Still Working From Home? Here’s How to Do It Safely

Healthy Living

June 9, 2020

Working from home more often these days? You’re not alone (even if it feels that way sometimes). Remote work has become increasingly popular. Long before a pandemic made virtual work a necessity, plenty of modern professionals traded in long commutes and cubicles for a cozy home office experience.

Over the last 20 years, the rate of people working from home has grown from 3.3% to 5.2%. That translates to more than 8 million Americans working from home as of 2017.

And with the COVID19 outbreak forcing businesses to reduce or eliminate on-site staff this year, that number will likely jump in 2020.

If you’re still at home for the long haul, it’s time to assess the safety of your workspace. Employers might have rules and regulations that they have to follow to keep employees safe, but there’s no OSHA for your home office.

Whether you’re a seasoned work-at-home pro or you’re relatively new to the concept, it’s important to create a safe environment. Since June is National Safety Month, we’re highlighting ways to stay safe while you’re working from home.

Clean up your stuff.

If you’re feeling more stressed and anxious at work, take a look at your work desk. Stacks of paperwork and piles of sticky notes could be contributing to your anxiety. Research suggests that a cluttered, messy workspace means a cluttered, messy mental state.

Studies also show that messiness in the home encourages people to make poor choices, like snacking on junk and watching TV to avoid dealing with stress. And since your work and home might be blending together more these days, it stands to reason that keeping a clean space will help you mitigate stress.

You don’t need to be an organizational expert. But keeping a tidy workspace can also help keep you safe.

That’s because a clean space is easier to maneuver. And less stuff = fewer accidents. It’s easy to get a little too comfortable at home, but try to treat your at-home office like the one at your 9-to-5. A few tips:

  • Set boundaries. You’ll hear this a lot in this post, but it’s worth repeating: you need boundaries between work and home. Creating a boundary will help you visualize the workspace as a workspace, making it easier to keep clean and clutter-free. 
  • Share the load. If you’re sharing a space with someone else at home, have a chat about personal responsibilities and maintaining a shared workspace. Maybe you’re not the messy one. But keeping a space clean should go for everyone using the space.
  • Make it a habit. Instead of spending hours deep-cleaning your desk every Saturday, break up the tidying into routine, daily tasks you can do while you work. A quick wipe down at the end of the day should be enough.

Cleaning your space regularly could help keep you focused. But don’t go overboard. Different research indicates that a little clutter can stimulate creativity. Strike a balance between tidiness and comfortable clutter — enough to keep your creative juices flowing without their spilling out all over the place.

Create the right mood.

We don’t just mean putting up a photo of your family. (It’s your house. We assume you have no shortage of family paraphernalia.) 

We mean set the tone for a good workday by adjusting the lighting, noise and other environmental factors as much as you can.

If you don’t have a dedicated office, then create one to the best of your ability. Set aside a private space where you can work without distractions. Working parents might find this challenging — or downright impossible — but do the best you can. Not only will creating a work nook help you stay focused, but it’ll help you set boundaries between work and home.

And those boundaries are essential.

How’s the lighting where you work? Try adjusting the lighting, both manmade and natural, in your workspace. Let as much natural light in, too. And while you’re at it, crack open your window if you can. Fresh air and sun do wonders for cabin fever. 

Use good equipment.

You’ve likely heard about ergonomics. Maybe your employer even outfitted the office in ergonomic chairs and desks (bravo if that’s the case!). 

“Ergonomics” actually means fitting the workplace to the worker. In other words, it’s a system that makes it easier for employees to do their jobs.

And since you’re at home and in charge of your own setup, it’s important to assess your equipment to make sure it’s serving you well.

Over time, repeated strain on your musculoskeletal system can cause a host of problems. If you constantly bend over a keyboard or laptop, sit hunched in front of a screen for hours on end, or bend or move your body into a poor posture all day, you’re bound to feel it.

Perhaps you already do?

Tension begets tension. 

Not only will you likely see an uptick in tension headaches, but your muscles will protest as well. In fact, poor posture can also create some surprising problems, like:

  • Breathing troubles
  • Constipation and/or incontinence
  • Slowed digestion and acid reflux
  • Poor balance

Not using the right equipment can affect your health.

If you’re already in pain, try adjusting the way you sit and the chair itself. Upgrading to an ergonomically superior chair may alleviate your tension. The same goes for your keyboard, your computer setup and your desk.

If replacing your equipment doesn’t help or you suspect something’s really wrong, talk to your doctor. You might need to see a physical therapist for techniques on improving your posture, flexibility and general mobility.

Take breaks.

You might already be taking a few extra breaks since you’re at home. (No judgment here.) But if you’re not — or you’re not using those breaks well — then find a way to carve out some “you” time during your workday. 

Breaks give you a chance to pause, breathe and collect yourself for the tasks ahead. 

Get some water, stare out the window, meditate or even do a few yoga poses. If you’ve got a safe place to take a brief walk, head outside during your morning break. If not, take a few minutes to step outside on your doorstep and listen to the outside world. Even the doom-and-gloom of a summer storm can be meditative. 

Oh, and avoid wandering into the kitchen for junk food. You might accidentally train yourself into a bad habit if you always reach for your chocolate stash when you’re on break. Instead, get a more nutritious snack or grab a cup of herbal tea if you need a pick-me-up.

“Leave” when you’re done.

Salaried or not, you need to create boundaries between work and home. That’s not always easy. In fact, American workers are notorious for not taking paid leave when they can and working more hours per week than most other countries. 

And while finishing up projects or meeting deadlines is sometimes unavoidable, don’t make a habit of letting work bleed into your home life.

Mental health is just as important as physical health, especially when it comes to working. Just as you need to take breaks throughout your workday, you need to shut down for the evening — or whenever your shift ends — to unwind, unload and decompress from the day’s events. Working from home presents a variety of challenges. Creative workarounds can help you make the most of it.