What you need to set up an ergonomic desk

When you get into a car to drive it for the first time, what do you do? You adjust the seat so you can reach the pedals and see the road easily, as well as feel comfortable. Move the mirrors to make sure you have a clear line of sight behind you to both sides. You can even change the position of the headrest and move the seat belt to the correct height on your shoulder. These adjustments make driving safer and more comfortable. When you work from home(Opens in a new tab)it is important to make similar adjustments.

Anyone can set up their workplace to be safe and comfortable with a few ergonomic tips. Doing so reduces the chance of injury and increases your comfort, all of which help you stay productive(Opens in a new tab) and focused.

You don’t need to spend a fortune on a special chair. The right office chair(Opens in a new tab) it will help some, but you also have to consider how your feet hit the floor, if your wrists bend when you type or when you type with the mouse, and other factors. You can make many of these customizations using items from around the house or with inexpensive purchases.

Do you have neck pain or back pain? Here are some tips(Opens in a new tab) for a better desk, courtesy of PCMag’s Jill Duffy.

Doing things with what you have

To learn how to build an ergonomic home office, I spoke with Alan Hedge, Cornell University’s emeritus professor of design and environmental analysis. I originally interviewed him in October 2020 when this article first ran.

He asked me what kind of setup I was using in my home office, and I sheepishly admitted that I was probably in a terrible position. At the time, I had just moved into a new apartment and had nothing more than a laptop on a kitchen table with a straight-backed chair.

“If it happens that when you’re sitting in that chair you can put your hands on the table, then this laptop with a fairly thin keyboard is probably going to be fine,” he said. He added that home desks are often a few inches lower than desks, making something like a keyboard tray unnecessary for some people who work from home.

Whether the table is the right height is relative, of course. It depends on how tall you are. Hedge also had some tips for using inexpensive items, like a rolled-up towel for lumbar support and a laptop stand, to make any home office more ergonomic. It doesn’t take much.

There are four areas to focus on when creating an ergonomic home office, according to Hedge, but before you get started, it’s just as important to consider what kind of work you do and what kind of equipment you need(Opens in a new tab).

What Equipment Do You Need? What kind of work do you do?

What equipment do you need to work? Do you have a desktop, laptop or tablet? How many monitors do you use? Do you often look at books and paper? Are there other peripherals you need, such as a microphone or stylus?

Also, what kind of work do you do with this equipment? “The posture of the person sitting really depends on what they are doing with their hands,” Hedge said. So before you make any changes, think about how you spend most of your working time. Do you type hours at a time? You are a graphic designer who relies heavily on a mouse(Opens in a new tab) or stylus? If there is a task you do for long periods of time, then adjust the setting to be safe and comfortable for that task. For example, if you read physical paper, you may need to add a lamp to your desk.

4 focus areas for an ergonomic desk

Just as you make many adjustments to a car to fit your body, you should adjust your home office to an equally good degree. In fact, good ergonomic posture for a desk isn’t all that different from sitting in a car, with your feet flat but legs outstretched and your body not vertical but slightly leaning back.

Focus on making adjustments in these four areas to get a good setup.

1. Head and neck

To keep your neck, shoulders and back injury-free, your head should be perpendicular to your neck. This position creates the least tension, according to Hedge.

“Unfortunately, if you’re working with a laptop on a kitchen table, that screen is going to be too low. You’re going to bend your neck forward,” Hedge said.

For short periods of time, it’s probably harmless, he added. However, for a long-term setup, consider placing your laptop on a laptop riser and using an external keyboard(Opens in a new tab) and mouse. If you have a monitor, use books to raise it to a comfortable eye level, which keeps your head and neck in that neutral, stacked position.

2. Hand and wrist position

Your hands and wrists should be in a neutral position, similar to your head. Stretch your arm and hand forward to spread them across the table. The hand, wrist and forearm are practically uniform, which is what you want. What you don’t want is a wrist joint.

“Make sure that any input devices you use, you can use them with your hands in what we call a neutral stance for as long as possible,” Hedge said. So adjust your workspace accordingly. You may need to change the height of the table or chair if possible, or move your keyboard and mouse closer or further away from you.

Hedge says to keep your arms and wrists nice and straight. The arms should not bend to the side or along the midline of the body.

3. Sitting posture and back support

“There’s a myth out there that you have to sit at 90 degrees,” Hedge said, meaning with your torso perpendicular to the floor. “Most of us [ergonomics experts] I’ve spent a lifetime trying to tell people you shouldn’t sit like that.”

Better: Find a position that allows you to see the screen while sitting on your back in a way that provides lower back support. You may find that it is similar to sitting in the driver’s seat of a car, slightly leaning back.

If you don’t have a fancy office chair that rocks back, try putting a pillow, pillow, or towel behind your back. This will do good. You can buy inexpensive chair cushions designed for lumbar support. Hedge also suggests looking into orthopedic seating (for example, check out BackJoy’s line of posture seating(Opens in a new tab)). These saddle-like products work with any chair and tilt your pelvis into a more ergonomic position. Shorter people may also find that the footrest helps them achieve proper posture.

Additionally, Hedge cautions to make sure the seat doesn’t hit the back of your knees because it can reduce blood flow and cause swelling in your feet and ankles.

4. Conduct

The last area of ​​focus has to do with behavior. Take frequent but short breaks(Opens in a new tab).

“From the research we’ve done, the ideal routine is about every 20 minutes, take a short break where you stand up, stretch a bit, maybe for a minute or two. Or better yet, walk in and make a cup of tea or coffee,” Hedge said. Movement improves circulation, comfort and performance. It also reduces the risk of injury.

Hedge also recommended other changes you can make that limit the amount of time your body will be doing a repetitive action. For example, if your job involves a lot of typing, consider using a voice-to-text application or dictation software. This way, you can reduce the total time your fingers are on the keyboard.

I asked Hedge about standing desks(Opens in a new tab) and sit-down desks (that can be raised and lowered), and he said while it doesn’t hurt to have one, you have to use it properly.

“Standing puts more stress on your body than sitting. The reason we have chairs is because if you had to stand all day to do your job, that’s a lot harder on your body than sitting all day to you’re doing your job,” he said. “Sitting is not bad for you. What is bad for you is sitting all day, just as standing all day without moving is bad for you.”

If you are going to use a sitting desk, the optimal cycle is 20 minutes of sitting work followed by 8 minutes standing, followed by 2 minutes of movement. Standing for more than about 8 minutes, Hedge said, leads people to start leaning over. In addition, every time you change the height of the desk, you need to make sure to adjust all the other components of your workstation, such as the keyboard and the monitor, to get your posture in a neutral position again.

Cumulative Efforts

Hedge suggested that creating an ergonomic office was like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. He said people often make the mistake of buying an expensive chair and calling it a day.

“If you don’t do all four [of the recommended customizations], you will never get the best results. If what you do is adjust the computer screen to a good height, but you never adjust how you sit, or you never adjust your keyboard or mouse, you’re never going to get optimal results,” he said. “The combined effect of getting you into a neutral posture and keeping you moving throughout the day is far greater than the effect of any single change.”

The right equipment for your ergonomic home office

Here’s a rundown of some of the equipment and tools mentioned that may help you customize your home office to be more ergonomic:

For more tips on working remotely, learn how to make meetings more accessible(Opens in a new tab) and what employers can do to make hybrid work policies successful(Opens in a new tab).

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com(Opens in a new tab), Mashable’s sister site. PCMag.com(Opens in a new tab) is a leading authority in technology, providing independent, lab-based assessments of the latest products and services.

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