Home Office Ergonomics: Tips for Working “Correctly”, Part I

August 19, 2020 | Ann Dimiero

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Home Office Ergonomics: Tips for Working “Correctly”, Part I

As much of the country has shifted to a Work-From-Home standard over the past 5 months, many people are discovering a significant difference between the quality of space in their home office versus the traditional office environment. Office workspaces are often built with proper OSHA guidelines in mind, whereas our guestrooms or kitchen tables that have been converted into make-shift home offices have not gone under quite the same scrutiny. This is where an understanding of Office Ergonomics can make all the difference.

What is Office Ergonomics?

Office Ergonomics is defined as the science of fitting a workplace to the user’s needs. Ergonomics aims to increase efficiency and productivity while reducing discomfort.

Think about the angle of your computer monitor, or the height of your desk. Think about whether your eyes are strained by the end of the day or if your wrists hurt from typing. A sound understanding of ergonomics can prevent most workplace injuries by adjusting tools to the user, putting an emphasis on proper posture to reduce the impact of repetitive movements.

When looking at trends that affect the workplace, you might see:

  • 17% reduction in square footage per worker has occurred since 1994
  • 90% of computer users experience computer vision syndrome
  • 64 average hours spent sitting per week
  • After sitting for 1 hour there is a 90% decline in the production of enzymes that burn fat

What Are the Key Factors to Address When Evaluating Your Home Office?

When implementing ergonomic solutions, there are 6 key elements of a workstation to evaluate.

  1. The Chair
  2. The Worksurface
  3. The Keyboard and Mouse
  4. Monitor and Document Placement
  5. Laptop Considerations
  6. Proper Lighting

Today, we’re going to address the first three.

  1. The Chair

Starting with a chair that is comfortable and provides ample support is an important base for your ergonomic home office. One size does not fit all, so an ergonomic chair should offer 5 key adjustments:

  • Seat Height: Adjust the height of your seat so that your feet are flat on the floor, with thighs parallel to the floor.
  • Seat Pan Depth: With your back against the backrest, you should allow at least 2 inches of clearance from the seat behind the knees.
  • Backrest/Lumbar Height: Fit the backrest curvature of your chair to the small of the lower back.
  • Armrest Height: Position the armrests so that they are no higher than seated elbow height.
  • Backrest Tension: Unlock the backrest and adjust the recline tension to support body weight. The Backrest should move freely and support you throughout a recline range.

It is a common misconception that sitting straight up is healthy. Reclining distributes the load of the body across the backrest of the chair and minimizes spinal loading.

  1. The Worksurface

The standard 29.5” worksurface relates to the seated elbow height of a 6’4” male, which represents less than 2% of our working population. Fixed worksurface heights result in keyboard positions that are too high and too far away from the body. Keyboard tabs compound the issue, particularly for proficient typists who anchor their wrists in front of the keyboard.

A desk that is raised too high will cause you to overwork your arm and shoulder muscles throughout the day.

  1. The Keyboard and Mouse

When the keyboard is positioned on the desk, it is often too far and too high for most users. Use of an articulating or dropped keyboard support corrects hand and wrist posture and optimizes your posture.

Your Ergonomic Keyboard should be placed so your elbows and arms remain as close to your sides as possible. Your arms should sit at or below a 90% angle. This will keep your keyboard within your optimum reach zone.

  • Height: Your keyboard should sit 1-2 inches above your thighs. If you cannot adjust your worksurface to this height, you might need to use a pull-out keyboard tray or secondary surface.
  • Tilt: Angle the keyboard down and away from you. It is recommended not to use the stands on either side of the keyboard; according to Cornell University, a negative tilt keyboard affords several benefits when compared to a traditional on desk keyboard.
  • Position: If possible, place your keyboard and mouse shoulder-distance apart and as level as possible.

Your Ergonomic Mouse should fit snugly into your hand and suit the amount of clicking, scrolling, and browsing you do. Ergonomic mice are designed to keep your hand in as comfortable a position as possible so you can work for longer without feeling discomfort.

  • Position the mouse higher than the numeric keys on the keyboard such that the mouse is aligned with the shoulders.
  • Avoid anchoring the wrist on the worksurface, using a wrist rest, or pivoting at the wrist.
  • Consider switching hands or moving your entire arm instead of just the wrist.

Remember; the keyboard and mouse should be close to hand so that you’re not reaching for them. When typing or moving the mouse, keep your wrists straight and your arms close to your sides.

Ergonomics can mean many small changes to find an ideal office set up. How much of a difference do you notice after making the first three adjustments?

About the Authors

Ann Dimiero, NCIDQ, has over 30 years of experience on federal, defense, and commercial projects providing interior design management, federal government design, space planning, facilities management, and construction management services. She recently served as the change management and move manager on the GSA, Department of Health and Human Services Renovation and Relocation Project in Philadelphia, PA, winner of the CMAA Mid-Atlantic Project of the Year Award. Ann holds a BS in Environmental (Interior) Design from Syracuse University, and is a Certified Professional Ergonomist.

About AFG Group, Inc.

AFG Group, Inc. is a woman-­owned firm focused on multi-­disciplined program, construction, and relocation management, with a national portfolio of work in healthcare, laboratories, courthouses, educational facilities, and government buildings. With 30 years of business acumen, AFG has earned a reputation for providing strong expertise, responsiveness, and project execution that helps owners navigate through complex design, procurement, construction, and activation processes.