Work from home
The UHN Research Wellness Advisory Committee brought together some experts to offer cost-effective solutions to improve your work from home environment. (Photo: iStock).

Working from home has become commonplace for many, but there's one question we are collectively struggling with: is there a way to properly set up for success?

To answer this question, the UHN Research Wellness Advisory Committee hosted a live webinar in which Dr. Tilak Dutta, scientist at UHN's Kite Research Institute, was joined by experts David Wong, Manager of Safety Services at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, and Professor Mohammad Abdoli-Eramak, Occupational Biomechanist at Ryerson University.

"Regardless of where your work station is set up, sitting or standing at any desk improperly for long stretches during the day can cause pain, discomfort, and decreased productivity," says Dr. Dutta. "The biggest issue is the main tool most of us do all of our work on, our laptops, are terrible for working at for extended periods. But there are a number of things we can do to make our setups work better.

"We often overlook this, but it is very important to our day-to-day life, and carries over into our ability to enjoy our free time."

Here's a look at some of the creative, low-cost solutions the experts offered, in response to questions submitted by colleagues.

Q: I had a stand up desk in the office but can't afford to purchase one for home. What could I use instead?

A: Get creative with it! You can even convert your ironing board to a standing desk, since it's adjustable. I have also seen people use a shelf, or stack boxes on their dining room tables. But don't exclusively stand for long periods of time because it will put more stress on your joints, in your trunk and legs. As long as you do a combination of sitting and standing, this is a great alternative.

Q: Overall, I feel like I'm always working and a bit burnt out. I'm not doing a lot of extra hours, but the hours I work are flexible. Any suggestions?

A: It's really important to have your routine. Try setting a definitive start and end to your day, so you can minimize working too late. It's also helpful to develop triggers, such as a cup of coffee in the morning, and then an alarm at the end of the day, to remind you to start winding down. Get up, have a stretch, and if possible, put your work station away. I know some people who have a "work station cover," even if it's just a sheet. Out of sight, out of mind.

Q: The only space I have to work is in my living room – sitting on the floor and using my coffee table. How can I make this work?

A: If this is the absolute requirement and there is no other option, rotate positions as much as possible, and frequently get up and move around. One of my former professors used to say to me, "your best position is your next one." It might be worthwhile to sit on the couch with your laptop for a few minutes – you could even consider purchasing an inexpensive lap desk – get up, stretch and then switch locations, to your bed, or a kitchen counter. If you need help remembering to switch it up, set a timer on your phone. 

For more information on how to avoid hunching, dealing with eye fatigue, and the optimal position for your screen, keyboard, chair, and feet, the webinar offers some suggestions.

Looking out for one another

The UHN Research Wellness Advisory Committee was formed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to address the unique impacts and uncertainty experienced by the research community. Sasha Howell, Executive Assistant to Dr. Brad Wouters, Executive Vice President of Science and Research at UHN, co-leads the Committee along with Brian Beckett, UHN Research Integrity Associate, and Dr. Shane Harding, scientist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

"It's simple; we want the UHN research team to know that they are supported both at work and at home," says Sasha. "One of the main reasons we started the committee was because we heard that people were missing the community and connection aspects of work.

"To combat loneliness and anxiety, we brought the community to them."

The Committee meets virtually each week, and runs fun contests such as a recipe contest, a crazy quarantine hair contest, and creative work from home workspace photo contest.

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