A few months ago, we enjoyed the occasional day working at home. It was almost a reward for being a good, conscientious, and productive worker, and actually felt a little bit…. naughty? Our homes were not usually the place we spent weekdays, and we enjoyed not having to make an effort with our appearance, we can wear what we like and sit in the garden with our whizzy laptops instead of braving the motorway or sitting next to the strange person on the bus.
When the lockdown started, permanent homeworking was still a novelty. And it went on… and on… and now it’s what we do – for many of us, our homes have become both our place of work and where we spend our off-duty time and this could well become the new normal for many people, so how do we balance those two aspects? And what about the physical aspects of homeworking? Do we need to upgrade our coffee-making facilities to cope with the increased demand? Do we need a separate room to use as an office? What about desks, chairs etc? How will we cope working and living in the same place? Let’s have a look at how we can make homeworking productive, comfortable and do-able.
Spending all day on a laptop, however whizzy, will eventually cause postural and maybe vision problems. The last thing you want is a dowager’s hump! There’s a few things we can do that will make things better:
Where you work
It’s easy to suggest that your home working area should be free of distractions, quiet and child-free. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have a house the size of Temple Newsam, where you can create an amazing work zone like something from Suits. In reality, you’re likely to have a temporary set-up such as a dining table, coffee table or even an ironing board. Sitting up on your bed anyone? Not good, what we need is proper support, after all it’s rare that you expect your poor body to spend several hours in the same position (unless you are one of those pretend statues).
Office chairs are made for the job but aren’t especially attractive in your carefully colour co-ordinated living room – and they can be very expensive. Same with desks, and how many of us have been rudely awoken by our computers, left set up on the desk we’ve carefully positioned in the corner of the bedroom suddenly deciding to burst into life and update themselves at 3am? Let’s have a look at some options.
Couches aren’t good workstations. They are designed for comfort and relaxing, not 8 hours of laptop bashing. If you’ve no option, try and use a cushion to support your lower back, this will also push you forward on the couch and support your legs. Use a tray (or a big book) to raise your laptop and try and stop you looking down at the screen (there’s that dowager’s hump again) and help you have relaxed forearms. Try and use a separate mouse instead of the laptop’s built in mouse. Take very regular breaks and have a good stretch – don’t just sit there for hours, however important the work is! Say “Alexa, set timer 55 minutes” and use those 5 minutes to make a cuppa, load the dishwasher, jog or walk around the house or, better still, get out into the garden – anything but screen work!
Dining tables (with matching chairs, naturally) are designed for eating (and drinking wine of course) not working. Chances are the chairs are too high (you’ll have to bend your wrists to reach the keyboard) or too low (bent wrists the other way, and pressure on your shoulders). Dining chairs aren’t really intended for long periods of use, generally with little cushioning and certainly not adjustable. If you must use one, try cushions for comfort and don’t forget those breaks!
It’s good to have the option to sit and stand while you work (sit/stand homeworking desks are the latest flashy office accessory, if you’ve got £1000 or so) but a kitchen worktop might be appropriate if you can lift the laptop screen so the top is level with your eyes – a use for all those cookbooks at last! If you can work sitting for 30-45 minutes and then standing for 10-15 mins your body will appreciate the change. Oh, and breaks!
Keeping your legs, back and neck still for long periods is typical when you’re concentrating on work matters. When you’re working though, your arms, wrists and hands are moving repetitively. This combination of stasis and movement can lead to long-term musculoskeletal problems.
You need to move your body – just like when you wake up after a night’s sleep, you really need a good stretch (and a coffee!). Try our TonedIn10 workouts which are individual 10 minute workouts and stretches perfect for those quick work breaks.
Ideally you should be using a separate screen and separate keyboard and mouse. That’s sometimes difficult but duplicating an office set-up at home will really help you. And don’t forget, if you work for a company, they should be completing workstation assessments and providing you with suitable equipment if they expect you to work from home for a significant time. If you work for yourself, treat yourself to a (tax-deductible) decent workstation set up.
Finally, think about your vision. Laptops aren’t made for long-term intensive use – think about a separate screen and keyboard again. If you find your eyes are suffering, try the 20/20/20 rule – every 20 minutes look away from your screen to an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This allows your eyes to adjust and recover from the strain of screen use.
The mental association between being at home and going into work can make you more productive as you are going somewhere to do something. Try to keep this mentality at home by setting an alarm, getting up, getting showered and dressed, making a coffee and starting work early just as you would do on a normal working day at the office. You wouldn’t lounge about for a couple of hours before going in! It’s as easy to get distracted by other things that need doing in the house, as it is to just sit too long before starting work, and you may lose the motivation to do anything before you even get started. When you need your first break, have some breakfast. You’re more likely to take those breaks if you need to eat or have something to do – put a load of washing on, hang it up, empty the dishwasher, make a drink or simply have a walk to stretch your legs and rest your eyes. You’ll find that doing these things in your breaks helps with your work productivity too – a busy person gets more done!
If you do have the space, try to create your office away from where you relax. If you have a spare bedroom, set up your office in there so that you can close the door at 5pm and not go back until 9am the next morning, or, at the very least, use a corner of the room. This gives you somewhere to go, a dedicated workspace area. As nobody fires on all cylinders constantly from 9am to 5pm, make sure that you save your most difficult tasks for when you’re feeling the most motivated. Learn when your most productive times are as this is harder when you’re on your own, working from home without the camaraderie and time restraints of working in an office. Meal prep like you would if you were going into the office – at work you wouldn’t spend time preparing a meal so make sure that you have something ready. Make sure you interact with other people throughout the day – you are working from home, not in outer space! Find some time to get outside, whether this is for a run, a walk or a change of scenery such as a visit to a coffee shop with your laptop.
It looks as though the pandemic may well have made working from home the new normal for a lot of people as companies are realising how well this works and how much money can be saved on office rents etc. Remember, home working is great but taking some simple actions can make it even better. Have a lovely week (and take breaks! ????).