The world has changed a lot over these past three years, in more ways than I have space to write about! One of the biggest changes we are all aware of, even if it doesn’t affect us individually, is the work from home shift.
During the pandemic, so many employers shifted to a remote workspace. The primary reason: not to have to shut down and lay off their employees! Statistics are variable, but some estimates predict that up to 35% of the workforce will be working from home post-pandemic. Estimates of individuals who could work from home are as high as 56%. Working from home has advantages. You don’t need to factor in a long or unpredictable commute, you don’t have distractions from co-workers, or can avoid interactions with less than desirable colleagues and your wardrobe can be drastically more comfortable! The downsides to working from home is that your housework is always staring you in the face, your four walls never really change and you can go days without having to leave home (thank you shipt and grubhub!) and it minimizes interactions with others outside of your family members. Then there is the big one, you are trading your (hopefully) comfortable and ergonomic workspace for, your dining room table, your kitchen island snack bar or couch. A few months of this probably didn’t affect anything, but this could take a toll 3 years later.
A quick google search for new and updated office equipment can be exciting and also terribly overwhelming. The online shopping wave has brought every imaginable item to our fingertips and then our doorstep. How do you even choose which option is best for you? How many hours of reviews do you read until you finally make a decision? How much money do you invest in the ideal work from home set up? Many of these questions are challenging to answer in a generic post. My goal is to provide you with some clear guidelines to help you tackle this overwhelming task and to create a space that works for you and your work!
When trying to decide what to change, figure out where the best place to work is. Ideally it will have minimal distractions, but also work in the flow of your family. Putting a desk in the living room would work fine when your family isn’t home, but if you still need to work when the kids get home from school might mean you need a separate room, with a door. Once that is settled, if you don’t need lots of drawers or filing space, you could get away with a table or a minimalist desk. This would cut down on the footprint and could also serve as a multifunction space! Desk chairs can be pretty but should always be comfortable. It’s ideal to be able to sit in them and test them out. They should have adjustable features for the armrest and overall height. When trying out the chair with your desk, you also need to be able to get the chair close enough to your work space, seems like a no brainer, but it happens!. Technology can be your friend and there are other great tech features you can consider such as adding bluetooth headsets or headphones to your phone calls or zoom meetings. This will avoid that prolonged kink in your neck or allow you to move around and change positions. A wireless keyboard or mouse can further improve your set up. One of the biggest changes that has occurred in the past 10 years is the addition of a sit to stand desk. This feature can be a stand alone desk that allows transition between a sitting and standing position. You can also purchase a desk extension that sits on top of your existing desk and allows for this change in position. Many of my patients have found this to be helpful for allowing position changes and minimizing aggravations from being in one position for too long.
A simple change you can make to your work space is adding movement! If you are mostly confined to your desk for the majority of your work day, find small ways to fit movement into your day. Kiersten has suggested the idea of a “walking commute” where you take a short walk around your neighborhood before you go to work. Other ideas include:
I hope some of these ergonomic adjustments can get you thinking about how to maximize your workspace and minimize pain and discomfort. Start small, if there is something that doesn’t feel comfortable to you, focus on fixing that first. If you have any physical discomfort while you're working, consider seeing a medical professional. I will always recommend physical or occupational therapy, but massage therapy or a chiropractor are options as well. Also many therapy clinics offer ergonomic assessments for a fee. Whatever you do, do something! Don’t feel like you have to break the bank to make a change. Perhaps the easiest thing you can do is add movement.
Katie Larsen, DPT, CertMDT
Physical Therapist, Wife, Mom, Friend and lover of the outdoors and physical activity
I am a passionate, adventure-seeking, fitness entrepreneur who loves having fun, my family and friends, a challenge, and creating a positive impact (to name a few :))!