For many employers across the country, the work-from-home setup increasingly seems to be here to stay.
And often, this is a benefit for employees. They spend less time commuting and can take care of their personal affairs despite the demands of the job, among other benefits.
But it can also be difficult to reconcile the demands of these two worlds when the office is ubiquitous.
Sometimes that means health and wellness aren’t prioritized like they should be.
With a little planning, however, you can keep your health goals in mind and you might even find that you can improve your productivity when working from home.
“Any type of healthy lifestyle can be maintained and successful if there is a schedule,” said Dan Clapper, certified athletic trainer and supervisor of Spectrum Health Sports Medicine. “Plan your working day in advance. Plan your breaks and what you are going to do during the breaks.
The good thing
Clapper, who also oversees the Spectrum Health Orthopedics at Work program, is well versed in creating work environments that promote good health.
First task: properly equip the home office and organize the work area.
One of the most important pieces is a good chair, Clapper said. It should be comfortable, with good lumbar support. It can be something as simple as a pillow or a built-in chair adjustment.
The chair should also have a cushion. Adjust the height of the chair to keep the hips, knees, and ankles at 90 degree angles. If it’s too high or too low, it can put excessive pressure on those lower parts of the body as well as the lumbar spine and thighs.
Good posture is essential.
Make sure your shoulders are not elevated. They should be in a relaxed position.
The forearms and elbows should not be in constant contact with the chair or the surface of the desk or table.
A laptop is often fine, but don’t rely on that alone. Having a monitor, keyboard, mouse and docking station, something that connects all devices.
The height of the monitor should be about eye level, with your attention on the middle of the screen. Avoid looking down at the screen.
Everything you use regularly should be within easy reach, Clapper said. Your smartphone, for example, needs to be within an arm’s reach because overreaching can create chronic pain in your shoulders and upper back.
Take a break
If you have a workstation that allows you to sit or stand, you should generally not stand for more than 20 to 30 minutes every two hours. You can stand more often than you sit, but don’t sit for longer than about an hour to an hour and a half.
Between sitting and standing, take a break. Aim for a short break every hour or two, or whenever the schedule allows.
“Breaks can be as simple as stretching or walking, or even using your workout equipment,” Dr. Clapper said. “What you do during a break is up to you, what you’re comfortable with, what you have time for and what’s available.”
The timing of breaks is important. This is why it is good to maintain a fixed schedule to integrate them.
You can take breaks between tasks or between phone calls.
Also, make sure the monitor isn’t facing the window, Clapper said — the light contrast isn’t good for the eyes, and outdoor lighting could create too much glare.
While it’s not good to have a lamp or ceiling light that affects the monitor, some type of lighting is fine. Don’t sit in the dark.
The goal is to create an ergonomically correct desk, Clapper said.
The changes he recommends are aimed at reducing injuries and chronic pain, especially in the lower back or spine, neck and shoulders. It may also reduce the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Food and fitness
In some ways, it can be easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle when working from home.
If you have exercise equipment at home, for example, you can incorporate it into your workday.
“There are a lot of little perks to working from home,” Clapper said. “Saving time by not going to the office is one, as long as you can maintain your productivity at work.”
Access to healthy foods is another plus, but you need to plan ahead to eat healthy. At home, you know where everything is: healthy foods, but also unhealthy snacks.
A smart approach: Choose wisely when shopping.
Nutrition and hydration are also essential to a healthy lifestyle when working from home. You have to remember to stay hydrated with plenty of water, Clapper said.
“You can be successful at work and have a healthy lifestyle if you’re able to plan appropriately and take advantage of opportunities to stay active,” Clapper said. “And with good home office ergonomics, you can reduce the risk of injury.”