Making WFH set-up more comfortable?
May 18, 2020 8:08 AM   Subscribe

What have you done to make yourself more comfortable while Working From Home, without doing something drastic like buying a whole new desk & chair?

My desk at work was finally rigged up so I was pretty comfortable: I work in IT so I am staring at a screen all day. At the office I could switch between a desktop PC on my desk and standing at my laptop on a milk crate, and each had a trackball.

But at home things are more makeshift -- and now that I am confident I will be WFH for months more, "just for now" isn't good enough: having spent nine weeks like this, all the pain from my torn rotator cuff injury is back. :7(

What have you all done to make your own work areas better?
  • For example, I have a truly woeful (children's) desk, but I am 6'1" -- so my ankles are crossed under the chair and the seat is miserably hard. I added a Klymit V-Seat inflatable pad to lift my butt up higher (so my legs can straighten out a bit), and also make it easier to sit all day on padding not intended for 190 lbs, 8 hours in a row.
  • I set up some thrifted yoga blocks under the laptop to make the screen higher.
  • I brought home my trackball, and I switch it from right to left once a week or so.
  • My family objected to the keyboard I had been using (an old Model M-style Wang noisemaker), so now I am on a small Happy Hacking Keyboard.
Thanks for any advice, even seemingly-obvious things like "don't skip your afternoon walk," or "use a larger keyboard even if the haters object."
posted by wenestvedt to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Your actual work-surface-interface is paramount if you do mostly computer work. This means don't skimp on:

- Desk and chair relationship
- Monitor height
- Screen size and quality
- Comfortable keyboard
- Preferred pointing device

Yeah, good comfy keyboards tend to be mechanical and thus noisy. Mine is. That's an area you have to address with your family; I'm fortunate in that I'm in house big enough that my office is a distinct room on another floor from where my wife is working.

So get a real desk, and a good chair. Maybe your work will help pay, or let you bring your office chair home. This will make a HUGE difference.

Consider a convertible desk, that will raise and lower, to allow you to shift from sitting to standing. Options exist that aren't bank-breaking expensive, even if you have to pay for it yourself.
posted by uberchet at 8:35 AM on May 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Yeah, zero dollars for this: I work in higher ed, who are pretty much not spending right now. :7(

Just damn glad to be employed.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:37 AM on May 18, 2020

A couple of my coworkers brought home their office chair.

Take hourly stretch/walking breaks -- apparently hourly "ergonomic" breaks are more effective than longer but less frequent breaks. These should include hand, neck, and back stretches.

Take a look at an ergonomic setup diagram and do a self-eval of your space. I have a longer torso than legs and have to put my feet up (I invested in a $15 footrest for this) in order to get a proper setup without my legs dangling, as well as a lumbar support pillow. I did this ages ago at the office after getting a pinched nerve that the PT said was likely aggravated by a poor computer setup.

Be cognizant of your posture. I also have wrist rests for my keyboard and mouse which help encourage good posture.

I did purchase a desk and chair for a little home office setup, but I had been wanting to do this anyhow. It was under $150 and it lives in our guest bedroom, so the desk I got looks more like a pretty table and doubles as a decorative surface for when we have guests -- a couple cute built-in shelves for magazines/coffee table books and a pretty vase with flowers and a couple decorative candles will totally transform the space when I'm no longer working remotely, and the chair can go in the closet. I personally think it's totally worth having a proper ergo setup - $150 is WAY cheaper than more PT.

My boss has a separate "standing desk" he rigged up at home (he does maybe 50/50 sitting/standing) and he brought home extra monitors so he doesn't have to totally change up everything when he switches spaces.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:47 AM on May 18, 2020 [5 favorites]

I guess the biggest thing I’ve been doing is just not being in the same position for very long. Even in the office, I used to stand while taking phone calls, so I’ve been doing that here too, but I’m doing other stuff, too. My office doubles as our spare bedroom, so when I’m doing things that don’t require speaking or typing (like today, I’m doing some QA), I’ll lay down in the bed. If the weather’s nice, I’ll take my laptop out on the porch. I confess I’ve even brought work into the hammock in the backyard.

The other, kind of related thing I’ve been doing is mini-exercise. In the little breaks throughout the day, I’ll do some stretches or some air squats or whatever. I’ve busted out the hacky sack once or twice.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:02 AM on May 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

I've taken over the kitchen table ~2 days a week and also work standing up with my laptop on a milk crate on the kitchen counter. YMMV if you have kids and need to stay in a separate room. Even a super cheap $20 folding table from Costco, Target, Office Depot would be better than a kid's desk! I also bought a $50 monitor of Craiglist - not high-res, but way better for my neck than my laptop screen (I have it on a stack of books).
posted by amaire at 9:02 AM on May 18, 2020

That sounds terrible :(

Can you put some blocks or something under the legs of the desk to make it more your height?

Do you have to hunch down to reach your keyboard?
posted by catquas at 9:03 AM on May 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would recommend joining your local (if you're on FB) Buy Nothing group to see if you can get your hands on *anything* - folding banquet table (what I used for the past 5 years), basic Ikea desk or table (what I just switched to this year), small dining table, credenza, something - that isn't a child's desk.

I spent my own money on my home office because it was that important to me, but I understand if you can't. You may need to use whatever's at hand to stack up to raise your desk (if you spend no other money, $10 at Target or Big Lots will buy you bed risers to safely raise your desk), get your monitors to eye level, make a footrest out of a firm cushion or a couple of towels rolled up and tied or masking-taped. I've made a monitor riser out of a piece of laminate shelving board and a couple of milk crates, and I've made laptop stands out of kitchen "helper shelves". I use a kitchen timer to do pomodoro sprints, after which I stand up for a few minutes.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:11 AM on May 18, 2020 [8 favorites]

If people commonly throw things on your calendar, schedule a 15 minute walking break for yourself in the morning and afternoon so you don't end up so booked that you don't get up to move and stretch. Do this also if you're prone to getting into the work zone and losing track of time.
posted by Candleman at 9:15 AM on May 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

I know you said no money, but I use this $40 folding table when I have to go out and do on-site work, it's just the right size for a human to work at, for the price it's pretty well built, and it folds up nice and small. I find myself pulling it out at home as well when I need a little extra table space for projects. All around good multitasker.
posted by dudemanlives at 9:27 AM on May 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

I work facing a corner in a room that only has a ceiling lamp. I grabbed a floor lamp from a different room and put in the corner behind my monitors (just above my sight line). Now my eyes are much less strained, everything feels much more evenly lit, and my body isn't casting shadows all over my work area. This was the absolute top improvement I made for my work area and it made such a difference.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:49 AM on May 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

I bought the cheapest Office Depot desk chair to replace my straight-back dining room chair. It saved my back.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:57 AM on May 18, 2020

Like your milk crate set up, my standing desk at work is a cardboard copier paper box, on top of a low cupboard. It just happens to be exactly the right height for me to put my laptop on it for half an hour or so and break up my sitting time. Cardboard boxes have the advantage that they're easy to cut off an inch or six. If you know what height you want your laptop, could you cut one to the right height?

The advantage of being at home is also that I can sit on the sofa or bed if I want - just moving around and sitting in different positions periods of time can be useful. Make the most of all the options you have, even if they're just for 5 minutes every hour.
posted by penguin pie at 10:21 AM on May 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

On a slightly different tack: when the working day is over, carry out some ritualised physical action that literally and metaphorically puts your work devices away. For me, it’s unplugging the laptop and putting it in a basket on a shelf where it’s not visible. That helps with the division between work and home.
posted by JJZByBffqU at 10:41 AM on May 18, 2020

I "commute" to and from work. Well sometimes to but always from. Similar to what JJZByBffqU said. I walk my dog most mornings and every evening, then when I come back from the evening walk, I'm home now, no longer at work, and I do home things, not work things.

I also re-angled my camera to the other side of my desk so now it just shows the corner of the room rather than the whole room behind me. I've found myself much less anxious about keeping the area clean or what someone might see behind me randomly.

I also don't always turn on my camera during meetings, especially larger ones, it is exhausting being on camera and If I'm not going to be talking a lot in a meeting, they don't need to see me.

Lighting is KEY, I'm lucky enough to have big windows that I can look out of while working, it also means I don't have to use artificial light, on the stormy days when I do have to turn on artificial lights I can just feel my mood souring all day.
posted by magnetsphere at 11:02 AM on May 18, 2020

Furniture risers (if your child's desk work station is not used by a small child in the evening). Could you make a secondary standing-desk station, and continue to switch off? Also, take breaks to stand & stretch -- set reminder timers.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:49 AM on May 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the suggestions of risers and regular stretching! My desk's weird legs won't fit on the extra risers we bought for my daughter's dorm room, but I might have to try making this into a standing desk, or else moving from here to my basement workbench and back.

There are four kids at home now (college to middle school) plus the two adults, so there an't many rooms that don't already have a person in them all day!

I did pick up a small light that I can use for evening calls (persona, stuff, not work), since the overhead light gives my room that cheerful Witness Protection Ambience. It's a disc of like ten or 14 small LEDs, like this one intended for throwing into your pool during parties, and switching via the little remote control. I made a clip so it will sit on the top edge of my laptop, next to the camera.

I also ran an Ethernet cable to this desk so I am not suffering from crummy wifi.

I had just dumped my bags next to my desk, thinking this is temporary, but I realize I need to ttoally clean off this desk and make room for a taller laptop shelf.

Also: POSTURE! :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:47 PM on May 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Can you bring home anything from work? I was able to get access to my building to get my monitor and chair and a few other accessories, including my monitor stand and my footrest. Makes a huge difference.
posted by radioamy at 10:50 PM on May 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

A folding camping table (e.g. ) will probably have utility to someone after all of this is over. There are also DIY options for standing desks. If you can't rearrange rooms, you still might want to consider rearranging furniture since injuring yourself is not a cost-effective approach.
posted by oceano at 7:50 AM on May 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also headsets (or headphones) for all members of the household if you aren't already.
posted by oceano at 8:04 AM on May 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

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