How to Make Work From Home Work for You
by Catherine Morris | October 14, 2020, updated 2 months ago
Lots of us are working from home now. Many of us are working at the dining room table, or the couch in our living room—and those places are not designed to be worked in for 8 hours a day. If you’re newly working from home, barely over 30, and suddenly you can't get up without groaning, your work space is probably the problem.
With a few small tweaks, it’s possible to build a workstation that keeps your spine happy. It's time to make working from home work for you.
To Sit or to Stand?
Remember when sitting became enemy number one? Anti-sitting science was suddenly everywhere and the message was clear—sit, and die (at least, die sooner). Standing desks enjoyed a sales boom while their sitting counterparts fell out of fashion.
The desk debate rages on to this day.
Craniosacral practitioner and massage therapist JoAnn Clinton weighs in and notes that many of her clients absorbed the sitting-is-dangerous message, and took it to the other extreme—
“We all heard that sitting was the new smoking so people started standing, [but] you are putting a lot of weight and pressure on your joints when you're standing. People think it's all or nothing, but we are not designed to sit or stand for any period of time. We are not designed to be keyboard warriors.”
So, switch it up! Instead of doubling down on sitting or standing, create your space with mobility in mind. Sit, standing, fidget, change positions! Who’s going to judge you, the dog?
Maybe It’s Not Whether You’re Sitting, But What You’re Sitting On
There are a lot of chair alternatives out there. Fancy one thousand dollar and up office chairs with all the bells and whistles aren’t the only game in town, however.
Stability balls are one option, but according to The Canadian Chiropractic Society (CCS), stability balls should only be used for short periods of time by fitter-sitters who can engage their abdominal muscles to maintain a straight back.
If rolling around on an inflatable ball while you work seems disruptive, you can try the wobble stool. These are adjustable bar-stool-type chairs with a round base that allows them to swivel 360-degrees. On a wobble stool you can stand, lean, and sit as desired.
There are loads of other chair-alternatives that you can check out—or you can ditch chairs completely.
Go Chair Free
Still common in Eastern cultures, sitting on the floor mirrors natural resting positions and can make your joints and ligaments stronger and more flexible. Floor sitters tend to change positions regularly, working the important supportive muscles in their core and legs. Clinton points out—
“Sitting in a regular chair shortens our leg muscles. When you are shifting positions on the floor you are opening up your hips and you can stretch out the muscles that will ultimately help you walk and move better.”
Hanging out in a squat in a shared office would probably attract puzzled looks, but you’re not in the office anymore, are you.
Perfecting Your Posture–Ergonomics 101
Posture is crucial if you want to avoid aches and pains.
Clinton cautions that standing more doesn't mean you’re standing correctly, “I have clients who stand all day and they are usually favouring one leg over the other, or hiking up one hip.”
When sitting, the biggest pitfall is slouching and rounding your shoulders, which can lead to upper back and neck pain. It's also a trigger for migraine sufferers, as tight neck muscles create tension in the skull.
Your workstation should be lined up so that your computer monitor is at eye-level and your arms can comfortably rest on the desk in front of you. This is the best way to avoid 'tech neck' where the head creeps forward over your shoulders. Holding your skull in this position places strain on the neck and upper back, and adds an extra 10 lbs to the weight of the head with every inch it leans forward.
Look After Your Feet
Clinton spends a lot of time standing when treating clients, and says orthopaedic shoes can be helpful, especially for people dealing with issues such as fallen arches.
You might not think about your feet during the work day, but Clinton tells her clients to think of their body as a whole—stress in one area means stress everywhere.
“It's about the whole kinetic chain. Everything is interconnected. We have to think of ourselves as one whole organism. Most people aren't thinking about their feet or their posture, but awareness about how you move through life is super important.”
Move That Body! Make Sure You Don’t Hurt That Body!
If you're lucky enough to have the space, use it and turn your impromptu office into an exercise studio/office. Sliding into a micro-workout between meetings isn’t advisable in a shared office, but at home you're free to get your sweat on.
She notes that yoga can be a lifesaver, “Some people get intimidated by yoga because they think they're not flexible enough, but that's all the more reason to do yoga. Yoga is a great way of balancing out the muscle groups and countering out all that sitting.”
If you’re someone who gets ‘in the zone’ and looks up only to realize that four hours have gone by and you haven’t moved, set yourself reminders using alarms, or specialized aps.
Hostile Work Environment!
All this physical stuff really matters. How you sit, stand, and manage movement during your work day matter, but so does the emotional energy in the room.
“It's not always optimal to work at home. People have kids, it's stressful, they have a whole load of distractions. Set up your office so it is as calming as possible. We put strain on our muscles when we're tense and stressed. It should be conducive to your mental health as well as your physical.”
If you’ve got your ergonomics game on point, but you still find your shoulders hunched and your jaw clenched after a stressful virtual meeting, you might want to look into emotional support.
In the meanwhile, investing in some greenery is a quick way to add some relaxation cues into your office space. Workers with plants on their desks report much less stress and anxiety throughout the work day. If you are really bad at keeping plants alive, it’s okay, simply looking at pictures of nature has a similar calming effect—so change that computer background to a pretty forest picture.
Seek Out Professional Support
If you are gritting your teeth throughout the workday and your body is complaining, or something doesn’t feel right, don't just power through. Clinton says regular spinal health checks and maintenance with chiropractors and other movement specialists can address issues before they become a problem—
“Pain is an alarm bell. Just because you are not feeling it doesn't mean there is not some kind of dysfunction going on. We are designed to move, and move in multiple ways. Our bodies are dynamic.”
For more tips on how to effectively work from home, or information about how to maintain proper posture, book with one of Which Doctor’s practitioners today!
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.