Maybe you’ve spent the last week figuring out how to set yourself up in a home office, along with your spouse’s new home office, and your kids’ new school stations. Or maybe you’re a wishful thinker, and have just taken over the kitchen counter, dining room table, family room sofa and various beds.

First tip for working (or schooling) at home: Set Up A Specific Space For It.

You can pull it off spread out around the house for a few days, but your productivity will vastly improve if you have a designated area or room to do your work. The dining room table works fine if you don’t dine on it daily, and can accommodate two people’s separate work areas if need be. Just ask all the folks whose offices have gone to shared & communal work spaces…your earbuds are your best friend.

Finding the space is hard enough, not to mention desks or what can act as desks, desk chairs or what can act as desk chairs, monitors, keyboards, etc. Just getting set up has been a real challenge for most of us, but getting set up so your back doesn’t ache at the end of the day, and your neck isn’t permanently cricked, that’s a whole different ballgame. This may last a while, and it’s not like we are going to refurnish our homes to look like a bunch of cubicles.

Tip #2: Consider a Standing Desk

I’ve used a makeshift standing desk for over 5 years. It’s just a regular desk with a wooden box set up to raise the monitor to eye level while standing and another to raise my keyboard to the right height for typing while standing. Nothing fancy, 100% easy to operate, and easy to break down when company comes.

Depending on your height, your kitchen counter can be a good standing desk. Honestly, I’ve used the master bath vanity with a box on it when vacationing. Not only are standing desks a LOT better for you, they open up the options all around the house AND they mean you don’t have to buy a good desk chair. However, there are a few things you need to rig up to make your standing (or sitting) desk work best ergonomically.

  • Neutral head and neck position, versus neck turned, or head thrust forward, or looking down at laptop. This means you need to have your screen at eye level.
  • Back relaxed and supported with the spine in a neutral position
  • Upper arms close to the body, elbows flexed to a 90 degree or slightly greater (up to 120 degree) angle
  • Wrists in a neutral (straight) position

These latter two are most easily done by either using your laptop as your screen/monitor with a separate, wireless keypad, or a monitor and keypad. It’s hard to make it work without one or the other. Your laptop will not do for long term work.

Tip #3 The Desk Chair is Key

You cannot work from the sofa. You can take working breaks on the sofa, but your back and neck cannot handle hours at a time on such a soft, non-supportive surface, looking down at your laptop. Honestly, you may find most of the “sitting” chairs in your house are just not good for office work. An ergonomic office chair with lumbar pillow and adjustable height and arms is going to be the best option if this goes on for weeks. Early on in my working from home career, I gave myself positional vertigo by sitting for hours in a super stylish but totally wrong desk chair. Don’t do it.

Interestingly, the jury’s out on using an exercise ball instead of a chair, although it seems like it’s better than a stationary chair, and probably cheaper. Plus easier to repurpose once the sheltering in place is over.

Tip #4 Screen and Keyboards at the Right Heights

Even in the best office set up, your neck still hurts after hours of working. So at home, a makeshift situation could spell disaster. And again, here your laptop is NOT your friend. OrthoCarolina recommends:

Monitors: Your computer monitor should be placed at arms length (approximately 18”) away, directly in front of you. The top of the screen should be at or slightly below eye level. You will need to lower the monitor a few inches if you wear bifocals or progressive lenses. The key is to find a monitor height that allows you to keep a neutral head and neck position versus constantly tilting your head up or down, thus creating neck strain and pain.

Keyboard and Mouse: Position the keyboard directly in front of the monitor. The height of the desk, standing table, or keyboard tray should allow you to access the keyboard and mouse with the neutral postures outlined above (shoulders relaxed, elbows at 90 to 120 degrees, wrists straight). A wrist rest can be used if needed to help position the wrists in neutral. Position the mouse close to the keyboard to avoid excessive reaching as well as excessive side to side motion of the wrist. Make sure the mouse fits your hand comfortably and that you keep your hand relaxed.

More Thoughts On Working From Home

We’re just getting started on this y’all. Both in that we’re all just starting on what will certainly be at minimum several weeks of stay at home. And in that there’s a lot more info to come and share from the pro’s on maximizing your at home work time and office. Scoop is 100% virtual, so all the scoop girls work from home. We’ve got lots of tips to share, so stay tuned.

And stay home. And safe. And healthy.