Michael Holmes’ ergonomics tips for a healthy home office

Living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms have all become the backdrops of video calls as the Brock University community adjusts to working from home.  

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many have had to create quick makeshift home offices, not giving much consideration to the set up. As employees and students alike get used to their new working environments, Brock has made some resources available to ensure offices are set up properly and effectively to ensure a healthy and comfortable home office.

“We can probably get away with an improper home office set up for the short term; however, as we continue to work from home for longer than expected, it is important to consider properly setting up your home office to help reduce the chance of discomfort or even injury,” said Michael Holmes, Associate Professor of Kinesiology and Canada Research Chair in Neuromuscular Mechanics and Ergonomics.

Holmes suggests that, if possible, it is best to have a dedicated work space that is separate from a living space for both physical and mental health benefits. 

In a home office space, the standard optimal ergonomic set up is to have the computer monitor at eye level, the keyboard at approximately elbow height, feet flat on the floor, thighs parallel to the floor, back of the legs clearing the seat pan, armrests not causing shoulders to shrug and having strong lumbar support.

Small changes can create this atmosphere without having to buy new furniture.  

This comprehensive tip sheet highlights ways to create a proper work setup and gives examples of how to use simple household items in absence of office furniture. For example, using an ironing board or stack of books can create an effective standing desk, while small boxes can create supportive footrests.

Poor posture, caused by an ineffective office workspace, has been linked to back, wrist, shoulder and neck discomfort. While optimal posture varies by person, Holmes advises everyone to keep moving and changing posture throughout the workday.

“Movement is key — take breaks,” said Holmes. “It may not seem like it, but small breaks throughout the day can really have a positive effect on the discomfort associated with long duration static postures. Try to take short movement breaks every half hour.” 

To avoid both short-term discomfort or more long-term injury risk, doing small exercises for as little as two minutes at a time can help. Stretching, walking and body weight exercises like lunges or squats are all effective movements to help stay active and comfortable when working from home.

Available for Brock employees, the Sakai’s Office Ergonomic Module (under Health_and_Safety – Test and Quizzes) is an overview for ergonomics beginners and takes 15 minutes to view. The module focuses on adjusting chairs, optimal working heights for keyboards, monitor setup, laptop use and tips to stay active.

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