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

Is laptop-based teaching leaving you feeling bent out of shape? We ask Posture People for some tips on home working

Simon Lock

Online learning: How teachers working from home in the coronavirus lockdown can improve their posture

During a normal school day, even the most sedate teacher will clock up an impressive step count, just by moving around the classroom and corridors. 

But in the remote learning world – aka the kitchen, spare room or sofa – the chance to move is greatly reduced (and the fridge is tantalisingly close at all times).

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 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.

Online learning: How to work comfortably from home

1. Decide on your workstation

It may be called a "laptop" but that isn't a workspace suggestion. 

“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

You also need to customise your workspace to fit your body.

“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 set-up  

When it comes to the perfect home-working set-up, 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, 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 to 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 Adriene. 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 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.”

Warning signs to watch out for

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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Simon Lock

Simon Lock

Simon Lock is Tes senior digital editor

Find me on Twitter @simon_lock_

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