When I first starting working from home for Chipperfield Physiotherapy, there was certainly an adjustment period. I had spent my entire life on job sites, in offices, and had recently left a job that required me to walk almost 10,000 steps each day! Rolling out of bed and opening my laptop felt odd. Questions swirled around in my mind: If I don’t have a commute, how do I have a routine? What do I do about these mountains of laundry staring me in the face while I try to focus? Is my neck supposed to ache after each workday? And most importantly, HOW WILL I SURVIVE WITHOUT MY DAILY STARBUCKS?!
As I’m sure many people have found, there are definitely positives and negatives to working at home. I’ve found ways to build in a daily routine, and manage my environment so that I am completely dialed in every day. And of course, those things that worried me in the beginning (ie. no starbucks coffee, being distracted by cleaning, etc) were mitigated by techniques I’ve learned over the past year. I hope that my experience can help you streamline your work from home schedule even more!
1. Establish a Morning Routine
Yes, it’s the first thing every major blog and article will tell you to do. But that’s because IT’S IMPORTANT!
My morning routine includes waking up at least 1 hour before my work day starts and:
- COFFEE (I’ve upgraded to Barista-grade Oat Mylk and premium coffee to really give me the to-go coffee feel)
- Read 20-50 pages of a personal development and/or leadership book
- Making sure my work desk and area are clutter-free
Once I start my workday, I have a “start-up ritual” that includes checking all emails/voicemails, and working on our social media calender for the day. This structure really allows me to dive into work and remain focused on my to-do list. I’ve also noticed that if my work area is clean (and I can’t see any other unorganized parts of my home) I am much less tempted to clean instead of work! Lastly, check out the Full Focus Planner for a serious productivity hack!
2. Move. Seriously…MOVE!
After the first week of working from home, I noticed my neck was incredibly stiff. Luckily, I work amongst Physiotherapists all day so I had no trouble getting some advice and help regarding my work set up. If you’re staring down at a laptop all day, your neck is in a really bad position. In my case, my sternocleidomastoid muscles were extremely tight. These muscles (you have one on either side of your neck) are one of the largest and most superficial cervical muscles. The primary actions of the muscle are rotation of the head to the opposite side and flexion of the neck. Pretty important if you ask me! These are the things we changed to fix my neck pain (along with work stations modifications – see next hack):
- I had 4-5 neck strengthening and stretching exercises to complete four times per day
- I was encouraged to get up and move around my apartment every hour. I found setting a timer for 50 minutes really helped. I spent at least 10 minutes looking away from the screen (also very good for your eyes) and stretching my body.
Movement is medicine. Movement cures pains. You will thank me down the line when you get out of your chair and your joints don’t ache!
Avoid this! ☝️
3. Fix your work station!
Unfortunately, most people are stuck working at the dining room or kitchen table. This does not bode well for someone who experiences neck and back pain from time to time. If you’re an office worker that has now been working at home, what’s your solution? Some people have their own office space set up already, but others are doing this for the first time. If you are of the latter group, this hack is for you.
Here are some ways that you can fix your at home work station:
Ensure that your feet can rest comfortably on the floor
If your feet aren’t able to rest flat on the floor while keeping your knees and hips bent to 90 degrees, you should elevate them by using a prop such as a footstool, a stack of textbooks or a large tupperware container. If you’re a taller person and you don’t have a chair that is tall enough, you will have to put something on the seat to boost you up. For example, a cushion or a couple of pillows. This is called the 90-90 rule.
Support your back and ensure the seat is not too long for your legs
Often, seats of a chair can be too deep, especially for a smaller person. This would require you to place a support between your back and the back of the seat. This will act as a space filler to help prevent a slouched posture. This is especially important for someone with a history of low back pain.
Raise or tilt the screen to accommodate your eye and head level
Aside from nearsightedness and the need for an updated lens prescription, screen position is critical in maintaining a healthy neck posture. When a worker has to use multiple screens or the screens are too far away, this may cause the person to maintain a rotation or extension in their neck that leads to increased muscle tension and shearing forces on the spine. If you are using a laptop you can prop it up on an incline using a book and tilt the screen back slightly so that you will not need to look down or move your head. Then you will be able to use your eyes to adjust your gaze.
Keep your wrists in a neutral position
If you are working on a keyboard, make sure to assess what angle you are holding your wrists while typing and keying. A neutral wrist is not bent up or down to reach the correct keys. You may need to adjust your keyboard height to accommodate a better wrist posture. If you are using a mouse for the cursor, then you should also follow this rule. To maintain a neutral wrist while using the mouse, you should keep the mouse at the same level as the keyboard. Make sure to make room for the mouse. We have seen many patients with hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder and neck issues due to poor mouse mechanics.
4. Try to set some work boundaries, but don’t stress if they don’t work out
Focusing on your work while working from home can be hard no matter how determined you are. By setting structured breaks and communicating with family members about your work expectations, you can set yourself up for success.
Now, keep in mind that I am writing this as someone who doesn’t have little ones running around all day! If you have kids, well, enjoy this extra time you get with them and may the force be with you!
If you are a remote worker now due to the social distancing lockdown and are having any concerns with your body, in particular your neck, arm, and low back, take some time to adjust your workstation by implementing the four strategies above. If this does not work or you are having some trouble, please contact us to book a virtual appointment where we can fully visualize you in your space and make specific recommendations to your needs. Unsure of what a virtual appointment entails? Check out our page on Tele-rehab to learn more.
Have a happy quarantine, and stay safe.