The Ergonomically Sound Workstation: Working from Home

July 6th, 2020

The Ergonomically Sound Workstation: Working from Home

by Lucy Hart

COVID-19 happened. You were sent to work from home, despite not having an ergonomically sound workstation.

You asked yourself where am I going to work, then landed somewhere plunked on your bed or sofa, tethered to the kitchen, dining room or coffee table, maybe even bounced around all of the above trying to get comfortable.

Looking to Google for tips on setting up a home office, you cobbled together a PBB setup (pillow/box/books). That’s the pillow on the chair or behind your back or both and a box or pile of books under your laptop or under your feet. Sound familiar? Uncomfortable and possibly in pain, you might have made an impulse purchase of an ‘ergonomic’ this or that, maybe even an ‘ergonomic’ chair.

Ergonomicly Sound Workstation Home Office

As reported in the National Post, a DART & maru/Blue polled Canadians working at home and found:

  • 52% want better seating
  • 48% want a better desk and working space
  • 19% better lighting

The future remains uncertain. If remote work wasn’t on your employer’s radar pre-COVID-19, the airwaves suggest it could very well be part of the new normal – your new normal – for months, years or even permanent.

Amidst this uncertainty, one thing hasn’t changed – what the human body needs. You need to maintain good alignment as you move through various postures that support your muscular and skeletal systems. As a result, you avoid strain and overexertion while working.

The long-term benefits of accommodating your needs are comfort, elimination or reduction of injuries and chronic diseases. In particular, chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, various cancers, obesity and decreased mortality.

Enter the long game. Time to deliberately invest in an ergonomically sound workstation that yields benefits today and for years to come.

What is An Ergonomically Sound Workstation?

An ergonomically sound workstation:

  • Accommodates your body shape and size
  • Allows you to move through multiple, supportive postures while maintaining your body in good alignment
  • Supports you and your work tools

The components of an ergonomically sound workstation typically include your chair, work surface(s) and, accessories such as a monitor arm and footrest.

Evaluate Your Existing Home Office Setup

Evaluating your posture and movement opportunities in your existing setup is a good place to start before you invest in an ergonomically sound workstation.

You should to be able to move through postures that give you biomechanical advantages to do your work with minimal stress on your musculoskeletal system. While it is not necessary to maintain neutral joint positions 100% of the time to minimize risk, your workstation should support and allow you to frequently assume the following throughout the day:

  • While sitting:
    • Soles of your feet and lower legs are roughly at 90°
    • Thighs are roughly parallel to the floor
    • At least 90° between your thighs and upper body; more than 90° is better for your lumbar spine
    • For computer tasks:
      • Upper arms rest alongside your upper body, with your shoulders relaxed, forearms horizontal, and elbows close to your body
      • Wrists are straight (not bent)
    • Neck is upright
  • While standing:
    • Head, neck, upper body and legs are approximately in line and vertical; one foot may be raised on a footrest for short periods
    • For computer tasks:
      • Upper arms rest alongside your upper body, with your shoulders relaxed, forearms horizontal, and elbows close to your body
      • Wrists are straight (not bent)

You can also evaluate features of your existing chair and work surface using the BIFMA Ultimate Test for Fit published by the Business and Industrial Furniture Manufacturers Association

Any shortcomings identified during the evaluation phase will help inform your selection of an ergonomically sound workstation.

Selecting an Ergonomically Sound Workstation

Your Chair

Start with a seat size that is right for your physical dimensions then look for adjustable features to fine tune to your body dimensions so that your body is in good alignment for maximum support and comfort e.g. seat depth, seat height, lumbar support height, arm rest height and lateral position.

To ensure you have the opportunity to move from one posture to another, look for a tilt feature e.g. synchro-tilt, multi-tilt that allows you to unlock the chair (both seat and back) so that you can gently tilt or rock to enhance blood flow.

Other features such as an independent back angle adjustment give you more movement options to go from an upright posture to one where you open the angle at your hips for greater low back comfort. Refer to the checklist below for alignment and movement pointers.

Task Chair Office Seating tCentric Hybrid

ergoCentric’s online chair fitting will point you to recommended seating solutions.

Your Work Surface

To maximize the return on your investment in an ergonomically sound chair, you need to place your work tools (equipment and materials) at appropriate heights and distances.

Height

For keyboard/input tasks, the work surface should be at your elbow height when your feet are resting on the floor. Kitchen and dining room tables as well as products labelled “computer desk” are typically fixed at a height that is too high for most women and some men to safely work on technology. A height adjustable surface is often needed to allow you to set the work surface low enough to avoid stressing your body.

Given the need to move more, selecting a height adjustment range that covers both your seated elbow height and your standing elbow height will allow you to comfortably move between sitting and standing postures. This can go a long way to help ward off the negative health outcomes of sedentary behaviour.

Work Surface Size

Think about your equipment and materials and how often you use them. Select a surface size that is wide enough and deep enough to place your work tools so that your body is properly aligned and supported. Simple rules of thumb for placement:

  • Most frequently used items are within your immediate reach
  • Occasionally used items are at your arm’s distance
  • Rarely used items are farthest from you, and not necessary to store on your work surface

Accessories

It may be necessary to add accessories such as a monitor arm, laptop support and/or a footrest to your workstation to ensure you frequently move through neutral positions. A few pointers to consider:

ergonomic Foot Flexor Accessory
  • Your screen should be positioned at your arm’s distance or even farther for visual comfort, with the top line of the screen at or slightly below horizontal eye level. A monitor arm or laptop support may be needed to allow you to achieve this setup.
  • If a laptop is your sole computing device, it is virtually impossible to properly position both the keyboard and screen at the same time. A common solution is to add an external keyboard and either elevate your laptop on a stand, or hook the laptop to a docking station and add an external monitor, which is possibly mounted on a monitor arm, and adjust the height to keep your neck upright.
  • If you wear bifocals use the lower part of corrective lenses for screen viewing, you will most likely need the screen lower than described above so that you can keep your neck upright as you look at your screen. You still need to keep your screen is at arm’s distance for visual comfort.

Getting the Return on Your Investment

To get the most out of your ergonomically sound workstation, you need to use it as it was designed to be used. Familiarize yourself with all the controls and make adjustments throughout the day for the sake of your comfort, health and well-being.

Finally, remember to take mental and physical breaks from work.

This is the long game. Time to make informed decisions that yield long-term positive outcomes for your health and well-being.


About Lucy Hart

Lucy Hart, MSc, CCPE, WELL AP is the Director, Workplace Ergonomics and Well-being at ergoCentric. She is a Canadian Certified Professional Ergonomist (CCPE) and a WELL Accredited Professional. Lucy chairs the BIFMA Ergonomics Sub-Committee (Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Association) that developed and maintains the industry’s ergonomics guideline. As Chair of the CSA Technical Committee on Office Ergonomics, she led the revision of CSA Z412 from a guideline to an office ergonomics application standard for the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Group. She is also the Co-Chair of the International Outreach Committee for the Applied Ergonomics Conference


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