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From South Korea to Alaska: Work-At-home Ergonomic Tips That Go Where I Go.

Written by Paige Findlay, MS, OTR/L

Virtual Hand Therapy Fellow ‘20

Before Coronavirus began to spread globally, I had already begun shifting from a full-time occupational therapy position to working from home in South Korea. I spent as much as 15-20 hours a week traveling to and from various schools across the Korean peninsula to cover school-based occupational therapy services. In January, however, I left my position in hopes of taking on new challenges and exploring new opportunities. I wanted to expand my skill set and make the transition from pediatrics to the specialty of upper extremity and hand rehabilitation. Living in South Korea could have posed some obstacles to making this transition, but I was fortunate to stumble upon a virtual hand therapy fellowship and was eager to jump on board. Needless to say, between my virtual hand therapy fellowship and my new telehealth ventures, I spend more time in my “home office” than ever before.

Making the office space my own, and a place I that wanted to spend almost all time was my first consideration. However, while working from home has its advantages, I’ve quickly come to realize there are also some obstacles and disadvantages. For example, I’ve noticed that my step count is far less than what it used to be, dishes seem to pile up in the sink a bit more and being quarantined with the fridge nearby hasn’t exactly been helping my waistline. I also noticed some new aches and pains on occasion, so I decided to take some preventative measures and I made some changes.

Below are some of the tips I’ve learned to incorporate which I broke down into various areas that can be modified to help make your workstation as well as your work habits more ergonomic.

Productivity:

● Use a time blocking strategy or a reminder once you get started working. After 45 minutes of working, take a small break, step outside, grab a drink of water, etc. One of my favorites is a time cube that I bought off amazon here.

● Use a planner or google calendar to block out times that you will work from home and get ready for work like you’re heading to the office.

● Turn off distractions by limiting screen time on certain applications and social media or have designated times that you can check social media or “white space” in your calendar. For more info and tips, you can refer to this page from apple if you have a mac device.

● Write out the 5 most important things you want to get done before opening up any browser or a workspace and try to get the most important thing done first.

● Also, I don’t know about you, but staying in one place too long also seems to kill my productivity so planning short duration activities, such as going out to check the mail, or to get a cup of coffee can help you get back on track.

Movement and setup:

● Varying your posture and changing up your position may be one of the most important things. Staying in one position too long, no matter how comfortable or “ergonomic friendly” the design of the chair may be, it may be more detrimental than anything.

● Are you able to do some of your work standing versus sitting? Have you seen those standing desks that everyone is raving about in the office? There are so many great options whether you buy a standing desk or find a surface covering for your desk that you can easily adjust to a standing height.

● Having an exercise ball handy that you could rotate in with your regular chair may not be a bad idea either.

Desk/ monitor setup:

● When sitting straight in your chair, is your monitor directly across from you at eye level? If not, you may need to raise it. Placing some of those hefty textbooks that haven’t been opened in years, or finding a spare box are some great temporary solutions.

● Having an external keyboard and mouse is another important tool to prevent common work-related injuries. You want to avoid too much wrist extension, when the wrist bends upward, as this increases pressure on the carpal tunnel.

● Consider a gel wrist support that can help keep your wrists straight and also prevent the compression that can be caused by leaning on a hard surface.

Other tips:

● Designate one main workspace, but don’t be afraid to pick up something and head to another room, or balcony.

● Have various seating options and/or footstools. One of the most important things here is finding a comfortable chair and making sure your hips and knees are at 90.

● Every 20 minutes or so try to look away from the computer to minimize eye strain.

● Stay well hydrated and have a water bottle close by… if nothing else gets you up and moving at least you know you will have a bathroom break in your near future.

These are just a few of the things that have helped me in my transition to working from home, and that I plan to take with me when I move to Alaska in the next few months. Overall, it’s been a refreshing and challenging way to change up my work routine. If you have any other great tips, comment below. If you have questions, feel free to reach out at info@virtualhandinstitute.com


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