Expert Advice on Improving Your Home Work Station

When states began to issue stay-at-home orders in March and many people started working from home, everyone thought that it would be temporary.

Now, instead of bringing home their laptops every once in a while, large numbers of people are working 40 hours a week or more from home. After a month of making do with temporary home work stations, some people are starting to feel it—from aches and pains to a feeling of irritability that they just can’t shake.

“If someone’s feeling early onset of neck or back pain, numbness and tingling in their fingers, or swollen legs or feet, they should evaluate how their home work space is set up,” says Chad Henriksen, D.C., director of WorkSiteRight and ergonomics expert at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington, Minn. “Headaches and trouble focusing are also signs that people should make adjustments to their work space.”

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Henriksen offered the following advice on how to set up a home work station that’s both good for your body and your productivity:

Step 1: Take a Look at Your a Work Space

When we’re working from home during this time, there can be a lot going on—grocery deliveries, children doing distance learning, pets that need attention, noisy neighbors, unfinished home improvement projects—and if your home work station is in the center of the action, it may be hard to concentrate.

“It’s important to identify a space that offers you the fewest distractions,” says Dr. Henriksen. “You may not be able to separate yourself completely, but you should try to find a space that helps you focus.”

Step 2: Create a Daily Routine

Even though you may just be moving from your bed to your kitchen table, you should stick to a routine that’s similar to the one you had when you were going into the office every day.

“Even though you may not see anyone else during your work day, if you create and stick to a regular schedule, you’ll be more productive at work and feel better,” says Dr. Henriksen. “Every day, you should get up, get dressed, take scheduled breaks and, at the end of the day, you should walk away from your home work station. Not sticking to a regular workday routine is one of the biggest mistakes that people make while working from home.”

Henriksen also stressed the important of staying active throughout the work day. He recommends “micro-breaks” every 30 minutes that include stretching or movement.

“The breaks don’t have to be long,” says Dr. Henriksen. “Standing up and stretching for 10-15 seconds can do the trick.”

Step 3: Eat Well

If you’re not paying close attention, it’s easy to make extra trips to the refrigerator while working from home. Dr. Henriksen also stresses the importance of eating healthy foods and drinking plenty of water.

“If you create a meal plan, it helps you avoid poor food choices,” says Dr. Henriksen. Eating a balanced diet of whole foods is obviously important, and you eat even smarter by choosing foods that support immune system. Michele Renee, D.C., M.Ac., NWHSU’s director of Integrative Care, offers suggestions on everyday foods that boost your immunity.

Step 4: Look at How Your Work Station is Affecting Your Body

One of the most common things that people over look when setting up home work stations—especially when they are temporary—is how the set-up could put strain on the body.

According to Dr. Henriksen, to keep your spine aligned and not cause strain on your neck and shoulders, you should lean back in your chair and use the backrest.

home work station worksiteright northwestern health sciences university“There should be a vertical line running through your ear, your shoulder, and your hip,” says Dr. Henriksen. “Also, your arms and legs should be parallel to the floor, as close to a 90 degree angle at your elbows and knees as possible, and your eye should be in line with the screen. And if this isn’t possible with your setup, just take more micro-breaks to reduce strain on your body.”

If you want to improve your work station without purchasing any new furniture, there are plenty of household items that you can use, according to Dr. Henriksen.

“You can use books or a box to raise your computer monitor to the proper height, and use pillows for back support, if you need them,” says Dr. Henriksen. “An ironing board can be used as a standing work station, if you want to alternate between standing and sitting, and you can use a kitchen timer to remind yourself to take micro-breaks.”