Setting up your home workspace – is yours a blessed relief from the office or a total curse?

Here we are nearly six months into the 2021 lockdown, and with still no signs that office workers are going to go back to full-time work any time soon. For some people, this may be a joy – maybe they have been pushing for home working for ages, and now they have proved it is possible, they can put a strong case for making this a permanent thing.

For others though, home working is not ideal, and one of the main reasons for that, may be the comfort or otherwise of your home workstation and the equipment you have. Companies may do their best to provide ergonomic workstations for employees in the office environment, but at home, most of us just have to muddle through.

If you feel like the place you are working in at home is not ideal, and if it looks like it is going to continue for some time yet, then take a look at this video, and you may get some tips for small improvements you could make. Or, if you prefer to read, then a transcript is provided below.

Today I’m with Amanda Harris, the founder of The Physio Company. Amanda is going to be talking to us about setting up your home workstation for health and wellbeing. I know that quite a lot of you are working from home and maybe you find that you’ve got a lot more people working from your home than usual. This is all about trying to make sure that everybody who’s working from home has got a comfortable, safe, healthy space to work in.

Tell me a little bit about the Physio Company and what you do

I set up the Physio Company twenty-nine years ago now, and we have two branches within this physiotherapy firm based in London and the Surrey area. And the other part of the business is workstation assessments. Over the last couple of years. we’ve developed The Desk Test which is a legally compliant workstation assessment to make sure everyone can sit comfortably without pain.

I expect you’re having to do a few more of those now that people are working more often from their home workspaces?

Yes, definitely. Over the last year, we’ve seen over 2000 people, people working from home with many musculoskeletal difficulties and just the challenges of working from home with other members of the family also working from home. And we’ve been used to doing workstation assessments in the office, but working from home has many more challenges. So it’s been a really interesting time. And you have to think quite creatively about helping people sit in smaller spaces at home.

What sort of things have you discovered that are different from people when they’re working from home as compared to working in an office?

So the big thing is that actually people aren’t moving as much as when they’re in the office. I always thought that being in an office was a  sedentary occupation, but it turns out it’s not, because of the commute. Then you walk into meetings, you walk to get coffee, or walk in to chat with colleagues. When you’re working from home, you’re very much based in one space, and people find it much more challenging.

So we’re seeing quite interesting things. Quite a lot of back and neck pain, as you might imagine, but even in people who are regular runners and are still running, quite a lot of them are getting Achilles pain and other ligament injuries, just because the body is a little bit deconditioned. And so those tendons are not working as well as they used to.

We’re also seeing a little bit of RSI as well, which is my expertise, and I haven’t really seen a lot of it in the last 10 years. So that’s quite troubling.

What do you think is causing that?

I think it’s mainly poor desk set up, people are working from laptops, not a screen at the right height and some people are working on the laptop keyboard, which is quite small. There’s quite a big difference in height when you working at a dining table with a dining chair, compared to a desk and an office chair – often as much as four centimetres. A lot of people don’t realise this, and are then shrugging their shoulders up to get their hands to the right height for the keyboard.

Dining tables are a little bit higher. So this kind of constant tension in the shoulders, sets up quite a lot of issues around the neck and the nerves that come from the neck to the hands, and then with a small keyboard, there can be other issues with the the hands. There are a lot of postural problems, a lot of lack of movement problems.

What other sorts of injuries and conditions can can you get from setting up your home workstation incorrectly?

The biggest one really is pain in the neck and back. And I’ve seen a lot of workstations where people are not able to sit back in the chair and get the right back support. And the biggest thing really is the laptop – that can be quite simply rectified by putting the laptop on a stand with a separate keyboard and mouse to get the screen at the right height. A lot of people are hunched over their laptop, without proper support from their chair and without regular movements.

What about a standing desk, is that a good idea? I’ve heard some people like to use those.

So there’s no research that actually shown that standing desks are any different actually in terms of back pain, neck pain and sitting. But the good thing about a standing desk is it encourages you to move if it is used correctly, quickly and have a constant change of posture, sitting, standing. They may be useful for someone who has a back pain that might be caused by a disc, in which case sitting can be quite uncomfortable, but in general, I think a standing desk would take up a lot of space in a home.

But for office use, I think it’s best just to really try and encourage lots of movement during the day, just not moving around the house. You can perhaps take a phone call rather than Zoom and walk around with your phone. That movement is the key. And movement is what has been lacking.

Is there a maximum amount of time that you would recommend people be sat at their desk?

We tend to say 50 minutes, then have a 10-minute break every hour if you can. But there are quite simple exercises that we can show people sitting at their desks, which will encourage a little bit of change and muscle activity as well. Shrugging your shoulders rolling your shoulders and looking left and right. Maybe you could turn your camera off on Zoom calls and move a bit – even dance in your chair.

Tell me more about the Desk Test. This is a workstation assessment that you can do for home workers?

Yes, we can do The Desk Test remotely for individuals, and it’s something that works really well online. So we ask for a photograph of you working, taken from the side, that we see a few days in advance and analyse, and then we meet on Zoom and analyse the space, the height, the reach and the light, the four fundamentals of the workstation.

And if we see that any of those factors are not as they should be, we can then make adjustments to the workstation to help the client’s posture. We can look at any repetitive movements they might be doing, which can lead to other types of problems, We’ll take about the light, natural light, that’s usually one great thing about working from home, that there’s more natural light compared to an office environment, then we talk about eye health and general well-being as well, and often quite simple adjustments in workstations can make an enormous difference.

And what we find is people are just focusing on their work and they don’t look objectively at themselves. And simple changes can make a big difference. If people do end up needing more specific things, we can advise on equipment as well.

setting up your home workspace

I think a lot of people have been thrown into homeworking over the last year or so, but now we’re getting to the point where people have got to decide whether they’re going to go back to the office or whether they’re going to carry on working from home. So I suppose you would recommend investing in your workstation and making changes if people are planning to do this long term?

Yes. I think if you can, a designated workspace is really important. And it’s not just setting up a workstation. It’s mental transitions, going from your home life with children and all the things, to sitting at a workstation. That’s where you’re going to work, and you need to make that mental shift. Focus on your work here. And then at the end of the day, you can go back to your home life as well. And I think it can still work in a small space.

What we encourage people to do is even if you are working at the kitchen table, make sure you put your computer away, and when you’re eating at the same table, eat in a different chair and turn off the email notifications.

If you end up working in the in the evening, use a blue light filter, all those things that overstimulate your brain, so you can wind down at the end of the day. Try to have a great sleep, because sleep obviously is the regeneration process for the brain and so important for resetting the brain, for improving our immunity. And we obviously do much better when we get a good night’s sleep.

Distract yourself from all those sort of work things that are happening all the time. Switch off your phone at the end of the session and if you are working on the same table as a partner, then encourage them to do the same.

But I think a dedicated workplace is important. If you do have more space, obviously a separate room, fantastic, but not everyone is able to do that. If you’re working in your bedroom and you have no other space, then the things I said about the blue light filter and switching off the computer are very important.

It’s not great to work in the same room as you sleep in, so if there’s a choice I would encourage people to try and work in the kitchen area rather than the bedroom, if possible.

So if people have got any questions or if they’ve got specific problems with working from home, how can they get in touch with you?

They can reach me via the website which is www.thedesktest.com, or they can email amanda@thedesktest.com

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