Many people are working from home for the first time as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in less than ideal circumstances. Those who don’t have access to a dedicated space to work from home and are attempting to working hunched over coffee tables or on couches, which can lead to back and neck pain. Others are finding it difficult to concentrate or stay productive with the disruption to their usual work routine. These are some tips that registered massage therapists can share with their patients during this challenging time to help make working from home a bit easier.
Keep boundaries and routine:
Working at home can lead to temptation to be in work mode all the time, but that is more likely to lead to burnout. Try to keep to your normal work schedule as much as possible, and only work during those time periods. Focus on your most important tasks, and don’t give into any pressure to appear to be productive at all times.
Once you are done working, close your laptop, go for a walk or immediately start a leisure activity as a signal to yourself that your workday is over. Try to also maintain a physical separation between the space which you work, and the space where you do the rest of your activities. Try to get dressed each morning as a way to transform from “home you” to “work you”. You can even take a short walk before you begin working to simulate a morning commute.
Adjust your space as much as possible:
Although you may not be able to buy a new desk or a more ergonomically sound chair, there are some things you can do to make your work from home space more comfortable. If you’re using a laptop, it’s likely that your screen is positioned too low. Your screen should be just slightly lower than your seated eyesight to not put too much of a strain on your neck. Try using textbooks, or an upside-down laundry basket to raise your laptop to a higher level at home.
To help prevent some back pain, you can try rolling up a towel and placing it behind your lower back to provide some support. Get up once per hour even if it’s just a short walk around your home, and be sure not to stay in the same position for too long.
When sitting in a chair, your feet should be flat on the floor while thighs are parallel to the floor. If you can’t adjust your chair to achieve this, you can try to use a small stool or something else in your home as a foot rest.
Generally moving regularly and avoiding staying in the same position for too long will help you to prevent working from home from causing you pain. There are also specific stretches you can do that can target the areas that might be sore because of sitting all day, especially in a less than ideal setup. This RMTAO blog post outlines some of the stretches you can do that target common areas of concern like your neck, shoulders and back. You can do these stretches throughout your workday to add some variety and to help prevent your muscles from becoming sore and tight.
Take care of your needs:
With the lack of some of the structure an office brings, it can be tempting to be “on” constantly while you’re on the clock. However, it’s important that you still let yourself take breaks and make sure to take care of your basic needs during the work day.
If you can, work in an area of your home that receives a lot of natural light, or try working in any outdoor area you have. Take breaks on a regular schedule like you would if you were in the office. Stay hydrated and eat healthy meals. Schedule regular times for meals or snacks as a reminder to yourself to take a break.
Connect with your team:
You’re getting less natural and unscheduled interaction with your team, so it’s important to carve out specific time to connect with your coworkers. Whether it’s a daily email check in about how you’re doing, or regular audio or video calls. The goal is to get as close to regular face-to-face interactions as possible.
Focus on what’s possible:
Many people are trying to balance working from home with caring for children or other family members. You also might end up interrupted by a pet. Many people are having a hard time focusing on work, due to worries about their health, their families, or the general state of the world.
If you’re not up to your usual productivity level, don’t beat yourself up. Everyone is doing the best they can, and it is likely that most people are putting off work that is less urgent or essential at this time. Although everyone is facing different challenges, it’s important to remember that the work you do in the midst of a pandemic after hastily transitioning to working from home will not be the same as the work you did in the office. Focus on what you are able to do instead of worrying about what you can’t do at the moment.