5 tips for keeping home-working aches and pains at bay

Worried that working on a computer will bend you out of shape? Tes asks desk experts The Posture People for some tips

Coronavirus: If you're a teacher working from home, it's important to have good posture at your 'work station'

"How is it already 11.45?"

I’ve been sat at my kitchen table for over three hours. I’ve consumed zero water, haven’t moved from my desk – hell, if it hadn’t been for next door’s cat knocking over a plant pot, I wouldn’t have looked away from my screen – and I still feel like I’ve got nothing done!  

For teachers new to remote working, this kind of situation will be an uncomfortable new reality – and it is easy to establish dangerous habits if corrective steps aren't taken.

During a normal day, even the most sedate teacher will clock up an impressive step count, regularly moving around the classroom and corridors, arriving home having burned enough calories to justify even the most indulgent of meals.

But in the new confines of the kitchen workspace or your living room, the chance to move is greatly reduced, the ergonomics of a proper desk aren’t properly considered and the fridge is always lurking in your periphery.

Coronavirus: Working comfortably from home

So what can be done to make sure home working doesn’t leave us bent double, overweight and riddled with knots, strains and complaints? We spoke to Jo Blood, managing director at The Posture People, a firm that advises businesses on how to achieve the ideal working environments, to get her top tips for working comfortably from home.

1. Decide on your workstation

The term "laptop" shouldn’t be taken as a workspace suggestion. And just because you can work from bed, it doesn’t mean you should.

“Teachers need to set up a new temporary workstation,” says Blood, who has been helping businesses with their workspaces for 15 years.  

“Really this needs to be a table; a kitchen one will do. Don’t be tempted to work on the sofa as you will suffer in the long run."

2. Get comfortable

Once you’ve found the space from which you’re going to work your virtual-classroom magic, you need to customise it.

“If you’re using your kitchen table as your base of operations, the first thing is to set it up like a desk,” says Blood. “Kitchen tables are generally about 3cm higher than a normal desk, and a kitchen chair is normally 3cm lower that a standard office chair.”

This disparity might not seem like a lot, but over a prolonged period your posture will start to suffer.

“To get the sitting height right, relax your shoulders and form a right angle at your elbow. Your forearm and elbow should be in line with the table.

“The top of your screen needs to ideally be at eye height. If you are using a laptop you need to use a laptop stand to raise the screen (or a very sturdy pile of books) with a separate keyboard and mouse.” 

3. Hack your setup  

When it comes to the perfect home-working setup, there is a multitude of different kit available to help you. However, much of it comes at a price, so Blood has a few tips for getting ergonomic on a budget:

  • Use books to raise the screen up (but remember to use a separate keyboard and mouse)   
  • Use cushions to get to the right sitting height
  • Use another cushion in the curve of your lower back to support your lumbar spine
  • Books or blocks of paper make great temporary footrests

4. Take a break  

In the confines of the classroom there are a million and one reasons to get up and stretch your legs. When you’re sat at your desk the time can race past with very little to get you up and moving. But finding time to move is a must.

“We recommend sitting for no more than 40 minutes at a time, on a normal chair, but if it’s a kitchen chair I’d shorten it to every 20-30 minutes,” says Blood.

“When you’re up, have a quick walk. We’re not talking going for a hike, rather get up and walk to the other side of the room – maybe 30 seconds to a minute.”

With that advice in mind, it’s worth trying to factor in natural breaks in your lesson planning. While the students are working on an exercise, take a stroll around the table, have a glass of water or touch your toes.

5. Strike a pose

If you’re working from home, it’s not just a lack of class time that will make life more sedentary. You’ll lose your commute, and sports clubs and maybe that hypothetical post-work gym visit.

If that’s the case you need to find something to fill the void.

“We can’t recommend yoga highly enough,” says Blood. “It’s good for stretching muscles out. There is lots to choose from on YouTube, but personally we like Yoga with Adrienne. She’s got loads of free tutorials and most of it’s not too complicated. She’s even got a 'yoga at your desk video'.”

If this doesn't sound like your cup of tea, any kind of exercise will do. Just maybe make sure your webcam is properly turned off.

“The best advice we can offer is just get up and move, have a wriggle, jump around a bit, run up and down the stairs,” Blood advises. “Anything to get the blood pumping and the muscles moving.”

Things to look out for

Although it’s important to keep an eye on your comfort, there are serious health implications that can stem from getting your working posture wrong.

“Probably the main one to watch out for is repetitive strain injury (RSI),” says Blood. “This can present as pain in the wrists and/or numbness or tingling in the fingers.

“As well as wrist issues, you can develop tennis or golfers’ elbows where the tendons become inflamed, often resulting in pain in the forearms.

“Kitchen chairs and tables aren’t really designed to be sat at all day. If you experience discomfort, firstly, stop and have a look at your workstation; is everything set up as well as it could be? Are you taking frequent breaks away from your screen?”

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