A woman works from home on her laptop. She works in a well-lit workspace with no clutter on her desk.
A well-lit workspace can help prevent strain on the eyes. It can also be helpful to take a break every 20 to 30 minutes. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

With scores of people working from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become more important than ever to understand the value of a safe and functional at-home workspace.

And it’s not just about workspaces—it’s about habits, too.

“You don’t have to have the perfect desk setup and equipment,” Spectrum Health athletic trainer Holly Hall said. “What really matters is you need to move around and have an adjustable work station. If you stay at your desk, make sure you adjust it accordingly and change positions regularly.”

Hall and other Spectrum Health ergonomic experts said it isn’t necessarily about having the right equipment, but about making what you have right for you.

Proper furniture doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Many of the pieces already in your home can be quite useable with some minor adjustments.

Suitable adjustments

The basics? A chair, table, laptop and, for ergonomic purposes, a separate keyboard and mouse. From there, it’s a matter of the proper placement of items.

An adjustable chair works best if it can be adapted to your table, be it kitchen or dining room, Hall said.

To reduce neck fatigue, place your monitor at a height where the top is level with your eyes. Ideally, it should be 24-36 inches away from you—about an arm’s length.

The keyboard and mouse should be positioned lower than the monitor, with elbows at the side of your body.

Those working with two monitors or two keyboards should have both screens at eye level. You should face the monitor you’re working on at that moment.

You don’t need a fancy stand for adjusting your monitor. Some old but sturdy boxes or even an old phone book will do, if placed strategically under the monitor.

Work comfortably

Items you use frequently, such as the keyboard, mouse and notes should be within an arm’s reach, Spectrum Health supervisor of sports medicine Dan Clapper said.

Items used less frequently, such as coffee mugs, can be further away. In fact, liquids and laptops don’t mix, so it’s wise to keep them at a distance.

The chair should have some type of lumbar support for your back. If your chair doesn’t offer that, a simple pillow will do.

Proper posture is vital. Be sure to sit upright in the chair and make sure your feet are flat on the floor. If the chair isn’t adjustable, then a box for your feet would be appropriate, Clapper said.

Be sure to take breaks. Generally, sitting for 45 minutes and then standing for 15 minutes is suggested. Taking a break every 30 minutes works, too—20 minutes sitting, eight minutes standing, then moving around for two minutes.

“It’s one of those things you don’t want to sit all day,” Clapper said. “But any option will do.”

Snacking can be a problem, particularly if you work in or near the kitchen. The best alternative is to plan your snacks at the beginning of the day—and don’t deviate from that.

You don’t have to spend a fortune on a stand-sit desk if that’s what you’re seeking. The box method works well here, too.

Preventing eyestrain

Your work area needs proper lighting to help you avoid eyestrain.

Gus Hemingway, a Spectrum Health outreach athletic trainer who specializes in ergonomic office assessments, said the screen should be a little brighter—but not too bright. You don’t want lighting to glare off the screen.

Also, face the windows in the work area—don’t have them behind you.

One way to help control eyestrain? The 20-20-20 rule.

Every 20 minutes, pick an object 20 feet away and look at it for 20 seconds.

Simply stretching your hands and fingers frequently can prevent wrist and hand fatigue, Hemingway said.

Ultimately, you should be comfortable at your desk, but you need to move about frequently, Clapper said.

Distractions can be a benefit.

“When it comes to taking a break, use and enjoy your distractions,” Clapper said. “You might get a chance to see your kids a little more—something you don’t get at work.”