The whole COVID-19 situation found 4 in 10 Kiwis working from home in level 4 and 3 in 2020. In the beginning, it might have seemed great, but we soon found out that not having our usual workstation around us meant working from home wasn’t as enjoyable as originally thought.

And it wasn’t just having to put up with a kitchen chair instead of our comfortable office chair at work. It was having to manage the isolation, wrangling kids while working, and Zoom calls instead of being there in person that took a toll on our mental health as well.

Do we have to go back to the office?

As 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic has gone on, many businesses have returned to work, but others have been flexible, allowing staff to work from home some or part of the time.

While initially, working from the kitchen table was doable, as time went on we’ve had to adapt from short-term working from home strategies to working out how to stay well in the long-term as we work from home.

Setting up a home office for long-term use

Working from home can increase job satisfaction and productivity, but a poorly set up home office or workstation can cause physical problems that reduce job satisfaction and productivity. Compromising on desks, chairs, postures and routines can all cause pain, discomfort or an injury.

Here’s how to set up your home office for longer-term use. If you’re managing a team who now work from home, talk with them about how you can support them with equipment that will keep them safe, productive and injury-free in this new working environment.

How to set up your chair to work from home

  • It’s time to admit the dining room chair just isn’t cutting it. If you’re going to be working from home regularly, it’s time to invest in an office chair so you can adjust it to the right height for your desk or table.
  • It’s worth talking to your manager to see if they’ll assist you with providing an appropriate chair, or find one at an office furniture store.
  • Try to use a chair without arms. Chair arms may stop you getting as close to the desk as you comfortably need to. So you can over-stretch and hurt your back.
  • Make sure your arms are level with your keyboard when your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. This will help reduce strain on your shoulders, wrist and forearms.
  • If by making this all happen, your feet aren’t comfy on the floor, use a box or file to create a footstool.
  • No office chair? Pop some cushions on your dining room chair and a rolled-up towel behind your lower back to give support.

How to set up your desk or table for working from home

When you first started working from home, you probably used a kitchen table or coffee table. Not many people had a desk, let alone an adjustable desk or standing desk. Now we’re setting up for longer-term working from home, it’s good to make some changes.

  • Make sure your desk is at the right height. First, adjust your chair, so you’re sitting comfortably (see the section above). Now change the desk height, so the top of it is level with your elbows.
  • Make adjustments by placing books or raising blocks under the desk legs, or raising your computer or laptop on a book or block.
  • You can buy standing desk frames that sit on top of your table that will help you get your computer at the right height.

Setting up your computer monitor or laptop at home

  • The top of your computer monitor should be at eye level and about an arm’s length away.
  • Use a stack of books, files or boxes to raise your monitor if it’s too low.
  • If you use a laptop, raise it, so it’s the right height and invest in a Bluetooth or wireless mouse and keyboard to give you the most control over your working position, reducing back and neck pain.
  • You might be working at a different position when you’re in the office, so don’t forget to get your glasses checked if you wear them. Transitional or progressive lenses may help you see correctly without having to tip your head to see your screens properly, reducing neck pain.

Setting up your mouse and keyboard for working from home

By the time you’ve set up your chair, desk and monitor, it’s easy to forget about your keyboard and mouse. But having to stretch to use them can cause pain and discomfort. And if you’re going to be working from home long-term consistently, or even regularly a few days a week, it’s these little home workstation tweaks that can make all the difference.

  • For long-term use, ditch the tracker pad on your laptop and invest in a separate keyboard and mouse. Not only will it help prevent injury and discomfort, but it will also improve your productivity.
  • Position your mouse close to your keyboard and wrist to prevent over-stretching that may cause pain in your neck, shoulders and arms.

Staying physically well while working at home

Now you’ve got your workstation set up for working from home to prevent physical injury, it’s time to look at the rest of your physical health.

Correctly setting up your home workstation will undoubtedly reduce the risk of pain, discomfort and injury. Here are some other tips that will help you stay physically well when working from home:

  • Take regular breaks from sitting down. Try to stand up and have a little activity every half hour. At the office, you might get up several times an hour to go and deliver something, walk to the bathroom, go to see a colleague or walk to a meeting. These little bits of exercise add up. Set a timer to remind you to walk around the house and take a break and stretch.
  • Take micro-pauses. Every few minutes take a little pause to stretch your hands and fingers, shake out your arms or do some neck stretches. Don’t forget to rest your eyes by looking into the distance and refocusing.
  • Stand up, sit down. We’re not designed to sit in one position. Vary your position during the day. Put your laptop on a benchtop to work standing up in the morning and sit later in the day. Walk around the house on a phone call rather than sitting still.
  • Drink plenty of water, but stop snacking! Working in the kitchen can mean the temptation is right there. And believe us, you’re not hungry. You’re bored, frustrated, or stuck and needing a distraction. Be aware of what and when you’re eating and drinking, as well as why you’re eating. Before you hit the pantry, ask yourself “Am I really hungry?” and give yourself an honest answer. It can be useful to know what’s triggering you to eat.

Staying mentally well while working from home

Physical health is all very well, but we need to be mentally prepared for working from home. Even if it’s just for one or two days a week.

Here are some tips for protecting your mental health:

  • Set a work-day routine. Sticking to a routine can help us adjust to working from home days. Keep to a similar pattern as you would at the office. And make sure you take a full lunch break.
  • Keep a work-life balance. If you can put your home office in a separate room, do it. Shut the door when the day is done, so you’re not tempted to sneak back in and “just get something finished”. Make sure you treat your workplace as the office. Shut the door at 5 pm and don’t go back in until 8.30 am.
  • Keep in touch. If you manage a team where individuals work from home, set up regular get-togethers to make sure everyone is feeling connected and not left out. If you’re working from home, make time to connect with others at work. On Zoom, chat apps or email.
  • Set boundaries. Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you’ll answer emails at 10 pm on a Friday night. Put your out-of-office reply and use it. Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you’re available on social media all day. Turn off alerts and focus on the task at hand.
  • Find out what kind of person you are. Some people are people-people. They thrive with people around them. Working from home, alone, for extended periods may cause stress, anxiety and depression. Other people are quite happy to be on their own. It can help find out what kind of person you are and set up situations to prevent you from feeling isolated.

Working from home may be a choice or something we have to do because of COVID-19. Whether you’re at home or at work, TBI Health is the experts in helping you keep your staff well at work.

We can help you with strategies and provide advice to help your staff in the workplace or work from home. We can provide advice both in-person or online via secure video technology (Clinic in the Cloud – Telehealth services).

Call us today on 0800 824 432 (ext. 3) to talk with one of our Well at Work advisors.

Share this article with your employees who are working at home, to help them stay well.