Get Comfortable: Tips for At-home Workspaces

Occupational therapy professor Yvonne Swinth ’85 offers advice for people working or learning at home

A Google search for “home workspace tips” yields more than 50 million results. Some articles recommend standing desks; others swear you’ll be most productive on the couch. With so much information out there, it can be difficult to know what advice to follow and who to trust, so we consulted our own Puget Sound expert in ergonomics for some tips for Loggers working and learning at home while social distancing.

Professor and program director in the School of Occupational Therapy Yvonne Swinth ’85 says at-home workspaces don’t have to be complicated. “I want you to be where you can work efficiently,” she says. 

Comfort is key.

A student gets comfortable while studying with her laptop in—you guessed it—her lap.

“If you aren’t comfortable, you won’t be productive,” Yvonne says from her living room couch. “Everyone always talks about ergonomics, and I think ergonomics is important, but you should think about what’s comfortable and what works well for you.”

Like many people unexpectedly working from home, Yvonne has had to make adjustments while working from home on a laptop. “I find that if I’m working on my laptop, I’m much more comfortable working in a bigger chair or somewhere I can have my computer in my lap in a way that works more ergonomically for typing,” she says.

Other things to consider in your environment: greenery, natural lighting, and temperature. All of these things can impact productivity. “Some research shows that the best productivity is when the temperature is between 72 and 77 degrees,” she says. 

Give yourself permission to adapt.

Yvonne’s been teaching from home with her two daughters, who are also learning from home. It’s a challenge. “My kids sort of forget what time it is,” she says after being interrupted by her daughter asking to have dinner—at 2:30 p.m. 

“It’s not just about setting up your workspace,” she says. “That’s important, but it’s also about giving yourself permission to adapt to this whole new world that we’re in.”

Most of us have never done this before—taken classes or worked remotely—and many are doing that on top of being a full-time parent or caregiver. All that change in a short amount of time can be rough on our mental well-being, and we need to give our bodies and brains time to catch up.

“Your body may feel fatigued, but it might not be the workspace as much as it is all the energy you’re putting into figuring out how to do all of this,” she says. “You hear a lot of people say they’re tired. It’s because [they’re] having to learn how to go to school virtually or work virtually. Your brain is adapting to all of this and rewiring, so you’re going to be tired.”

When your kitchen turns into your home office, you might feel the need to do the dishes before you start working. Yvonne says part of your mental health is making sure your home is accessible for work. “You need to be able to get that kind of stuff in order before working. That’s a normal thing when you’re working at home.”

Do a little research.

At home or not, if you’re working for a few hours or more, you should be thinking about the efficiency of your environment. Standing desks and stretching are great ways to prevent strain on your body. Yvonne suggests checking out these additional resources:

 

By Kelsey Caulfield
Published May 11, 2020
Photos by Ross Mulhausen