Setting up a healthy home office on a budget

Setting up a healthy home office on a budget

If you had to transition from an office setting to working from home when the quarantine started, you probably didn’t get much notice — or a chance to set up your home office ergonomically. But now that work from home has become a longer-term thing, and some offices are realizing the (pretty major) benefits of not having their employees working out of pricey square footage, it may actually become a permanent thing for a lot of us.

Working from your couch or scrunched up at your coffee table can be really hard on your body. Stiff necks, sore backs, headaches, wrist and shoulder pain.. the list goes on. Keeping yourself in an unhealthy position for eight (or more!) hours a day can wreak havoc on your health.

So what can you do if you don’t have a fancy designer chair or a trendy stand-up desk — or if you’re working on a laptop and don’t have room on your desk (or in your budget) for a big monitor? You get creative:

1. Adapt your laptop.

The reason ergonomics specialists recommend having an under-desk “shelf” for your keyboard is that it keeps your arms in a neutral 45-degree position. Having your laptop on a table and reaching for the keyboard means your arms are raised in a position that puts pressure on your wrists and shoulders and can cause injury. Plus, looking down at the screen can really do a number on your neck.

That’s why a lot of offices have monitors and keyboards where you just plug your laptop in and use it as a desktop. But you don’t need to make a big investment to get the same setup at home – there’s a cheap and cheerful way to achieve a similar result. Place some books or a box under your laptop, or buy an inexpensive laptop stand to get your screen to the right height: when you sit up straight and look ahead, the top third of your screen should be just above your eyeline.

Then you’ll want to pick up a USB keyboard and mouse (these range in price, but there are lots of options that won’t break the bank), bring them to close to you so you’re not reaching out for them, and you should feel a lot more comfortable.

2. Sit all the way back in your chair.

Don’t hunch or perch on the edge of your seat – even if you have a high-end office chair, sitting like that won’t do your back any favours. Push yourself back as far as you can go, really using the back of your chair, and sit up straight. NO backless stools, please – they’re just an invitation to hunch.

Need a little extra support? Put a cushion behind your lower back.

3. Make sure your feet are sitting flat on the floor

Don’t have an adjustable chair? Add a pillow or some books under your feet to get your legs sitting at the right angle. No need to buy a fancy foot support pedestal, but those are totally a thing if you have the budget for one.

Dog walk

4. Take lots of short breaks

If you haven’t heard, sitting a lot isn’t good for you. So get up often, do some stretches (try a couple of downward dogs or toe touches while you wait for your coffee to brew or your lunch to warm up), or get outside for a quick walk and some fresh air. It gives your body a break and allows your brain to rest a bit too, so you come back more refreshed and ready to be productive.

Do you get too focused to remember to take breaks? Set your alarm or use a tool like Micro-Breaks, a Chrome extension that prompts you to step away from the screen for a minute or two.

5. Plug into your TV

Did you know you can use your TV as a monitor? Connect your laptop with an HDMI cable for a big-screen experience.

Stand up

6. Stand up

If there’s work you can do while standing, have at it. Talk while walking around the living room (or around the block), or use your kitchen counter as a standup desk for a couple of hours, adjusting for your height with books or sturdy boxes. The benefits of standing while you work are big. It burns more calories than sitting, can help with back pain – and has been linked to a host of other health benefits. Just remember that standing all day is as bad for you as sitting all day – you should do a combination of both.

Thinking you might want an actual standup desk? You don’t have to spend a fortune if you don’t want to. Ikea has one that’s a bit more budget-friendly than most, and it’s adjustable where as your counter probably isn’t (but wouldn’t that be cool).

7. Buy a quality secondhand chair

There’s definitely something to be said for a great office chair with lumbar support and adjustable arms and seat height. Really good chairs can be pretty pricey, but if you’re not willing to lay out a bunch of cash for a brand-new (and very expensive) Aeron, there are a lot of other choices at different price points. Here’s what to look for when shopping for an office chair.

Keep in mind that you can score a brand-name bargain if you’re willing to buy secondhand. Try Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji or Craiglist, and you’ll probably find lots of high-quality chairs in good shape at a reasonable price. And that’s especially true right now, as businesses realize they don’t need as much office space and have started selling off their office furniture – so keep an eye out for a great find!

You don’t have to spend a lot to make your home office a healthier place to work.

Of course, feel free to deck out your space with a fully ergonomic setup, but if you can’t do that, there are definitely ways of working that are easier on your body than curling up on the couch.

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