Since COVID-19 lockdowns first impacted our lives in March 2020, working from home has gone from being a short-term novelty to a long term, (and for some, a permanent) arrangement.

As workers raced to set up their home office during the first lockdown in in March 2020, sourcing appropriate equipment was difficult due to a lack of supply.

As physiotherapists, we have seen an increase in musculoskeletal injury such as neck and back pain over the past 18 months. This has often been due to workstations being set-up poorly or inappropriately, combined with longer hours spent chained to laptops, with meetings now all run through video conferencing platforms. As time has gone on, cumulative strain on soft tissues caused by poor posture or increased work hours has led to the development of aches and pains, including in workers who have never had any issues in the past.

Many employers are now adopting permanent hybrid work models, where workers spend part of the time in the office and part of the time working at home.

Consequently, ensuring your home office is appropriately set up, and incorporating some ‘healthy habits’ to reduce strain and the risk of injury is more important than ever. Whilst working from home has certainly allowed more freedom and a more flexible approach to work for many, there are several less helpful habits that we have observed, which may contribute to the development of aches and pains.

Laptops have enabled workers to transport their work home with them, and whilst laptops were designed to be portable, they were not designed to be used in isolation for long periods of time. A laptop stand, a separate keyboard and a mouse should always be used with a laptop so that the laptop screen can be raised to an appropriate level to reduce neck bending. Additionally, linking the laptop up to a larger monitor makes it easier to read documents, particularly where documents are complex, or multiple documents may need to be worked on concurrently. The screen or monitor should be placed directly in front of the worker, and at an appropriate height that the worker does not need to rotate their head or tilt their head up or down to see the screen.

In addition to correct laptop set-up, it is important to consider the chair and desk that a worker uses at home. Eighteen months into this ‘new normal’ of home working, we still regularly see workers sitting on dining room chairs in their home office. Whilst these chairs may be comfortable for sitting down to eat a meal, they are generally unsuitable to be used as an office chair. Most dining room chairs are too low to be used as a computer chair, and they provide inadequate spinal support and no adjustability. The more adjustable a chair is, the better chance of being able to adjust it to fit a worker. We recommend all workers should use an adjustable ergonomic office chair whether they work from home or in the office.

A properly adjusted chair and workstation can significantly ease many common aches and pains in computer users.

We don’t think twice about spending thousands of dollars on a mattress that we sleep on for 8 hours a night, but so often we fail to invest a few hundred dollars on a quality chair that we will sit on for 8 hours every day.

ErgoLogic provide both onsite and remote ergonomic assessments and seminar training sessions, to teach you and your team how to set up their workstation appropriately. Often simple adjustments to a chair or workstation set-up are all that is required to settle mild aches and pains. Sometimes more specialised equipment is required, and our consultants will be able to advise you on the most appropriate equipment if this is the case.