Dedicated spaces and regular movement aid in productive, safe telework

by Judy Stringer 

Many companies were forced to quickly adopt remote working capabilities as states, including Ohio, issued stay-at-home orders earlier this year.

Even as coronavirus restrictions are being eased, however, a significant portion of office employees continue to work from home, or do so more often than in pre-COVID times. Industry watchers say it’s a trend here to stay.

That means it’s time to get serious about home workspaces.

“Spaces and the way we design or decorate them are so critical to our productivity and happiness,” said Lisa Borchert, a clinical counselor and owner of Avenues of Counseling & Mediation, which has offices in Medina and Fairlawn.

A temporary spot at the dining room table or on the living room sofa may have sufficed for the first few months, Borchert said, but as people face the reality of longer and even permanent telecommunication assignments, a dedicated work station is a must.

“If you have the luxury of doing it, make sure the space is private, or at least semi-private, and that is separate space from where you do other living activities, a space that you can leave at the end of the work day,” she said.

Having a dedicated workspace makes it easier to separate work life and home life, which can be one of the most challenging parts of working from home, according to Borchert. It also gives you the opportunity to replicate some of the features of your office and provide “a sense of normalcy” to working remotely, she said. Put up photos of your children, for instance, or use a whiteboard at home if that’s how you work in the office, or get the same pens and paper.

Borchert said when her employees began working at home, one of the first things she did was make sure they all had appropriate desk chairs. 

“When people are just making do, that limbo psychologically is not good for us,” she said. “Anything you can do to make it more permanent will help reduce some of the anxiety and stress related to being out of your normal working environment.” 

Ergonomically speaking 

Working from home also requires intentionality in creating spaces that keep employees safe and healthy physically, said Andrew Brady, a doctor of chiropractic and owner of Spine Integrative Wellness in Hudson. Brady’s seen an influx of new patients, “just in the last few months,” he said, struggling with issues caused by “the change in work environment and the sedentary nature of working at home.” 

He is a huge advocate of standing desks.

“Research suggests sitting for eight hours a day is more dangerous than smoking,” according to Brady, who said clotting factors – which contribute to blood clots and poor blood circulation – begin to accumulate in as little as 45 minutes of sitting.

When sitting at a desk, he said, be sure to stand up and move every 30 minutes. Sitting on an exercise ball or balance disc also promotes movement and strengthens your core.

 In addition, keep both your knees and hips at 90-degree angles, Brady said, to reduce any unnecessary stress on joints, and place your monitor at eye-level to mitigate strain on the neck and spine and avoid nerve damage.

“The biggest message is that movement is key, whether you are working at home or in an office,” he said. “Fifty percent of your nervous system is responsible for movement pathways. If you are seated eight hours a day, you are not using half of your nervous system, and that that is when things start to break down.”