Nichola Adams, Msc Health Ergonomics, Founder of Inspired Ergonomics
I am a Health ergonomist and the founder of Inspired Ergonomics. For the last 14 years, I have specialised in reducing and preventing back pain in the workplace (whether that is in the office or at home). My consultancy services are offered remotely or in person, through one to one home working assessments and workshops. I can help make your company a better place to work, wherever your employees are working from. With back pain being one of the leading causes of sick leave, ergonomic interventions provide a rapid ROI in terms of reduced sick leave and productivity levels and demonstrate to your employees that you care for their health and wellbeing.
During lockdown, I have been conducting a lot of homeworking assessments and workshops, to help ease the discomfort of all those new to homeworking. Even for those who had already been working from home, the lack of meetings and work events that occur outside of the home means that we have been working far more hours on our computers than ever before. I know that is certainly the case for me, and I really do miss the wonderful face to face interaction I had with my ergonomic workstation assessment visits. Online meetings just isn’t the same, but I am grateful that I can still help people using this format.
With return to work now being the focus, it is becoming clear how complex returning to work will actually be. Not only will companies have to operate on a reduced occupancy level to ensure social distancing can be adhered to, but they also need to work out how to ensure the workplace is safe for those in the office. Many companies are therefore advising that they will continue to operate a working from home system, at least in some sort of blended form, for the foreseeable future.
However, from the online consultations, I am conducting, it is becoming very apparent that, after three months of home working, a lot of people are struggling with their set up at home. If you then add in the extra stress factors of isolation or indeed the challenges of trying to find a quiet place to work in a busy home, with home-schooled children, the combination of stress, reduced exercise levels and a poor workstation set up provide a perfect set of increased back pain risk factors!
I am never quite sure what to expect during the assessment call. I think I have seen it all, from ironing board desks to coffee table setups. Whilst this may not cause too many back issues initially, with the continuation of home working for the foreseeable future, it is really important to set up your workstation in a healthy, more sustainable way. The vast majority of people I see started off working at their dining tables and chairs and now realise the importance of having a comfortable office chair, at the very least. However, if you are on a limited budget, there are always adaptations you can make to ease your discomfort levels and protect your back for the future. So, I have included some top tips to help you to get more comfortable:
1. The Laptop
My number one bugbear is the laptop. I have seen so many struggling with neck, shoulder and back issues caused from slouching over their laptop for hours at a time. It is absolutely key to raise the laptop if you are using it for any length of time and to then use a separate keyboard and mouse. If you just raised it without these additions, you have to reach up to use the laptop keyboard and mouse. By having a separate keyboard and mouse you can have the laptop at eye height and the keyboard and mouse on the table, allowing you to relax your shoulders and arms, keeping the wrists in a nice straight position too. If your wrists are continuously bent up this can cause tension build up in this delicate area.
To raise the laptop, you can use books or boxes. However, I use a NEXSTAND. It is a really cost-effective way that allows you to adjust the laptop and screen angle to the exact height that you need. This is really useful for finding the ideal camera position for those online conference calls and to then place it back into the correct position for your usual work.
2. Second Screen Position
If you are using the laptop as a second screen, along with a monitor, always place it next to the monitor rather than in front of it. If you are using the screens equally, place them in a central v position, to reduce too much of a twist of your neck when looking at either screen. This is where a taller laptop riser, like the NEXSTAND, can come in use, as you can raise the laptop higher than most risers. The rule of thumb is to have the top of the screen at eye level. The same applies if you are using two screens.
3. Chair Height
Always ensure that you are sitting at the right height for the table. The most important aspect is to have your arms level with the keyboard. If your arms are too low, you may subconsciously have to lift up your arms to type or to abduct your wrists. So, if your chair is too low, try raising it.If it is a fixed height chair, try putting some cushions on the top of the seat to raise your sitting height.If this means that your feet are off the ground, you can use a footrest to support them, or another cushion or box.
4. Lumbar Support
It is essential to support your lower back curve at the right height and depth for your back shape. If you are using a dining chair, you can use a cushion behind your back. If budget will allow, however, it is worth investing in an inflatable lumbar support that you can strap on to the back of the chair so that it is at the right height and then inflated to the right depth for your back.
If the chair is just not supportive enough, whatever you do, it is well worth investing in a good ergonomic office chair, or see if your company will provide you with one from the office.
5. Standing Breaks
It is essential to take regular breaks from sitting. This helps to keep your tissues and muscles nourished and for the oxygen to move around your body, helping your productivity as well. The general guide is to try and stand every 30 to 40 minutes and at the very least, once an hour. If you are struggling to break away from work, it is important to know that actually just the act of standing is beneficial. If you can work standing up at a higher surface for a while, even better. Remember that variety is the key and listen to your body.
6. Eye Breaks
Taking regular eye breaks from the screen can help with eye fatigue. You can follow the 20 20 20 rule which is to look out into the distance, around 20 yards, every 20 minutes for 20 seconds.
We are running regular online workshops as well as individual workstation assessments to help those who are struggling with working from home. We can help identify what key, often simple, but highly effective changes can transform your comfort levels and lower your risk of developing back pain. If you do need a change of equipment, we can provide you with expert advice to help you avoid making expensive purchasing mistakes and ensure you buy the product that solves your own particular issue.