5 tips to set up a comfortable work-from-home space

Having to work from home can be a less than ideal situation, but experts say there are some simple ways to make your home office set-up ergonomic and your home-office life more balanced. 

Many workers and students who have traditionally not worked at home have been forced into a new reality due to efforts to increase physical distancing and stop the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 

Julia Somody, a registered psychologist based in Vancouver, says being at home all day can create a lot of stress. 

"When we are cooped up in a small place, whether it's with ourselves or other people, everything gets amplified. If it's other people, it's their habits and maybe some annoyances if they're there. With ourselves, it can be any feelings that we have that are there," Somody says. 

Kathleen Forsythe, a registered occupational therapist based in Surrey, B.C., says there are also major physical constraints with working at home when you don't have access to the same kind of equipment that you have in the office, for example. 

Here are some ways to make home-office life less stressful.

1. Create a routine

Somody says you should try to keep a workday routine, such as the transition period either side of your shift when you would have normally commuted to the workplace.

"It's important to maintain some of those routines, so we have that transition time both with starting our day and with ending our day," she said. 

2. Use a comfortable chair

It's important to make your new working setup as comfortable as possible, Forsythe says.

"I know folks are currently using things like kitchen chairs or whatever they have at home, [but] using any kind of cushions or supports to help with your positioning can really give you more comfort and protect your body over the long period of time while you're working," she said. 

You should also get up and walk around as frequently as possible, she said — especially if you are in a small place.

3. Keep in touch with peers

"I've been hearing from a lot of introverts: 'This is called self-isolation? This feels like normal life!' But the extroverts are really struggling with it," Somody said.

"Extroverts tend to gain more of their energy from external sources — social interaction being one of them."

Somody recommends keeping in touch through virtual means or simply calling other people. 


4. Raise your laptop to eye-level and get a separate keyboard

Working on a laptop is not ergonomically ideal, Forsythe says.

"If you can work to get an external keypad and a mouse, and bring that monitor height up to eye level, that's really going to help improve some of the neck and shoulder pain that can come from working on a laptop over long periods of time," she said.

5. Breathe

Somody says it's perfectly normal to feel frazzled. 

"Our bodies are biologically in crisis mode because this is something that's just happened. It's sudden. It's novel. What our bodies do in that case is they go into fight or flight and we go on edge." 

Somody recommends breathing exercises.

"It can be a simple as just trying to slow the breath down, trying to direct — not force it  — but direct it gently into your diaphragm," she said.

"It will help us get back from feeling like we have our faces pressed up against the wall and just give us that space to make some decisions."

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.