• Claire Tompsett

Setting up your home office

As you know, we are in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, and all of a sudden our office and the kids school desk, has moved to our lounge room! We don't know how long we will 'have' to work from home, or the landscape of the office/home working ratio following the current circumstances.


So, if your home set up looks like this....

.... then we need to chat!


Why should you care?

Setting up your home office properly can decrease fatigue, increase productivity and decrease muscle tension and strain that can lead to postural problems and injuries. 

We're likely sitting even longer than we did when we had to commute to the office. A poor workstation set up can lead to:

  • Eye strain and headaches

  • Lower back pain

  • Muscle tension in the neck and upper back

  • Wrist/elbow pain

  • Fatigue

  • Nausea

  • 'Unexplained' injuries during training or activities of daily living

"I have had many strength clients come to me in the end stage rehab process from an injury 'caused' by making a cup of tea, or getting out of the car. It's not usually the final act that causes the bulging disc for example, rather daily movements and postures that have caused abnormal muscle tone or tension, that has led to the injury"


Caught in the act

What causes poor posture?

Do you even know if you have poor posture?
  • Sitting too long

  • Bad habits

  • Lack of awareness

  • Poor workstation set up

  • Work tasks

  • Fatigue

  • Lack of muscle endurance

  • Lack of mobility and stability in the joints



How does good posture help?

If you ticked 'yes' to any of the symptoms above, the good news is that 'bad' posture is reversible, no matter how long you've had that posture for. 

Starting to move towards better posture will:

  • Increase circulation and breathing

  • Decrease muscle tension

  • Reduce fatigue and pain

  • Prevent abnormal wearing of joint surfaces which can lead to chronic pain such as arthritis (which is not reversible)

  • Prevent the spine from being fixed in abnormal positions

  • Increase energy and productivity

If you've had chronic poor posture, you may not even realise you're fatigued or in pain! It's when we feel energetic and pain free that we realise we were suffering before!


What does good workstation posture feel like?

It may look slightly different for everyone depending on your proportions, your work requirements, and availability of equipment and resources.  

In general, good workstation posture ensures you are maintaining a neutral spine°

  • Chin tucked, neck not 'poking' forward

  • Close enough to use the keyboard easily

  • Legs fit comfortably under the desk

  • Shoulders are relaxed and elbows are slightly higher than wrists

  • The screen is an arm lengths away

  • Lower back is supported

  • Your bum is at the back of the seat

  • Your feet are flat on the ground, or on a foot stool, not crossed

  • Your hips and knees are at 90°


What do I need to do to improve my home office without setting up a commercial office?

You don't need to invest a huge deal of money or space in improving your home workstation set up.   

There are many things we could do to create the 'perfect' set up. But here are a few things you can do TODAY that will improve your posture, energy and productivity!




1. If you're working from a lap top, get a seperate keyboard and mouse so that you can lift the screen to eye height (on top of books), and move it an arms length away, while keeping the keyboard and mouse close


2. Make sure your legs fit easily under the desk/table and feet are flat on the floor. We don't always have adjustable tables and chairs at home. You can use a cushion on a chair to lift you up, or books or bricks under the table to lift it up.


3. Go for regular walks. We've lost our commute which may have involved walking to the bus, we've lost our coffee meetings, lunch breaks and social breaks. Try and match your previous daily movement. A 10-15 minute walk before you sit at your desk for the day, a 5 minute walk mid morning, a half hour lunch break - outside is even better, walk and talk on the phone (bluetooth earphones are a bonus), and a 10-15 minute walk after you log off. This should be on top of your daily virtual workouts with us ;-)


4. Drink lots of water. Not only will this make you stand up and pee more, but if you're feeling thirsty, it means your cartilage, muscles and joints are dehydrated, which is going to reduce the amount of space between your bones and increase pressure on the joint surfaces. It also means your brain is dehydrated which can lead to you feely "foggy" and tired.


I want to set it up properly from top to toe

Want to go a step further? Here is the textbook set up of the perfect workstation  

Desk - clear all the clutter!

  • Sit in the middle of the desk with the screen directly in front of you

  • Avoid storing things under the desk that will clutter the leg space

Chair

  • An adjustable chair is ideal, otherwise you will need more props to get into the right position

  • Height - adjust seat height so the forearms are horizontal or slightly down, wrists are neutral and feet can sit flat on the ground

  • Foot rests are recommended for those who are vertically challenged and their feet don't touch the ground, or those who are tempted to tuck their feet under the chair

  • Seat slope should be horizontal to the ground

  • Seat depth should support at least 2/3 of your legs, allowing at least a 2 finger gap between the leg and chair. If not, consider a lumber support or rolled up towel

  • Arm rests are only recommended if they're adjustable

  • Backrest should be set at around 100° to avoid slumping or slouching

Screen

  • Distance- Too far away = eye strain and neck poke. Too close = slouching. Once chair is set up properly, the screen should be an arms length away

  • Height - you should be looking at the top 1/3 of the screen, lift it up with books if needed

  • Position - right in front of you, to the left or right = neck and trunk rotation.

  • Laptops - Screen is too low and close, and the keyboard is too small. Consider getting a seperate keyboard and mouse and just use the laptop screen



Keyboard

  • Position - directly in front of you, about 5cm in from the edge of the table

  • Angle - should leave the wrists in a neutral position. Touch typers should have a flat keyboard, "hunt and peck" typers (i.e. using one finger at a time) should have the tabs lifted to create an angled keyboard.

Mouse

  • Position - right next to the keyboard. Towards the end of the day it likely creeps away from you, keep resetting it.

  • Avoid extending the arm too far away, switching sides regularly is ideal - and will train the brain!

Phone

  • Avoid holding the phone between your ear and your shoulder

  • Landline - if you're on the phone a lot, move it close to your preferred side, an ear piece is ideal

  • Mobile phone - if you use it a lot for phone calls, consider bluetooth ear buds

Lighting & glare

  • Poor light can cause squinting, eye strain and headaches

  • Your workstation should be at a right angle to a natural light source, if not, source some blinds to reduce glare.

  • Overhead lights or lamps are ideal

I could have given you a lot more detail, but this is a great start! If you have any more questions, don't be afraid to send me a picture of your set up and I can give you some tips!

claire@nsrunningfitness.com.au



About the Author:

Claire is an Exercise and Sports Scientist and head coach at North Shore Running and Outdoor Fitness. Her background in strength and conditioning and research into motor control has led to an array of experiences including ergonomic set ups of workstations, cars and even mining trucks!

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