How to make working from home work for your body
We live in our bodies 24/7 – and therefore we also work in our bodies 24/7. Being a Homepreneur doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your office ergonomics. In fact, now I work from home I find it way easier to look after my body than I did when I worked for a company and had to get someone to sign off on every adjustment I wanted to make.
As someone who is highly sensitive and conscious of their surroundings, I’m really passionate about making sure people are looking after themselves when working on a computer. Here I’m going to share with you some knowledge and tips about ergonomics while working from home, as well as some photos and descriptions of my current homeworking setup.
Change your scenery
Switching up my scenery helps refresh my mind and stops me from getting cabin fever. I’m lucky that I can work in two different rooms without using my bedroom. Avoid working in your bedroom if possible – if you start to associate it with work, it could become more difficult to relax and get a good night’s sleep.
I use the living room and the kitchen, which tests my willpower not to get distracted by making drinks and snacks. When I want to move from one room to the other, I put everything on a deep tray so I can carry more at once.
Improve your posture
Like me, a lot of freelancers work from laptops. Used on their own, they give way to terrible posture and therefore have the potential to cause back problems.
But there are some straightforward things you can do to make working from home ergonomically sound, meaning you can prevent back pain and repetitive strain injury. This was one of the first things I sorted out when I went freelance, because if I’m going to be working as an editor for the next 50 years, I want to do it without avoidable pain.
The benefits of switching between sitting and standing to work have been widely documented. I sit in the living room and stand in the kitchen.
Here are four things to bear in mind whether you’re sitting or standing:
- Arms: Your forearms should be horizontal – at roughly a 90 degree angle.
- Screen height: The top of your screen should be at eye level. This is the main issue with laptops. I use the StandStand Angle laptop stand, which doesn’t quite get the top of my screen to eye level. I could have bought a taller laptop stand, but I like how portable this one is. I also like that it’s made of bamboo and not plastic, and that the company was crowdfunded. I put it on top of books when I’m at home to give it an extra bit of height.
- Viewing distance: Your viewing distance should be roughly arm’s length. I find this a bit challenging with my 13-inch laptop and I’m often tempted to bring it closer, but it’s better for your eyes not to keep it too close. Zooming in closer can help (e.g. I’m writing this in a document zoomed in to 200%).
- Look after your eyes: Exercise your eyes. Take frequent, small pauses to focus on objects further away from your screen.Remember to blink! Joanna Penn and Dr Euan Lawson in their book The Healthy Writer say that when we look at screens, we blink roughly half as much as we do when not looking at screens. Screen time can see people’s rate of blinking drop from one blink every five seconds to one blink every 10 seconds. It can be difficult to remember to blink when you’re in the full flow of a task, so take regular breaks and consider using eye drops. I like to rest my eyes by closing them for 30 seconds or so. This can double up as a short mindfulness practice, which is really helpful when I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
My seated living room setup
My living room table is round, which isn’t ideal, but I didn’t want to use up any more floor space with a desk. I did buy an office chair though – the adjustable height means I don’t sit with hunched shoulders and it supports my back. It does mean I need a foot rest, and at the moment I’m using a shoebox, which obviously isn't a great long-term solution but at least it means my legs are at the right angle and my feet aren’t dangling.
I’ve put my laptop stand on top of a massive French dictionary and I have a wireless keyboard and mouse. I have the Apple Magic Mouse 2 and it works really well for me – I like how it has some of the features of the MacBook Pro trackpad. The mouse was expensive, but I read a lot of forums and concluded it was worth it as there is no other mouse that does the same stuff.
My keyboard was only £16.99 from Anker (I got it on Amazon) and it makes really satisfying click sounds.
My standing kitchen setup
I have a tall kitchen table – kind of breakfast bar style – and I put my laptop on top of my laptop stand, which goes on top of two big recipe books.
When I’m standing up, I check in with my posture every so often.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of everything to consider. Even if you’re not a writer, you might find reading The Healthy Writer useful, as there are lots of tips for people who work on computers a lot of the time.
Also, there’s definitely room for improvement in my home office setup. For me, it’s been a case of buying a few key items and using things I had in my flat to make some small but important changes. Switching between my kitchen and living room means that whilst I have a ‘clean desk policy‘, I also benefit from a change of scenery.