How to create a healthy ergonomic workstation at home

Published by HealthFitness on April 20th, 2020

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.

Here are the top 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.

close up of arm of woman working on laptop computer

What is ergonomics?
The working definition of ergonomics includes fitting the tasks and the tools to the person. The assigned tasks should be things the worker has the ability to perform safely and that the tools promote safe postures and work techniques. 

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.

Recommendations for properly setting up a sit down workstation?

Legs and Feet

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. It's important to focus 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. 

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.

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:
  • 20 minutes sitting
  • 8 minutes standing
  • 2 minutes of walking around
What about devices?

Position the keyboard and mouse 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.

Place the monitor as far away as visually comfortable and tilted back no more than 20 degrees. 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.

Short vision breaks are important. Follow 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.

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