If you’re working from a home office these days, it’s important to have an environment that won’t injure you, an expert says.

It’s good to have a break about every 30 minutes to protect your back, shoulders and arms, said Kermit Davis, an expert in office ergonomics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

“The body doesn’t like static postures continually,” he said. “You don’t want to do all sitting or all standing all the time. You want to alter your position and change it up throughout the day.”

Davis said that while you can work at home, you can’t take home all the comforts of your office.

“You can use your laptop from home, but it is designed to be a short-term option,” he said. “It should be used for a few hours while traveling. It is not meant to be used for eight or nine hours each day.”

An evaluation of home workstations of university employees who began working at home during the coronavirus pandemic was revealing. Many chairs were the wrong height: 41% were too low; 2% were too high. Although 53% of workers’ chairs had armrests, 32% didn’t use them and 18% were improperly adjusted.

Not using armrests can put stress on forearms and strain in the upper back. The evaluation also found that 69% were not using the chairback for support and 73% did not use lower-back support.

Computer monitors were often positioned too low or off to the side. Three-quarters of monitors were laptops, which were too low relative to a worker’s eye height, the study found.

Fifty-two percent of external monitors were also too low; 4% were too high. Also, 31% of monitors were not centered, causing neck or back twisting.

The following tips might be helpful for homebound office workers:

  • Put a pillow on your seat to raise it.
  • Put a pillow or rolled up towel behind your back for lumbar support.
  • If armrests are too low, wrap them.
  • Bring the chair closer to the desk or table.
  • Use a lap desk or pillow under the laptop to raise the monitor.
  • Use an external keyboard and mouse, and raise the monitor using a stack of books or a box.
  • For a standing workstation, the top of the monitor should be at eye level. The keyboard height should keep the forearms parallel to the ground.
  • If you don’t have a proper work area, rotate between a sitting and a standing workstation.

Davis fears discomfort will increase after more than five months of working at home.

“It’s not just ergonomics changing but also other factors: isolation, teamwork changes and work-life balance is distorted, and changes in the stress level that people have,” he said.

The report was published online recently in the journal Ergonomics in Design.

More information

For more about setting up a safe and efficient home office, visit the American Occupational Therapy Association.