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Working from Home during COVID-19

Senior fashionable woman working at home

Whether you’re working full-time, part-time or as a volunteer, already retired or just beginning to think about it, you’re likely spending a lot more time at home thanks to the coronavirus. While not having to get showered and dressed to impress may be a positive, spending time at your computer can be tough on your body, especially if you don’t have a dedicated workspace.

Without one, you may find yourself replying to emails from your kitchen counter, joining Zoom calls from the floor of your bedroom or ducking into makeshift work spaces such as closets and shower stalls in order to get the privacy you need without disturbing other household members.

Doing so can lead to stress and discomfort in your neck, back and shoulders, eye strain and headaches, not to mention a steep rise in stress.

So, I reached out to Vivienne Fleischer, president and cofounder of Performance Based Ergonomics (PBE), a global provider of ergonomic consultation, for her tips on how we AARP members can work from home safely and productively. Here’s what she had to say:

Tip 1: Claim your space. However tempting it may be to work on your bed, couch or lap, it’s best to set yourself up on a flat surface, whether that’s your desk, dresser or kitchen counter. This allows you to set up your “tech trio”—monitor, keyboard, mouse and most importantly, your body—in an ergo-friendly way: upright and balanced with arms close to your sides and eyes looking straight ahead.

Also keep in mind that the monitors built into laptops are inherently problematic because they require looking down, which places strain on your eyes and can cause headaches.

That’s why Fleischer advises getting an external monitor or placing your laptop on a riser so that your monitor is at or slightly below eye level (unless you wear progressive lenses, in which case you’ll likely want your monitor to be lower). “Either way, the goal is to maintain an upright and balanced posture that includes your neck and head,” says Fleischer.

Tip 2: Protect your eyes. To prevent eye strain, make sure your screen is at eye level, centered and within one arm’s length of your body so that you don’t have to look up, down or to the side.

Also try to avoid staring at your screen for long periods of time without a break. “One great way to combat eye fatigue is by adopting the 20-20-20 rule,” says Fleischer. “Every 20 minutes, look away from you rscreen at something that is at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.”

Tip 3: Mind your schedule. To keep your and other household members’ stress levels in check, work out schedules in advance, especially if you need privacy for conference calls or video meetings. Also make sure to pace yourself.

“One of the biggest stressors we see is fatigue and overwhelm,” says Fleischer. “If you participate in several meetings a day, avoid scheduling them back to back. Instead, give yourself at least 10 minutes in between to stretch, rest your eyes and drink a glass of water.”

Establishing the right set up and routine—one that enables you to feel great and stay on top of your game—will go a long way toward improving your productivity so you can get back to more important things, such as FaceTiming with the grandkids, Zooming with your book group or kicking back for some downtime.

For more helpful ergo tips, subscribe to PBE’s blog or follow PBE on Instagram or LinkedIn.

Bev Bachel is a Twin Cities freelance writer and the author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! She is a member of the AARP Minnesota Executive Council and a booster of AARP Minnesota’s 50 Over 50, an annual list that honors 50 Minnesotans over the age of 50 who are doing amazing things

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