With so many people working from home, casualties are mounting as makeshift workstations inevitably take their toll. Backs, hips, shoulders and necks: everyone has a colleague, friend or family member with an “covinjury” caused by pandemic posture, bad habits acquired in lockdown or the loss of incidental exercise.
Physiotherapist Claudia Didyk, Australian Physiotherapy Association member (APAM), says the range of complaints is all connected.
“You don’t come into a physio with a sore neck just because it’s posture. For a lot of people coming through, it’s a combination of the stress of working from home and so many aspects related to that,” she says.
“Pain in itself is complex and it’s not generally just related to a physical component. It’s related to sleep, it’s related to stress – it isn’t just your workspace and how you set that up.”
The bottom line – pun intended – is that those hastily installed temporary solutions have to change if workers plan a more permanent move. The couch is not a viable centre of operations. Even without a spare room or study, a long-term workstation requires demarcation and proper equipment.
“You’re not going to be using things like a couch, cushion or a dining chair,” Ms Didyk says. “You’d be looking at an adjustable chair, adjustable height desk, maybe a sit/stand desk – those things you would have at work.”
Consider a slimline, wall-mounted desk along a stretch of spare wall. Or if there’s an under-utilised corner chair – common in bedrooms – perhaps install a compact sit/stand desk. There are also nifty, portable designs that sit atop your dining table and allow flexibility to sit or stand.
Ms Didyk stresses that the ideal ergonomic set-up extends beyond appropriate furniture – it also means incorporating things that we did without thinking when the nation’s workforce was concentrated in CBDs.
“You might walk to the train station, get off in the city, then walk to work. When you’re at home, you get out of bed and go to your workspace, so you need to make sure that you find some time to actually get outside and get that little bit of exercise, fresh air and sunshine that you would get normally in your day-to-day commute,” she says.
“It’s important for your body but also for your mind to feel like you’ve left the house.”
The experience differs significantly depending on individual circumstances. It’s helpful to honestly appraise your own personality, lifestyle and home environment to help shape your best WFH solution.
“For those that really love it, there’s the risk that you get a little more complacent at home. You sit on the couch, you work on your laptop … which in the long-term is only going to cause issues physically, even if mentally you’re loving the fact that you’re at home,” she says.
“There’s no magic position. Sitting up dead straight all day is not good for you either. It’s very important to change posture throughout the day – stretching enables people to do that.”
Here are physiotherapist Claudia Didyk’s top tips for an ergo working life at home.
1. WORKSTATION WONDERS
Set up properly if you’re planning to WFH long-term – good health is priceless and legitimate office items are tax deductible.
2. MOVE MORE
Missing incidental exercise without your commute? Factor in the equivalent amount of movement. Set an alarm on your computer or phone to remind you every 30 minutes to get up, walk around, do a chore or a few neck stretches.
3. PEOPLE POWER
Escape the screen for face-to-face interactions in your neighbourhood. Human contact – even contactless – is vital for mental health.
Something we do, not something we wear. Exercise is not the same thing as simply moving your limbs. Plan regular, dedicated exercise, whether that’s a brisk walk, a bike ride, a swim or a class. If you are nursing a covinjury, see a physio and plan what you can safely manage.