How to have a good office setup when working from home
Updated: Apr 16
Now that you are spending more time working from home it is more important than ever to maintain good posture. There are more distractions at home like kids, checking social media every 25 seconds, checking the news every 30 seconds to see if the pandemic is over and we can leave our houses, not to mention the dishes, the washing, making food for your family and the list goes on. With more distractions you can forget to take care of yourself and this includes how we sit, stand and move at home. Once you are in pain or have stiffness it will be harder to concentrate and harder to be productive.
At the office you usually have all of the equipment which you often don't have at home. These include a standalone office desk, an adjustable office chair and possibly desk if you are lucky, multiple monitors that are adjustable and possibly even a standup desk.
The reality of the spontaneous home setup is either at the dining table, a desk in your bedroom or spare room, on you lap on the lounge or on the phone on the loo. This brings the convenience of being able to work from anywhere (don’t tell your clients that you are writing your emails on the loo, likely they already know) but means that you will often find yourself in awkward positions that aren’t able to maintain for long periods of time that your work requires. If you are lucky enough to have a private office then you have no excuses as you can set up a decent workstation to help to maintain good posture, reduce pain and stay productive at home.
We don’t often think about being “match fit” to do office work and don't seek out a personal trainer to get strong so you can sit or stand all day. But if you want to be productive at work and be pain free then you need to approach it like you are an athlete and make this a serious part of your work.
How should we sit?
The easiest way to remember how to sit at a desk is to remember 90-120 degrees. Your knees should be at 90-120 degrees, your hips at 90-120 degrees and your elbows at 90-120 degrees. Your eyes should be at or around the top of your monitor height. This way you can easily see the screen without having to look down. As long as you can touch type so you don't need to look at the keyboard whilst you type.
The key here is also to be relaxed. If you are trying to sit up straight all day then you will be straining muscles all day. This is where the pain comes from. It is basically muscle strain from over use. It’s like if I asked you to raise your straight arms in front of your body and hold them there. After a few minutes the shoulders would start to ache and it would become painful.
Remember to take regular breaks, even if the break is changing your seated position, like slumping or reclining back in your chair and straightening your legs. People often make out that it is bad to slump. It is only bad when you are doing it all the time. Just like good posture can be bad if you try and hold it for too long as it may become painful.
try to lift your chest slightly to help with your neck and head posture. If you your chest collapses then naturally your head falls forward. This can lead to neck strain.
Use a lumbar support such as a D-Roll or a rolled up towel into the small of your back or try to tilt your pelvis slightly forward as this will also help the upper spine to move into the correct position.
Try to avoid leaning on one elbow or to one side. This can build up imbalances over time such as functional scoliosis and the appearance of one shoulder sitting higher than the other. Generally right handed people will slump over to the right side for the mouse and this can lead to the appearance that the left shoulder is higher.
How should we stand?
There are differing ideas on how to stand. Ideally you want to stand in a relaxed way with your knees, hips, shoulders and ears all aligned. The elbows should be bent to around 90-120 degrees. If you are forcing yourself to stand up straight then you will become fatigued quickly. Standing may not seem like much is happening but you are using hundreds of muscles to keep you upright and if you are not used to doing it, it’s going to feel like a work out at first.
Some tips on standing
ease into it. If you aren’t used to standing then just try to do an hour or so at a time and then sit back down for an hour or more before you try to stand again. You can then gradually build to standing more. Some people prefer to stand all day and it has alleviated many of their painful symptoms.
Don't lean all of your weight onto one leg. This can lead to an imbalance in your hips causing lower back pain.
Don't lean one elbow on the desk. For the same reason as above this can lead to imbalances that can cause pain.
Try to take the opportunity when you are standing to stand in different positions that can help to stretch the body. Say for instance you may stand in a lunge position to prevent the hip flexors form stiffening up.
Where do you usually feel the pain?
When sitting we usually get the pain in the neck, shoulders, between the shoulder blades or the lower back. Most often this is due to poor sitting position or sitting for too long (you can even sit in a good position for too long).
When standing the most noticeable place to feel pain is in the feet and lower back. Have you ever been to a concert or a museum where you have had to stand for hours and you get aching feet and an aching lower back? It’s actually called “museum back”. This ache comes from muscle fatigue. Your muscles just aren't conditioned to hold you up for that long.
So what can you do?
In my opinion it is more about how you sit or stand than what equipment you have. The equipment can defiantly help but you can still sit badly in an expensive chair and can still slump when in a standing position.
Maintaining good posture and thinking about it regularly throughout the day are the most important things as well as taking breaks to allow the body to rest from either sitting or standing. If you are sitting all day then when you have a break try to stand up and move around. If you are standing all day then moving around or sitting down are more advised.
Try to setup your desk as close to the guidelines as possible and you will find that it will be much easier to work for long periods.
The body needs to move so making sure that you change positions regularly also isn’t a bad idea. It is unrealistic to think that you will sit in the same bolt upright position for 8 hours. If you did you would end up in quite a bit of pain. You need to take regular breaks and get up and move. If you can break every 25 minutes for 5 minutes then you will be able to be much more productive for longer and also reduce the risk of big pain flare ups in your neck, shoulders or lower back.
As mentioned at the start, being match fit is important for sedentary work. If you exercise and keep your body healthy and strong then you are more likely to be able to cope with the stresses that sitting or standing all day put on your body. Stretching out the front of the body using doorway pec stretches or extending over the foam roller are great to do every couple of hours or more. Strengthening your core with the “Daily Big 3” exercises (check out the blog on these exercises in our blog section on the website) strengthening your middle and upper back using exercises like the superman, IYT’s, shoulders using shoulder W’s as well as chin tucks and isometric exercises to strengthen up the neck ( more to come on this over the coming weeks).
Can you make something at home without spending any money.
Yes! Definitely. The easiest stand up desk is to work on a laptop at the kitchen table or any high table you have. If you are working on a laptop then you can easily move around. You could spend some time at the desk and then stand up at the kitchen table for a while and then slump on the lounge for a bit too. Slumping isn’t necessarily bad as it often uses the least amount of energy. It is when you do this all the time that it becomes and issue. And then you can go back to the sit-down desk that is set up correctly. You can use things like books to position the monitor height. A rolled up towel in the small of your back to act as a lumbar support.
Like most things with posture, you can throw money at the problem but if your habit is to slouch or slump then you will still have bad posture. It is extremely important to check in on your posture regularly and notice how you are sitting and standing. A simple body scan every 30mins or so is adequate. Notice how your head and face are feeling… are you holding tension here? Notice how your shoulders are feeling… are you holding tension here? Can you let this tension go. Scan through the whole body, the middle back, the lower back, the glutes/hips, the legs, the feet, the arms, hands and fingers. If you get into the habit of scanning through your body you will be able to relax before tension builds up and creates pain signals and patterns in your body/mind.
If you can afford it then getting a sit/stand desk option is ideal. This way you can sit for a portion of the day and then stand for the rest. This means that your body gets a chance to move. There are many affordable options these days even through Officeworks or Ikea where you can get a decent set up for only a few hundred dollars or less.
Other issues with sitting You’ve probably heard that sitting is the new smoking. Not quite sure it’s that bad but it at least gets peoples attention. There are health implications with excessive sitting that you may not be aware of. When you sit it cuts off some circulation to the hips and legs including blood flow and lymphatic flow (immune system). When you stand you can have better circulation. Standing also increases metabolism as your body uses more muscles and energy to stand up. Standing requires more mental alertness to stay upright where it is more likely to remain mentally sluggish sitting down. We can't breath as deeply sitting down as we can standing as the abdominal area is crushed in when we are sitting which doesn't allow the lungs to expand as much.
In the coming weeks we’ll be looking at exercises and stretches you can do to prevent neck, shoulder and back pain while working from home.
If you have any questions or comments then please feel free to leave a comment or to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading.