Work from Home: Make It Work for You

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3, Aug 2020
Three Home Office Tips for Remote Work Warriors

You may have no choice but to work from home, but you can choose to be comfortable while doing so.

By Alistair McLean | Aug. 3, 2020

If you are one of the many people working from home since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, you must have a list of pros and cons of this work arrangement by now.

Some of the cons might include:

  • You had to carve out a workspace out of your already cramped city apartment. Maybe you asked your twin boys to share a room because you needed a dedicated space in the house for your home office. The boys have not forgiven you for this unreasonable request, and you doubt they ever will.
  • The separation between your home life and work life is gone. Hello multitasking!
  • If you manage a team, it is hard to integrate new team members due to a lack of chemistry between the new hires you brought onboard during the pandemic and employees that have been on the team before the virus booted everyone out of the office.

Yet, on the bright side:

  • It is convenient to do a chore or two between various Zoom and Webex meetings.
  • There is nobody peering over your cubicle and questioning your work ethic if you do happen to check the latest headlines on every once in a while.
  • If you are a parent with young kids, working from home ensured that you were there to provide tech support when your kids needed help joining a Google Meet session or wanted a parent to share in an important accomplishment on Raz-Kids.  If you got behind on typing up a business proposal because you had to help your kids with a few assignments on Seesaw, working remotely meant you could stay up late after the kids went to bed to complete that proposal without having to drive to your company’s office and work in your lonely cubicle.

No matter how you feel about remote work, the COVID-19 pandemic forces many employers to maintain their work from home arrangements to reduce crowding in offices and limit the spread of the coronavirus. For example, on July 27, 2020, the search engine giant Google opted to allow its employees to continue working remotely until at least July 2021, according to an internal memo written by Google CEO Sundar Pichai and obtained by CNN.  

Without a doubt, the ability to work remotely is a privilege, especially at a time when many workers have been furloughed or even terminated. A job loss is particularly challenging during a pandemic because that means losing not only an income, but also an employer-provided health insurance (if you are lucky to have that). Itemized medical bills pre-pandemic were already scary enough to make one quickly glance at the balance in their bank account and then back at the bill while beads of sweat poured down their face.  

If you are one of the fortunate employees who get to keep your job with the option of working from home, or if your job has always had a significant flexibility component, it is essential to set up your home work space with your health in mind. Proper desk ergonomics is crucial because it helps support good posture when you must sit at your desk all day – especially if your desk is also your kitchen table more suited for slicing vegetables than typing reports. Poor posture can severely impair your musculoskeletal system, leading to numerous musculoskeletal disorders, including tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and lower back pain. You know, the type of pain that radiates from your lower back and down your legs after sitting down for a three-hour Zoom meeting, or the discomfort that you feel in your neck  after balancing the phone between your ear and shoulder for 30 minutes while you listened to your parents bicker over who should have called to demand a refund for a cancelled vacation, while you typed up a report on your laptop. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, back injuries were the most reported musculoskeletal disorder in 2016. 2020 statistics are sure to look worse, given the massive shift to remote work. With many more weeks of the pandemic likely ahead of us, now is the time to take your home office space to the next level.

Because you do not need any more convincing, here are three ways to make working from home a bit less painful:

  1. Find the right furniture.  Cannot emphasize this enough.  A bit of time and effort to research the ideal desk, chair and computer will go a long way in setting up the most comfortable workspace where you can be your most productive self. 
  2. Improve your posture.  This is a biggie. I start out my workday sitting at my desk properly (i.e. my elbows bent at 90 degrees, my back straight and supported by a small cushion, and my thighs and hips parallel to the floor). As hours pass, I get more and more undisciplined with my posture and before long, I am hunched over my desk with my right leg crossed over my left knee.  For some reason this feels more comfortable, but my achy back makes me regret it pretty soon.
  3. Keep moving.  This is hard to do.  If you are leading a conference call with an agenda list so long that there is a collective groan from the other participants at the start of the call, chances are you will sit for 2 hours non-stop. Time flies when you are having fun, eh?  Taking breaks to stretch and walk around keeps the blood flow going and relieves muscle fatigue. It is so hard to remember to get up from your desk when you are in the zone, but if setting up a timer to go off every 50 minutes is what you have to do to remind yourself to take breaks, just do it. About 60-75 minutes of moderately challenging physical activity per day can help you undo all the damage from your sedentary workday, according to the 2016 Lancet study. That’s just six or seven 10-minute breaks throughout your day!

I will explore further the right furniture, posture and tips for integrating movement into your workday in future blog posts.  Let me know what changes you have made to your home office space.

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