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Sitting pretty when we head back to the office after working from home

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Many of us are heading back to the office, either full-time, or in a hybrid model. And for those who aren’t, more often than not, we’re still sitting in a home office environment. Transitioning from one office to another has its perks and challenges – especially when it comes to something as simple as sitting in an office chair.

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When many started working from home, there were issues of setting up a home office that mirrored the ones they had left. Sometimes it was easy (many companies sent out proper equipment, including office chairs) – and many found themselves using everything from dining room tables to coffee tables to stools and even toilet seats in order to work from home.

Rachel Mitchell – supplied
Rachel Mitchell – supplied supplied

And now – we’re heading back. Apart from the emotional toll this can take, the body’s in for a few shocks as well. We turned to Rachel Mitchell, a registered kinesiologist, and a Canadian certified professional ergonomist (CCPE), as well as ergonomics manager at ERGO Inc., (a safety consulting and training firm; ergoconsulting.ca) as well as a member of Staples Canada Work from Anywhere advisory council (https://www.staples.ca/), and, in an exclusive interview with SUN Media, walked us through what it’s going to be like when we sit down again post-pandemic.

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Q: What’s the first thing to happen to your body when you switch office chairs (example: You’ve been working from home for two years, and now you’re going back to your old office and office furniture)

A: The body takes time to adapt to changes in posture, whether you are moving from a dining room chair to a proper ergonomic office chair, or between two different adjustable office chairs. You might find your sitting tolerance is lower when changing between any type of seating. Feeling uncomfortable or different are cues to remind yourself to adjust your chair correctly, and to get up and move around. We recommend that you get out of your chair at least once every hour, even if it’s just to pace around the office while on a phone call.

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Q: What if a person is working partly at home and partly at the office (in a hybrid arrangement)?

A: You have a supportive chair in both environments and at the very least have an external mouse and external keyboard, so you can place your laptop on a riser or empty box in order to ensure the top of the screen level with eye height. Prolonged work, on a laptop that is not set up properly, results in forward head positions, which, given that the head weighs about 6.2 kg., places substantial demands on the muscles of the neck.

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If hybrid work also involves shared work spaces in the office, it’s important that employees are trained and comfortable adjusting their equipment each time they come in, and that equipment is selected to be easily adjustable. It is common for employees not to bother adjusting a workstation when they perceive that they will only be using it for a short period of time.

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Proper office setting- supplied photo
Proper office setting- supplied photo Photo by supplied /Staples Canada

Q: What can a person do immediately to make the right transition from home chair to office chair?

A: Make sure you understand what all the levers on the chair do, and understand what the end goal is relative to posture. Take full advantage of all the available features and take the time to ensure an optimal fit. Many people have a couple of levers on their chairs that they don’t know how to use, so odds are they could better fit the chair to their body and be more supported and more comfortable when they are working.

Q: What parts of your body are impacted when you don’t sit on the proper chair?

A: The primary stress from improper sitting is placed on the lower back. Without proper support for the lumbar spine, we increase the compression on our vertebral discs, which can lead to low back discomfort. If we sit without the back properly supported (eg a chair without a backrest or not using the backrest), the muscles in our back have to work harder to support our body weight (half our weight sits above the hips) and the muscles experience fatigue and increased wear and tear.

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Q: Can sitting in the wrong chair cause organic issues (eg digestive issues? Eye problems? Weight issues?)

A: Sitting in the wrong chair increases pressure on the vertebral discs, increased muscle demands, fatigue, and wear and tear. Eye issues can arise if the monitor height is incorrect and with glare in the office. Health concerns also relate to prolonged sitting and a sedentary lifestyle. We encourage people to get up and move around during the day. The less ideal your chair and your workstation, the more important moving around and varying your posture is.

Q: any other thoughts on this matter you can offer to help readers make a successful transition?

A: I would encourage employers to provide employees with training on how to adjust the equipment they have been provided and what optimal postures they should be trying to achieve.

I would encourage employees to take the time to consider their workstation, their discomfort, and how they might make changes to get more comfortable and minimize the strain on their bodies. Even if they don’t have discomfort today, it’s important to minimize the strain on the body so that we can continue to work comfortably and productively years into the future.

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