If you've found yourself working from home unexpectedly in recent weeks, it may be in your best interest to swot up on some of the health and posture basics. Back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders are always a significant risk with computer work, especially without suitable ergonomic equipment - which most people don't have at home.
How do you stay focused on work in a place so familiar, so full of distractions and perhaps lacking the equipment you're used to having in the office? We're here to show you how working from home can be both productive and enjoyable - as long as you take certain practical steps to stay healthy, comfortable and safe.
1. Try to get hold of ergonomic equipment
If you use a laptop, you can create a portable ergonomic workstation with the following equipment:
- Laptop stand (to elevate your screen to eye level)
- Separate keyboard
- Separate mouse
Our 'create your own ergonomic workstation' laptop packs provide everything you need for comfortable, safe laptop use at home or on the go.
2. Know good posture and positioning guidelines so you can improvise
If you do not have access to ergonomic equipment, you can still improvise. Knowing how to align yourself correctly in front of your computer is vital.
Use household items to prop up your laptop screen - like files, or textbooks. Find a cushion to support your lumbar spine if your chair isn't very comfortable. Above all, keep changing position and moving around. Most sitting-related musculoskeletal injuries occur due to prolonged postures and repetitive movements.
3. Set out a room or area that's just for you
One of the biggest challenges people face working from home is finding a space that's free from distractions and comfortable enough to concentrate in. You may need to spend some time rearranging your home to get this right. Consider clearing unused corners and spare rooms to create a temporary office. Just having your own space will immediately help you to focus and get into work mode.
4. Set boundaries with family members
It's important that anyone you share your home with understands that just because you're at home, it doesn't mean you're necessarily available for impromptu chats or household chores. This doesn't mean being completely inflexible and antisocial. It can help to set out blocks of time that you dedicate to uninterrupted work, and take breaks around this time to spend with your loved-ones.
5. Move and stretch regularly
This isn't the same as exercise. Going for a run in the morning is all well and good, but what if you spend the rest of the day hunched over your laptop? Scientific studies show that frequent movement is just as important as higher intensity exercise for good health. Every twenty minutes - or more, stand up, shake your body out, take a few shoulder and neck rolls, and take a brisk walk. Even if it's just to the kitchen for a cup of tea.
6. Stay in touch with colleagues
If you're not used to homeworking, the sudden isolation can feel daunting. Don't be afraid to take advantage of IT systems and networks to stay in touch with your colleagues. It's important to try to keep up the socialising, even if it is virtual. You don't always have to talk about work. Sometimes the best ideas come to us in informal, entirely unrelated chats.
7. Switch off after hours
Keeping a good work-life balance can be tricky if your work is your home. How do you know when to switch off? With homeworking, the lines are blurry. To avoid burning out or feeling constantly anxious when you should be winding down with your loved-ones, be strict with yourself. Switch off your work devices when you finish. Disconnect your work email from your personal phone.
8. Find what works for you to stay calm and focused
We all respond differently to change and stress. It's important that you consider how you're reacting to the necessity of homeworking. Are you feeling lonely? Are you feeling anxious? Coping strategies are different for everyone. You could try a guided meditation online, explore some mindfulness and grounding techniques, give yoga a go, or get in touch with your creative side to find an outlet.
Remember you can always talk to your employer if you are struggling to cope. Download our infographic with 10 ways to combat workplace stress for more help.
9. Don't take on more than you can manage
During these strange and challenging times it may be tempting to take on more work than usual. Remember that the most important thing at the moment is your health and wellbeing. Don't run yourself down: you can only take on so much. Take each moment as it comes and focus on simply doing what you are able to.
10. Eat healthily and exercise regularly
At home it may be tempting to keep visiting the fridge for snacks. With immediate access to food and no colleagues around to hold you accountable, it's a slippery slope to feeling unhealthy. Try to avoid overeating sugary, fatty snacks. Stock up on healthy foods like nuts, seeds and fruit so you always have a better option available.
Keeping your body healthy will help you stay focused during these unsettling times.
By developing healthy working habits, moving lots, drinking plenty of water, and adopting good postures, you're less likely to suffer as a result of working at home. You'll find it easier to focus and be productive, and you may even be grateful for the comforting, relaxed surroundings. Good luck, and don't hesitate to get in touch with our DSE team for advice.