Tracy Carroll has a plastic folding table in her living room with a desktop computer and a chair pulled up to it. Instead of her usual colleagues, Carroll will be sharing her work space with a four-year-old and six-year-old.
With the COVID-19 pandemic sending a lot of workers out of the office and into the home as a safety precaution, the Paradise resident is dealing with an entirely new experience. It’s her first time working from home, though she so far not fully equipped to resume her normal office tasks.
“I love the idea of working from home full-time, because I am stir crazy,” Carroll told The Telegram, adding she is a bit concerned about getting work done with her kids around. Her husband’s job still requires him to be away from the house during the day.
Though she may have all the ingredients necessary for a home-based work space at her fingertips, Carroll readily admits her set up is not ergonomically sound.
“At (the office), I’m ergonomically set up. I have the proper keyboard, the proper mouse, two monitors … and a desk that goes up and down. A custom chair set to my height, and for comfort, a foot rest. The whole nine yards.”
Erin Bradbury is an experienced ergonomist who regularly does private consulting work in the St. John’s metro area. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Erin Bradbury has worked as a trained ergonomist for 14 years and does private consulting work in the St. John’s metro area.
“You can get away with bad ergonomics for a short amount of time, but it doesn’t take long for discomfort and subsequent injury to set in,” she told The Telegram in an interview conducted by email.
According to Bradbury, musculoskeletal injuries are the number one lost-time injuries in Newfoundland and Labrador. They progress in stages, often starting off fairly mild with the potential still there to reverse the effects, but these injuries can become very debilitating and ultimately limit our day-to-day functions, she said.
“It is important to try to make your workspace … conform to your body to try to prevent any injuries,” Bradbury said. “Work has changed so much in recent years, and people are spending more time in the same or similar positions. Many people who work in an office environment can do the majority of their tasks without even having to get up. If your space is not set up properly for you, then you have a real risk of developing an injury.”
Feelings of discomfort tend to be noticed in the neck and upper back from looking down or leaning forward; low back from sitting too long, or without support; wrists from sitting too high or too low in relation to your work surface; and the thighs when using a wooden chair.
If a table is above elbow height and the chair non-adjustable, Bradbury recommends using pillows to raise your height, and a towel or sweater can be placed behind your back to support the lumbar curve in the spine. And there are ways to make laptops more user-friendly for consistent office use with the addition of an external keyboard, a mouse and items to raise the screen so you can look at it straight ahead.
Bradbury also recommends movement throughout the work day.
“It is really easy to spend a lot of time in one position when we are out of our normal routines,” she said. “It is recommended you set reminders to remind yourself to get up, stretch, get a glass of water and move around.”
In a home environment, one can also consider taking micro breaks to help clear the head.
“You might not have a co-worker next to you like normal, but maybe take time to call a friend for a chat. Allowing yourself micro breaks to move and clear your head will increase productivity over the course of the day.”
Bradbury also noted it’s common to tense our muscles when we’re stressed, which can lead to injuries. Given the stressful nature of this present pandemic, she would suggest workers do things periodically to help calm them down, whether it’s reaching out to a friend, taking a walk or cuddling a pet.
Carroll does intend to make her home office ergonomically friendly.
“Like I said, I’m stir crazy, so I want to work … and I want to be happy and healthy with my two kids. Production wise with my kids home, I’ll figure it out … Ergonomically wise, I will certainly have to reach out and get online coaching or information on what I can do or what tips of the trade are there to ensure that by making due with the resources in my house that are available to me, I’m able to do the best I can.”