The home office
In a recent interview on home office ergonomics I acknowledged the risk of working in a home office space that has not been set up to be ergonomically helpful—in other words, with everything set-up so you can work and interact with that environment safely and efficiently
So what would that involve?
- There is no shortage of google-able information.
- It would be an easy matter to spend thousands of dollars on trying to achieve some kind of ergonomic perfection in your home office by buying any product that states it’s ergononmic.
In fact, you could spend thousands just on a chair alone…
But while some may be able and willing to outlay thousands for their home office setup, I’m assuming others will have some degree of a budget to consider, especially people who are setting up a new business from home.
However, with some research on the subject and some judicious purchasing, buying furniture that is not top of the line and still achieving an ergonomically satisfactory office setup should be possible without breaking the bank. You just need to know what features to look for.
In fact, from what I’ve been able to discover through my work in corporate physiotherapy, it should be possible to set up an ergonomically appropriate home office for less than $1,000.
Which is a lot less than what many people spend on setting up a web site.
Elements of an ergonomically designed home office
- an adjustable swivel chair with a high back and recline adjustment
- a desk with enough space for the frequent and infrequently reached for items.
- keeping your computer screen one arm’s length away from you and have your eye level at the top third of the screen.
- accessible paper files, documents and accessories
- proper lighting, temperature, air and noise
To that general list I would add having a nice view, if at all possible. It is important to re-focus your eyes every 30 min, by focusing on something in the long distance out the window
Get a good chair
A good office chair includes these features:
- swivel rotation
- good lower back and upper back support.
- easily adjustable for height, recline and tilt
- able to bear the user’s weight
Helpfully, there are standards available from not-for-profit furntech-AFDRI (Australasian Furniture Research and Development Institute). Their standard for height adjustable swivel chairs AS/NZS 4438 (levels 4, 5 and 6). Look for their “blue tick”.
On Australian and New Zealand retail sites, chairs certified as AFRDI Level 6. That’s specified as “able to withstand extremely severe conditions of use, such as police stations, military installations, control rooms and use in heavy industry”, so holding out for that level seems hardly necessary for the average home office.
From my reading of the specification, a Level 4 would be adequate and Level 5 certainly appropriate for most home office situations.
It should be noted that those standards are for people weighing up to 110kg. There is a complementary standard for use by people heavier than that, the AFRDI 142 Rated Load standard.
Whenever I do an office assessment, I have to ensure everyone is reminded that we are all different shapes and sizes it’s probably safe to say that one chair will not fit all.
And if you can’t find the chair you want with an AFDRI blue tick, I recommend that at least you ensure that the chair you get has got the points I have mentioned above (able to swivel, etc).
Choosing a desk
Some checklists for ergonomic office design include having a height adjustable desk. That’s especially useful if you interested in applying the “sit-stand” approach to healthy desk working—working as much as possible in a standing position or regularly varying your working position between sitting and standing.
It may also be important for people who are not in the 152-157 cm or so range of height that fixed level desks seem to be designed for.
If you like the idea of having a height adjustable desk there is quite an array of choice, including desks with electric or gas enabled adjustment.
I’ve also seen catalogue items online for Australia in the $170-300 range, for manually adjustable desks. Practically speaking, this would be for a “set and forget” arrangement, not for frequent raising or lowering.
If you already have a desk or you have your eye on a particular desk that is not height adjustable and you feel ok about what seems to be the standard 725-750m or so height range, then it is even more important to make sure your chair is height adjustable.
As to the length and width of the desktop, surely it’s only in catalogues, or on the desks of very organised, tidy people, that you see just a computer, keyboard and maybe a paper notebook, and nothing else.
I have to confess that, as someone who long ago gave up on dreams of having a permanently neat and tidy desk, I like to have a desk of good length and depth, so I can spread out a bit and not feel overwhelmed by my clutter.
Computer screen height
You shouldn’t have to work against gravity to maintain an upright posture when looking at your screen. The computer screen should be one arm’s length distance away and your eye level should fall on the top 3rd of the screen.
The increasing use of laptops or notebook computers instead of desktop or tower computers, means that some measures need to be taken to avoid the head bent, hunching position which can be so bad for our posture.
I recommend investing in a laptop stand. They are around the $50 mark. If your laptop is used more on the desk than the lap, you will benefit greatly from an external keyboard and mouse. This will prevent the hunching posture adopted to look at the lower screen when without a stand. Causing havoc on your upper trapezius muscles. Ouch!
Paper files and other items
Don’t have everything on one side. Space out your frequently used items on the desk (within an arm’s reach) and any infrequently used items in an area that you have to get up to, this will encourage regular breaks.
Manage lighting, temperature, air and noise
Good, even lighting, using a desk lamp if that helps, and making sure our computer screen isn’t reflecting glare, say from an unshaded window, are practical steps for productivity and for protecting our eye health.
Having a comfortable ambient temperature, good air flow and an environment as free from annoying or distracting noise are no doubt obvious elements of an ergonomically supportive environment, but taking such factors into account before setting up the home office can save disruptive changes at a later date.
And when all that’s done, it’s not enough!
No matter how much money we spend on chairs, desks and other items, no matter how careful we are about lighting, temperature and the rest, it can all be in vain if we ignore one thing not covered by that list above.
And that one thing is the need to move—and often.
Hope this helps.