How can home office workers improve ergonomics and physical activity during their workday?
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of changes to all of our lives, but in particular to many of our workspaces. More of us are working from home at least part of the time, or have switched to jobs that are entirely remote. This naturally can lead to a reduction in physical activity, plus worsened ergonomics as we make do with home offices instead of employer-supplied office equipment! So that begs the question—how can we improve ergonomics and physical activity while working from home?
I feel like since I started to work more from home, I have more aches and pains—is that normal?
In a word, yes! 40-70% of home office workers report pain in the lower and upper back, neck, eyes, and head. The lower back and neck are the most commonly reported sites of pain, followed by the upper extremities (anywhere from the shoulders to the fingers). And, 75% of home office workers reported little to no discomfort in their original office setting prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is it about my work-from-home setup that is likely causing my aches and pains?
Research shows that laptops are the primary culprit causing poor ergonomics while working from home. Laptop users have a greater risk of stiffness, soreness, back pain, sore neck, and eye fatigue as compared to desktop computer users. Plus, laptop users are more likely to sit in a dining room chair, couch, or in bed instead of using their laptop at a desk as intended.
I do use a laptop most of the time! So what can I change about my laptop setup to help relieve my pain?
The first step is to get an external keyboard and mouse if you are able. Using the laptop’s keyboard and touchpad for prolonged periods of time causes awkward wrist placement and lack of support for the arms, which in turn places more stress on the upper back. Once you have an external keyboard and mouse, elevating your laptop to eye level will also help a lot! We know that increased strain is placed on your neck when it is flexed down to look at the laptop screen. So, elevating your laptop on thick books, or buying a fancy laptop stand, will help a lot with neck pain and eye strain.
What about exercise and taking breaks from the computer throughout the day—will that help my pain too?
Yes! We definitely know that office workers’ pain related to their job can be significantly reduced by implementing resistance training, physical exercise, and stretching programs in the workplace. And, that office workers who are physically active report higher health-related quality of life than those who are inactive.
Great! So what type of exercise breaks should I take during the workday, and how often?
This is where the research is a little conflicting. But, it seems to be clear that shorter, more-frequent breaks are better than fewer, longer breaks during the day. Mailey et al. (2016) showed that having 1-2 minute standing/walking breaks every 30 minutes was more effective than two 15-minute breaks during the workday. And, Griffiths et al. showed in a 2021 pilot study that 5-minute walking breaks every hour were successful at reducing overall sitting time.
That sounds great, but let’s be honest: most of my meetings or work tasks are longer than 30-60 minutes, so I’m not sure this advice is practical.
Yes this brings up another important point: you have to work with your employer to create a break schedule that is best for your workday! It’s definitely important that your employer and managers are on board, and that your physical activity breaks are not disruptive to your workday. So for most people, this means structuring physical activity breaks every hour or more.
I love the idea of breaking up my day and getting to “count” all of these little bits of movement throughout the day towards improving my overall activity level. But how do I get my employer on board?
Great question! Gomez-Redondo et al. recommended in their 2022 study that companies spend more time and money on improving employees’ activity levels versus just decreasing their sedentary time. They also pointed out that the benefits of increasing employees’ activity levels include reduced absenteeism, plus more-engaged employees with better performance. These are all great points to bring up to your employer!
How can MommaStrong help with this effort?
MommaStrong has a huge library of 5-min videos, many of which can be easily done in your office! Plus we have longer fix-me’s devoted to different pain points such as neck pain, low back pain, and headaches that can be done on lunch breaks or after work.
Additionally, we are currently developing an exclusive business/workforce subscription plan that employers can offer to their teams, with specialized content offerings including:
A dedicated stream of “Daily 15 minute” (D15) workouts focused on helping you get through your workday in one piece.
Access to specialized “Daily 5” minute (D5) workouts that can be done right from a desk or small space.
Education on our “sweet spot” habit formation and goal setting.
Access to a library of curated “fix-mes” and “hacks” for addressing issues that are common for working folks.
In addition to online content, we can also offer higher level support, should your workplace desire that. This includes, but is not limited to:
Ergonomic evaluations and desk/computer adjustments. (in-person or online)
Day or multi-day employee/employer training on topics of your choice like functional strength, habit formation, ergonomics, strategies for working parents, and stress response in survival mode. (in-person or online)
Participation in workshops, retreats, speaking events, or special events to help express to your employees your approach to their wellness. (in-person or online)
If you’d like more information on our business/ workforce offerings, or would like to discuss a programming package, please reach to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us know how we can support wellness for your company or organization!
Garcia, M. G., Aguiar, B., Bonilla, S., Yepez, N., Arauz, P. G., & Martin, B. J. (2022). Perceived Physical Discomfort and Its Associations With Home Office Characteristics During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Human factors, 187208221110683. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/00187208221110683
Garcia, M. G., Estrella, M., Peñafiel, A., Arauz, P. G., & Martin, B. J. (2021). Impact of 10-Min Daily Yoga Exercises on Physical and Mental Discomfort of Home-Office Workers During COVID-19. Human factors, 187208211045766. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/00187208211045766
Gerding, T., Syck, M., Daniel, D., Naylor, J., Kotowski, S. E., Gillespie, G. L., Freeman, A. M., Huston, T. R., & Davis, K. G. (2021). An assessment of ergonomic issues in the home offices of university employees sent home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Work (Reading, Mass.), 68(4), 981–992. https://doi.org/10.3233/WOR-205294
Gómez-Redondo, P., Marín, V., Leal-Martín, J., Ruiz-Moreno, C., Giráldez-Costas, V., Urdiola, P., Ara, I., & Mañas, A. (2022). Association between Physical Activity Guidelines and Sedentary Time with Workers' Health-Related Quality of Life in a Spanish Multinational Company. International journal of environmental research and public health, 19(11), 6592. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19116592
Griffiths, T. D., Crone, D., Stembridge, M., & Lord, R. N. (2021). Co-Production at Work: The Process of Breaking Up Sitting Time to Improve Cardiovascular Health. A Pilot Study. International journal of environmental research and public health, 19(1), 361. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19010361
Holzgreve, F., Maurer-Grubinger, C., Fraeulin, L., Bausch, J., Groneberg, D. A., & Ohlendorf, D. (2022). Home office versus ergonomic workstation - is the ergonomic risk increased when working at the dining table? An inertial motion capture based pilot study. BMC musculoskeletal disorders, 23(1), 745. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12891-022-05704-z
Mailey, E. L., Rosenkranz, S. K., Casey, K., & Swank, A. (2016). Comparing the effects of two different break strategies on occupational sedentary behavior in a real world setting: A randomized trial. Preventive medicine reports, 4, 423–428. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2016.08.010