Whether you’re an experienced remote employee or have suddenly found yourself working from home, ergonomics is essential to setting up your home workstation for success.
Phil Beedle, Ergonomics Expert and HealthFitness Program Manager, is responsible for supporting the office ergonomics programs of several of our technology and energy clients. In addition to these day to day responsibilities he assists in training HealthFitness associates in conducting office ergonomics assessments.
Beedle answers questions most of us have about workstation ergonomics—including proper set up, posture, screens, chairs—and how to stay healthy and productive while working from home.
What exactly is ergonomics?
The working definition of ergonomics that I abide by is that it is fitting the tasks and the tools to the person. Think of it this way, the assigned tasks should be things the worker has the ability to perform safely and that the tools promote safe postures and work techniques. In the office everything from seating to the mouse is a tool.
Why is ergonomics so important when working from home?
Ergonomics at home is just as important as when you are working in the office. The challenge in a home office is often times we need to be a bit more creative because we may not have access to the kinds of furniture and devices that are common in commercial offices.
Why should employers care about ergonomics?
When employees are uncomfortable they are not as productive. And prolonged discomfort may lead to injury. Unlike traumatic injuries, repetitive strain injuries, or RSIs, are slow in onset but they, too, can be costly and debilitating.
What are your recommendations for properly setting up a sit down workstation?
Legs and Feet
Looking at the image at right, let’s begin from the bottom up, starting with the seating. Home office workers may not have an adjustable task chair and may be using a folding chair, a straight-backed dining chair, a bar stool, or in some cases a fit ball.
I recommend focusing on four elements: the seat height, the seat depth, back support and, the armrests if the chair has them.
The seat height should position the hips level with or slightly higher than the knees, there should be some clearance between the backs of the knees and the front edge of the seat, and the backrest should, at a minimum, provide fairly upright torso and comfortable lumbar support.
The feet should be fully supported on the floor or footrest. If you are sitting on a bar stool with your feet on a rung be sure to change positions more frequently to limit localized soft tissue compression on the soles of the feet. I’ll talk about armrests in a moment.
Next, let’s move to the shoulders. You want your shoulders to be relaxed with your upper arms hanging loosely at your sides. If you’re using chair armrests for support, keep your shoulders and upper arms relaxed. Some chairs have fixed, or non-adjustable armrests. In these situations they may be a liability if they don’t support you in a balanced posture. If this is the case you may want to consider removing them if that is possible.
With respect to your core muscles you should activate/engage them in combination with the chair backrest to maintain vertical alignment of ears, shoulders, elbows and hips.
How long can you safely sit at your desk or workspace?
When sitting at your desk, vary your posture, spending part of each hour sitting, standing and walking about. Aim for the optimal ratio of:
What tips do you have around devices?
- 20 minutes sitting
- 8 minutes standing
- 2 minutes of walking around
The keyboard and mouse
should be positioned slightly below elbow level and shoulder distance apart. Ideally, you’re setting up your devices so they support approximately a 90-degree angle in your elbows and allowing you to work without bending your wrists.
If your desk or table is too high relative to your seated posture you can place pillows on the chair seat to raise your body higher. This may mean you will need to place something under your feet to maintain your hips and knees in alignment.
Next let’s talk about the monitor.
Place the monitor as far away as visually comfortable and tilted back no more than 20°. Tilting the screen back more than that increases the possibility of creating glare from any overhead lights. Position the monitor and the middle of the keyboard home row to the center of the body; your wrists should not be bent.
Keep the top of visual tasks at or slightly below eye level, and maintain proper head alignment by avoiding tilting your head up or down in order to see the screen.
Neck stiffness and eye strain
are two of the biggest complaints when working from home, especially when working solely from a laptop. Your computer screens should be at eye level and positioned perpendicular to other light sources such as windows to minimize glare.
Additionally, we all tend to blink less frequently when viewing monitors so taking frequent, short vision breaks is important. I recommend following the 20/20 rule: every 20 minutes focus on something in the distance for 20 seconds. If you can do this more frequently it is even better.
Watch the webinar “From card tables to countertops” to learn more about creating a healthy ergonomic workstation at home, including the proper set up for a standing workstation and using multiple monitors.
Click here to view the webinar.
About Phil Beedle
Phil is responsible for supporting the office ergonomics programs of several of our technology and energy clients. In addition to these day to day responsibilities he assists in training HealthFitness associates in conducting office ergonomics assessments.