Many people have found themselves glued to video conferencing, working from the kitchen table, sitting on poor quality chairs or huddled over laptops, he says. “Ergonomically it’s just a disaster.”
Common problems include tension headaches, neck pain, shoulder dysfunction, back pain and lumbar disc issues from prolonged sitting.
What to do about it
Some relatively small tweaks can make a huge difference, says Smith.
“Your environment really matters so making sure if possible, if you’re using a laptop, actually connecting a full size keyboard, connecting normal monitors to it, making sure that you’re on a proper, posturally supportive chair – not using just the kitchen chair.”
Looking down at your laptop or monitor? A few books stacked underneath can easily solve the problem.
Get off the couch
Who hasn’t been tempted to work from the ‘soft office’ (aka your bed) or the couch?
However Smith says this should be strictly limited to 30 minutes or less, and is really only good for pumping out a few quick emails. “If you sit there and stay there you are in a very, very dangerous position.”
… And your mobile phone
Likewise, avoid overdoing it on your phone.
“Sometimes they’ve got notifications which trigger you and then you get sucked into the vortex,” says Smith.
“From a musculoskeletal point of view, if you disconnect your notifications, you’re less likely to use your mobile device for all those email sessions.”
Back to the desk
Ergonomist Ted Dohrmann, the managing director at Dohrmann Consulting, says your home office chair should be close to the underneath of your desk. So if you can, adjust the height of your chair.
Dohrmann says if seated correctly you shouldn’t have to “raise your arms like a chicken” in order to work, which may result in sore shoulders or a sore neck.
For dangling legs, he suggests a footrest – or just grabbing a pile of books, or reams of paper – to rest your feet on and take the load off your lower back.
And that dodgy chair…
Travel blogger and IT worker Anna Sherchand recently woke up one morning and couldn’t move her neck.
“It obviously doesn’t happen in one day, it was probably months and months of working with a bad posture and it just affected me really badly,” she says.
Forced off the road because of COVID-19, Sherchand moved to Melbourne in October, when the choice of office chairs was extremely limited.
”I ordered a proper working chair but you had to assemble it yourself, and when I tried to do that, it just didn’t fit (with the desk), so I had to return it,” she says.
She’s been using a dining room chair since, with a new office chair now a priority. Dohrmann recommends looking out for two main features in any office chair – you should be able to adjust not only its height, but also the backrest to provide lumbar support.
Now that some people have returned to the office part-time, does it matter if your two set-ups aren’t the same?
“My strong recommendation, and this is what we do with our own team, is we expect them to have two of everything, other than their laptop,” says Smith.
“So if you’re going to work from home, even if you’re only going to do it two days a week, you need a good chair, you need the same set-up at home as you do at the office, and you’re just literally plugging your laptop in.”
Get up, stand up
Whatever you do, keep moving and stretching.
“Muscles need movement, so you can have the best work station set-up in the world, in your office, or in your house or on a submarine if you want, but humans need movement to be comfortable, and over time actually to avoid injury,” says Dohrmann.
And those long video calls? Dohrmann suggests keeping this catchy little saying in mind: “At the end of the Zoom, leave the room.”
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Larissa Ham is a reporter and digital producer.