Almost 5 million Canadians are now working from home who normally would not and I am one of them.
I found out on March 13th that the Levitt-Safety offices would close for three weeks as a COVID-19 precautionary measure. I figured we’d be back in no time so I only took a few items I could foresee myself needing in that time.
Ten weeks later, there is no return date in sight.
Some of us love this new way of working and others are itching to get back to the office for a sense of normalcy. Whichever group you fall into, working from home brings a new set of risks most people did not prepare for.
Full disclosure #1: I love working from home, it fits my lifestyle and I’m fortunate to have the type of job where I work independently and can remotely complete group projects. However, for many of these 5 million workers, this is no walk in the park.
Full disclosure #2: I don’t have pets, kids, roommates or other people who rely on me. I have plants that need water and sunshine, and a partner that can get those things for herself. While I don’t have suggestions from my own life, I am awesome at research and have brilliant co-workers with kids and pets to fill in the blanks.
I made a lot of mistakes when I first started working from home and there has been a lot of experimentation to find solutions that work. So now I’m passing my wealth of knowledge onto you — for free no less!
Nothing makes you realize how nice your office set up was like sitting on a hard wooden chair while working hunched over your kitchen island.
This is my take on the most popular poses under ‘ergonomics’ on iStock.
I got that message loud and clear after three days of working that way. I could have avoided all that pain if I’d only read our post Tips for Better Office Ergonomics.
Many people have started investing in home office set ups with nice screens and good desks. You may not have the budget or the desire to spend money on that stuff; you can still have a good ergonomic set up or as I call it “the economic-ergonomic office.”
Creating an economic-ergonomic office:
Step 1: Find a desk
Writing emails with your laptop in your lap is fine when you’re stuck in an airport, but it’s not a long-term solution.
Find a desk that allows the bendy parts of your body — elbows, hips and knees — to remain at 90 degree angles. That means it can’t be too short that you slouch or too tall that you need to reach.
You can even build a table out of cardboard.
Step 2: Get a better chair
There aren’t as many hacks for this one. Unless you want to eliminate the chair altogether by making a standing desk. In which case you can use a box. Check out my masterpiece on Levitt-Safety’s Instagram account (and follow our account while you’re there).
If chairs are important to you, you have two options:
- Buy an office chair.
- Borrow your work chair from the office.
I chose option 2 once I got bored of my banana box standing desk.
Step 3: Fix your monitor
The top of your screen should be at eye level.
You can buy a monitor stand or you can stack a bunch of books under your monitor until it’s the right height.
I definitely won’t be needing “World’s Best Travel Experiences” for a while.
Step 4. Hook up a keyboard
For the first two weeks I wrote using the keyboard on my laptop. At the same time, my shoulders were tensing up a lot. The laptop keyboard was too narrow for my hands, so I was sitting with my elbows splayed out and my wrists cocked to fit.
Lifehack has a list of 7 Tips for Choosing the Perfect Keyboard.
Follow those four steps and you too can have an economic-ergonomic office.
2. Slips, trips and falls:
In workplaces, there are teams of people called Joint Health and Safety Committees (JHSC) who are looking out for your well-being. If there’s a leak, spill or tripping hazard, someone is notified and it gets fixed.
That is not an option at home. JHSC can’t remind you that you left the vacuum plugged in at the top of the stairs or that you spilled coffee and didn’t bother cleaning it up.
The present you has to take care of the future you! That means eliminating or repairing hazards that could hurt you.
Learn more about the importance of JHSCs in our post Why Your Workplace Needs a Health and Safety Committee.
Fire extinguisher, smoke and CO detector:
One of the exciting things I learned while working from home was that the batteries in my smoke alarm were not working.
That was also the day I decided to invest in a ‘just in case’ fire extinguisher.
The Town of Ajax’s Fire Prevention Inspection Shelley Langer made a strong point about working from home:
“Now that more people are working from home and setting up makeshift offices, you need to be mindful and ensure your workspace is safe. You may have several family members working from laptops at the kitchen table. The space may not have been designed to provide electricity to that many devices. You must be careful to not overload outlets and make sure you are using power bars properly. It’s also important to make sure you have working smoke alarms on every level. Please, test your smoke and CO alarms monthly.”
If you’re unsure, call your local fire department using the non-emergency line. Most will be happy to educate you on preventative measures you should take.
4. Finding a work-life balance:
You would think that finding a work-life balance would be easier when working from home. But for many people, an hour-long commute with heavy traffic was the thing that reminded them to leave work on time.
People (myself included) feel guilty about leaving work when there isn’t the ‘excuse’ of traffic.
Creating structure will help you find the dividing line between work and home.
WFH with kids:
One of my co-workers who has a dog and a 7-year-old child outlined her routine:
- I get up early, long before my son, and get a few hours of solid work in before he gets up. That gives me dedicated time to work before he starts pestering me for perpetual snacks.
- I block off 12 – 1 pm every day in my calendar and give him a solid hour of my time for lunch, a game, a walk outside and just attention.
- I try to forgive myself (and my son and dog) for interruptions. This is the “normal” situation for so many people right now and we have to adapt. So if a dinosaur finger-puppet goes walking across the screen during a Zoom call, I laugh it off.
- I really truly need to turn off at the end of the day. I close my computer and try to do something that designates the end of my day – for us it is usually a walk before dinner. I find that routine of leaving and coming back in lets me reframe.
WFH with pets:
If you have a pet that needs a lot of attention, it may mean a bit of extra training is required according to The Dog People.
You may also want to invest in some pet puzzles to provide mental stimulation when you can’t be as attentive.
And when all else fails, bring out a ball or some yarn to burn off some of that extra energy. It’s also a good opportunity for you to stretch your legs.
5. Mental and physical health:
When Prince Humperdinck in the Princess Bride was stressing about having his “country’s 500th anniversary to plan, wedding to arrange, wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it,” his loyal friend the Six-Fingered Man reminded him “if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.”
While I hope your schedule is not this busy (or morbid), focusing on your mental and physical health is critical to so many parts of your work and personal life.
A lot of workplaces offer free mental health resources through a third-party so whatever you need to talk about won’t be connected to work.
If your workplace doesn’t offer these resources or you don’t feel comfortable going through work, check these options out:
- Canadian Mental Health Association: Provides the resources and programs necessary to combat mental health issues and support recovery
- Mind Beacon Digital Therapy: Allows users to meet with a therapist through texting or video messaging services.
- United Way Canada works in communities across Canada to offer mental health programs and crisis support.
- Addictions counselling and substance abuse Providing help for people struggling with alcohol and drug use
Your family doctor should also be able to provide resources in your area.
I never realized how much I get up at the office to talk to coworkers until I started working alone. The first week my legs were going numb from how much I was sitting.
Get up when you start feeling restless and take a walk around your apartment, yard, down the hall, around the block. Whatever space you have, use it for a little walk or walk in spot. But get the blood flowing!
Return to Work:
COVID-19 has changed the way workplaces will look in the future. We have proven that working from home is possible and a lot of businesses this will become the new normal.
The advice within this post is not only useful while you’re working from home, it will help you live the best version of your life after COVID-19.
Does your company have a return to work strategy?
Download our free return to work preparedness checklist now!