboard positioning to avoid over-stressing your wrists.
• Keeping items you regularly use in front of you to avoid constant twisting of your torso to grab your phone, water, etc.
• Using a headset or speakerphone if you make a lot of phone calls so you avoid holding the phone to the side of your neck.
• Adjusting your chair height to make sure your knees are in alignment with your hips. If you are short in stature, a stool can help if you’re unable to adjust the chair properly.
(Read more about proper posture when sitting and typing.) Always remember to avoid clenching your muscles. The belly needs to relax to get good inhales throughout the day so you shouldn't be holding it tight all the time.
Take time to stretch and check in with your body throughout the day.
“I recommend just getting up and walking around or stretching whenever you can get away with it during work,” Court says. “Like if you’re listening to a conference call but don’t have to participate, or if you’re in a Zoom meeting but can turn off your camera.”
And lastly, make sure you find a way to unwind after being at your workstation.
“Lie down with a foam roller along your spine, knees bent and feet on the floor, and let your arms fall out to the sides,” Court suggests. “It reverses the curled-forward shape from being on a computer, and it’s super relaxing.”
Don’t have a foam roller? Roll up a blanket and put a pillow under your head before zoning out for a few minutes.
Want more tips? We also asked our Carbon Health colleagues for theirs. Check out “Discovering New Rituals and Routines While Working from Home.”