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 to adjust to the desk height
- able to bear the user’s weight
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. We might not have a great selection at home and the dining table chair may be the best bet. Try and make it work for you as best as possible. Using a small rolled up towel as a lumbar support can work wonders.
Choosing a desk
Ensure your desk height allows a nice and relaxed resting position of your forearms as well as your chair is easily tucked in under.
You want a nice, even distribution of contents on the table/desk to reduce favouring one side and loading up any postural imbalances. A nice way to alternate and break up the monotony of one position all day whilst you’re tapping away on the keyboard, is that if you have a higher bench in the house, you can easily spend an hour standing to do your work, making the most of the moveable nature of a laptop.
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. Also, your phone should not be pulling your head down to it’s level when you’re using it.
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 or better yet, a few books can prop it up nicely if you’re improvising. 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 and cervical spine. 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 and your body will love the movement.
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. I like using the 20:20:20 rule when I am on the computer for a while, every 20 min, look 20 metres away for 20 sec. A great reset for your eyes!
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. Find ways to get up and move whilst your are doing work, eg take a phone-call standing up, drink that little bit of extra water to use the bathroom more etc. Better yet, a little stretch here and there (that would normally result in a few strange looks if you did this in the office) will work wonders too!
Hope this helps.