Incorporating Ergonomics into a Home Office

Strides in technology offer more solutions for an ergonomic and comfortable home office.

(Image courtesy of Humanscale.)

(Image courtesy of Humanscale.)

While many people were working remotely before the pandemic hit, the numbers soared exponentially once stay-at-home orders took effect. With technology making working from home easier, and many businesses seeing the benefits of continuing to offer it to their employees, especially until the virus situation is resolved, it is more important than ever to ensure that a home office is an ergonomic and comfortable environment.

For people expecting to spend a limited amount of time at home, using what was already available at home was the easiest and simplest choice. Whether sitting at a small nook or having an actual room to work out of, there is a good chance that a lack or ergonomic furniture and accessories are already creating a few sore backs, fatigued eyes and achy wrists. Understanding ergonomics and the options available are key to ensuring a comfortable day at work from home.  

What Is Ergonomics, and Why Does It Matter?

A science-based discipline, ergonomics is more complex than it may seem. At its base, it is understanding how humans interact with elements of a system. It draws from many other disciplines, including anatomy, psychology, physiology, engineering and statistics. Ergonomists incorporate these concepts into many different industries to ensure that designs are complementary to humans and their abilities instead of being limiting or creating uncomfortable conditions.

For anyone who has sat on a hard, backless bench or similar structure for any length of time, the benefits of ergonomics quickly come to mind. When putting in an eight-hour day behind a desk and at a computer five days a week, it also quickly reveals itself as a necessity. Along with reducing pain and fatigue, supportive chairs, desks, keyboards and other ergonomic equipment boost productivity and enhance overall wellness, both physically and mentally.

Ergonomic Standards

As a science, ergonomics isn’t a guessing game, even though it’s still not a one-size-fits-all solution. Much of the science behind it is based on anthropometry, which measures the range of body sizes in a population. Anthropometric datasets are available that compare a number of physical traits as well as occupations. This data often includes dimensions, such as leg length and reach. Common datasets include the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), which measures civilian populations, and the Civilian American and European Surface Anthropometry Resource (CAESAR), which has anthropometric data and 3D body scans.

There are also standards that manufacturers follow, including Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Association (BIFMA). These standards help ensure that the fit and function of a product is designed with anthropometrics and ergonomic principles in mind.

During design, manufacturers must also visualize how the product will interact with a user’s actions. Several questions are considered. How far is the user supposed to reach? How much can they see? Is product placement accessible? Is the body in a comfortable position? In general, furniture may be considered ergonomic if it:

  • Enhances natural movement
  • Supports natural S spine curvature
  • Adjusts for use by different people
  • Encourages movement
  • Minimizes joint, bone and muscle stress

Choosing the Right Equipment

To maximize the success of working from home, essential ingredients include a good chair, desk, monitor placement, keyboard and mouse. There are also innovative gadgets and accessories that can further boost ergonomic comfort. For many, the problem is not knowing what the best option is. Although everyone is different, there are general standards to consider when choosing the right equipment.

Chairs and Desks

Since everyone is different, an adjustable chair is the best option, for both height and tilt.  Ideally, a chair should have a minimum of five castors for stability, armrests, a backrest and lumbar support. When adjusting the chair for a perfect fit, ensure that your thighs are parallel to the ground, there is a decent gap between the seat’s edge and your legs, your feet can be placed flat on the floor and lumbar support is positioned at the small of your back.

Along with having a chair designed for ergonomics, it is also important to focus on sitting properly in the chair. (Image courtesy of AMITA Health.)

Along with having a chair designed for ergonomics, it is also important to focus on sitting properly in the chair. (Image courtesy of AMITA Health.)

Even after finally finding the perfect chair, the body can still feel strain if the desk isn’t up to par. There are various adjustable desks on the market that allow for achieving the perfect height, as well as offering the option to stand or sit while working. If that kind of desk isn’t in one’s budget, there are ways to make an existing desk work for a person’s unique body.

When sitting at a desk, it is ideal for a person to have their arms by their sides with the ability to move elbows at a 90-degree angle. This allows both hands to be comfortably placed on the desk. If that angle isn’t achievable because a desk is too low, it should be raised by placing blocks under the desk’s legs. Another key is to ensure that there is plenty of space for a person’s feet, thighs and knees.

Once the right desk and chair are in position, it’s important to set up the workstation to benefit from those ergonomic purchases. For people with laptops, getting an external monitor and keyboard may be the best option to avoid fatigue and risking long-lasting injuries. When setting up the monitor, it should be centered in front of the user, slightly tilted back so the bottom is closer and at eye level. If a person’s head must be tilted for proper viewing, it might be time to adjust the monitor. If adding a monitor isn’t a preferred option, a laptop stand provides similar benefits.

Keyboards and Mice

Traditional keyboards weren’t designed with comfort in mind. Luckily, there are loads of options available to fit a person’s specific needs. Before upgrading to a new one, it is important to consider how the keyboard is used. If one frequently works with numbers, having a numeric keypad can minimize wrist strain. If one is constantly typing, the focus should be on ensuring that the wrists and fingers can do the work without feeling any extra strain.

From curved to split and standard, the options available for choosing the right keyboard and mouse play a big role in ergonomics. (Image courtesy of Microsoft.)

From curved to split and standard, the options available for choosing the right keyboard and mouse play a big role in ergonomics. (Image courtesy of Microsoft.)

Whether sticking with a standard layout or moving to a split keyboard, tilt and adjustability are vital elements for comfort. In general, keyboards tilt upward, which can force the wrist to overextend. Choosing an adjustable keyboard gives the user the ability to find the perfect tilt for their unique body type and how they use the keyboard.

Similar to the keyboard, the right mouse is determined by use, such as a CAD-specific model, and body positioning. If the goal is to have fast, accurate cursor movements, size matters. The mouse shouldn’t fill the entire hand. A smaller mouse provides better manipulation and reduces the distance the arm and hand must move during use. The mouse should also make it easy to have a neutral position, as well as lift easily without extensive gripping or pinching.

A Few Ergonomic Extras

Depending on what a day at work looks like for each person, it may be worth considering a few extra accessories designed for ergonomics and overall comfort. Headphones, blue light blocking glasses, glare screens and organizers provide some easy ways to boost comfort and reduce strain.

Headphones might not seem like something that can cause strain, but over-the-ear options may be heavier than one thinks, which can lead to neck strain. Going with lightweight, cordless headphones can provide freedom to move without added weight. Experiencing eye fatigue? A glare screen or blue light blocking glasses may be the ideal solution. The former minimizes reflection, while the latter reduces the amount of blue light reaching the eyes.

With the future of remote work looking to be a steady alternative, ensuring that the work environment is comfortable and minimizes stress is vital to productivity and overall health. Making a few adjustments and carefully purchasing equipment with your uniqueness in mind are easy ways to help get the most out of every workday and time off the clock.