Much of the American work culture functions in front of a computer. Whether workers are staring at a screen for hours at a time, or just referencing it occasionally, they are likely sitting for long periods as they work. In fact, according to Forbes, the average office worker sits for 15 hours a day. This amount of sitting can contribute to the development of various health problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome, premature degeneration of spinal discs, and an increased chance of developing obesity and heart disease, just to name a few.
One way to help prevent these potential health issues is to commit to creating an ergonomic workspace. Ergonomics, or the study of how efficient people are in their work environments, aims to make workstations more comfortable while also improving your health and productivity.
Admittedly, this topic typically focuses on office setups. But, now that 42% of Americans are working from home full-time, applying these same principles to home office equipment is essential. And while you certainly can invest in a new home office set up, you don’t necessarily have to; many ergonomic problems can be fixed by simply rearranging, adjusting, and modifying existing furniture and tools.
So, whether you’re working from home for the first time or you’re a remote work veteran, this guide can help you redesign your workstation so it functions properly for your occupation and your body.
Ready to give your home workspace a makeover? Get started today with our quick tips below!
Consider the desk as the foundation of your workspace. Everything is situated around your desk, and it’s essential to consider that when you’re redesigning your space. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you need enough room for your knees and thighs to have a wide berth with or without a footrest. If your desk is too low and can’t be adjusted, we recommend propping it on sturdy boards or boxes to lift it to your desired height.
For a standing desk, raise it so it’s no taller than your waist once you’re in a standing position and move your desk essentials forward or backward to suit your arm length. This way, your hands will be able to rest on the desk comfortably, your shoulders and arms can relax, and your elbows will be at a 90-degree angle. Additionally, raise your computer monitors to eye level so that you won’t be tempted to slouch over your desk. This will help keep your head, neck, torso, and legs in line with each other so your spine will remain neutral.
If you’re using a table or countertop as your workstation, make sure to follow the same principles so you can maintain proper posture.
- Leave room for your knees and thighs
- Rest hands comfortably, keeping elbows an inch lower than your keyboard and mouse
- Don’t slouch
- Reduced risk of developing stress injuries
- Increased stamina
Another fundamental element of an ergonomic workstation is your desk chair. Desk chairs are meant to follow your spinal curves, so you need to sit with your back flush to the chair to get the maximum amount of support. Once you’ve done this, adjust the seat to recline at about a 110-degree angle. Then, adjust the armrests so that your forearms can comfortably rest on them (but remember to keep your elbows at a 90-degree angle).
Next, turn your attention to the height of the chair. Generally, the highest point of the seat should be right at your kneecap. When seated, this should allow your feet to rest firmly on the floor and your thighs to be parallel to the floor. But everyone’s body is different, so check to see how much pressure you’re placing on the seat and adjust it further from there. The ultimate goal is to distribute your weight across the entire seat evenly. If you feel as though there’s more pressure at the back of your seat, raise your chair. If you’re placing a lot of pressure on the front of the seat, lower your chair.
If you don’t have a desk chair at home, that’s okay. You can configure a household chair so that it will contour around your spine’s curvature by placing a lumbar pillow between yourself and the chair back. Additionally, make sure that the chair is the appropriate height for your desk or table. If the chair is too low, try sitting on padding or pillows that will elevate you or switch it out for a higher chair. You can also consider buying a new chair altogether.
- Angle the back of your chair 110 degrees from the seat
- Raise your chair so that the seat is the same height as your kneecap
- Pay attention to how much stress you’re putting on the seat, raising or lowering it if needed to evenly distribute weight
- If you don’t have a desk chair, put a lumbar pillow between your body and the chair back
- Reduced risk of back pain
- Relieves pressure from hips, thighs, and lower back
Keyboard and Mouse
Your keyboard and mouse are the office items you use most often, so it’s vitally important that they are in the correct position as you work. When using these items, your upper arms should be relaxed, your elbows should maintain a 90-degree angle, and your wrists should remain straight. Your wrists need to stay in a straight, neutral position to prevent fatigue and development of repetitive-movement injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
When setting up your desk, place your keyboard so that it is one inch above your elbows. The angle of the keyboard should be either flat on your desk or angled slightly away from you, creating a small negative tilt towards your monitor. Both angles will ensure your wrists remain straight as you’re typing.
Most conventional keyboards have built-in tabs that tilt the keys towards you, but ergonomically, this angle can be detrimental to your wrists and hands over time. Instead, try to find a keyboard that has a second set of tabs that can create the negative tilt described above. Or, if your keyboard doesn’t have this feature, you can use household items, like pens, putty, or folded paper, to achieve the same results. Simply line the edge of your keyboard with these or similar items to create a stable, ergonomically-friendly angle to your keyboard.
Then, place your mouse on the same surface as your keyboard and within easy reach. Additionally, make sure that your mouse is about the same size as your hand so you can avoid over-gripping it. Lastly, try to alternate your mouse between both hands to further reduce the stress on your hands, wrists, and forearms. It not only strengthens your non-dominant hand, but it also encourages your brain to be more conscious of your movements and look at things in a new way.
Keyboard and Mouse Ergonomics:
- Keep your keyboard and mouse on the same level
- Lay your keyboard flat or angle it slightly back
- Ensure that your upper arms are in a relaxed position
- Make sure your mouse is the size of your palm
- Reduced risk of developing a stress injury
- Reduced wrist and finger fatigue
After adjusting the main components of your desk, the next step is to adjust your monitor’s position. The goal of proper computer monitor placement, for both sitting and standing desks, is to create a neutral head and neck posture, meaning that the neck doesn’t twist, and the head and neck are upright. Monitors can be big or small, so it’s important to keep their size in mind as you’re determining where to place them on your desk.
To find out where you should place your monitor, sit about a foot away from your desk, and have someone hold up a piece of paper printed with 12-point font. Have your helper gradually move the paper forward until you can comfortably read what’s on the paper. Measure and write down that distance. Then, have your helper bring the paper close to your face and gradually move it away until you can read the words again, noting that measurement. The distance between those two points is where you should ideally place your monitor. This distance should be between 20 to 30 inches away from your eyes.
In terms of the monitor’s height, it should be set so your eye line is about one-third of the way down the monitor and at a height where your head, neck, and shoulders are upright. Additionally, if you have two monitors, set your primary monitor directly in front of you and place your secondary monitor directly beside it at a 30-degree angle (roughly how you would hold a book open.)
Computer Monitor Ergonomics:
- Your eye line should be about one-third of the way down the monitor
- Position your computer monitor so your head and neck are in a neutral position
- Place your monitor between 20-30” away from your eyes
- Place your secondary monitor at a 30-degree angle to your primary monitor
- Reduced eye strain
- Less neck strain
Lastly, when thinking about your overall posture, don’t forget to consider your feet. Having a place to rest your feet as you work takes the pressure off your lower body. Ideally, your feet should be flat on the floor, but some circumstances, such as your chair or desk being too high, can prevent that. In these cases, use a footrest, stool, or a stack of books to anchor your feet. This way, you’ll be able to sit all the way back in your chair.
- Place your feet firmly on the floor, or use a footrest
- Your lower back is stabilized
Rest & Exercise
Following all the tips on properly setting up your home office space will not make a difference if you aren’t exercising or resting during the workday and after you’ve logged off. Being active is essential, even more so if you’re spending most of your time on your computer. During the workday, take short breaks every 30 to 60 minutes to stretch your limbs, reset your posture, and rest your eyes. Also, be sure to stand up and walk around every couple of hours to stretch to prevent muscle fatigue. If you use a standing desk, try to stretch or walk around every hour to change your spinal position and work your leg muscles. No matter what, remember to keep moving so your body will remain in tip-top working condition.
An Ergonomic Workspace at Home - Easier Than You Thought
Creating an ergonomic workspace is one of the best ways to remain happy, healthy, and productive as you’re working from home. All it takes to achieve an ergonomic workstation is a few tweaks and some helpful tips to make your workstation work better for you. So, don’t settle for slouching and backaches – give your home office a makeover today!