Shared Home Office Space – Functional and Ergonomic

August 4th, 2020

Shared Home Office Space - Functional and Ergonomic

by Lyn Hatt

Pre -COVID-19 you were likely working in your office at your desk, quite comfortably. You (hopefully) had an ergonomic task chair that allowed you to move into multiple postures throughout the day, a laptop, an external keyboard and mouse and possibly an adjustable monitor arm attached to multiple screens. Here we are post the onset of COVID-19 and you are likely working at your kitchen table with only a laptop, your cell phone, and possibly an external keyboard and mouse, alongside a whole new cohort of co-workers – your household! COVID-19 has forced two-career couples, roommates and even children to work from home in close or maybe a shared home office space. Your neck now hurts, as does your lower back. And the person who shares your workspace is feeling it too!

a Shared Home Office Setup
A Shared Home Office space with a tCentric Hybrid, upCentric 2L height adjustable table, and a laptop tray.

There are many articles and blogs offering ergonomic home office hacks like putting a towel in the small of your back to offer lumbar support, or piling bath sheets under your buttocks to raise your working height. These are temporary fixes and will help in the interim, but not for the long haul. It’s highly probable that remote work or a hybrid of remote and office-based work (and schooling) is here to stay for you and others in your household. With this in mind it’s time to invest in a proper home office set-up that works for everyone. When it comes to purchasing the proper equipment, check with your employer beforehand as many are offering their employees a stipend, or a set cash amount, for the sole purpose of establishing a home office.

How to Create a Shared Home Office

If you have to share a home workspace with another individual, try and make your home office furniture adaptable, as it may be used by all of you at different times, or in some cases, simultaneously. In order of importance, the task chair is number one. It is important to find a chair that fits your height and specific body measurements, but how do you make one chair work for more than one person?

 Sharing a Home Office Chair – an Example

John and Joanne

John and Joanne are both working from home. Joanne is 5’1” and John stands at 6’. They have a fixed height desk which is a standard height of between 29” and 30” high.

A typical, “standard” sized task chair fits those who fall between 5’4” and 6’1” in terms of height, leaving Joanne out of the equation. To meet both of their needs they require a task chair with a great deal of adjustability, specifically in terms of height and width.

  • It goes without saying that a task chair should have height adjustment, and most basic office chairs have this.
  • The seat pan should have the capability of sliding forward to extend the depth to accommodate John’s thigh length, and slide back to shorten the depth to fit Joanne.
  • As for the width of a seat pan, the seat must be wide enough for the person with the widest hips, allowing for no more than one inch of space on either side when seated. If there’s a significant difference in the width of both people’s hips, armrests with lateral movement may be necessary to fit one of the users.
  • There should be opportunity to adjust the back angle. This will allow both John and Joanne to sit in different postures throughout the day. The chair’s backrest should also be high enough to offer support for both the upper and lower back for both of them. In order to support the lower lumbar region of the spine, an adjustable lumbar support is recommended. Both John and Joanne should measure their lumbar height and make sure any chair they purchase can be adjusted to fit both of them. As there is no data to state where the lumbar region begins or ends, a range of back height adjustment between 5.9” – 9.8” above the seat is a good range to seek. Air lumbar, which allows you to vary the depth and firmness of the lumbar support, is an option to seek in case one user want or need more lumbar support than the other person.
  • Since there is a difference in height between John and Joanne, it is also likely that their shoulder widths are different. They should look for a chair with armrests that have height, width and possibly lateral adjustment to allow each of them to adjust the armrest so that their arms can relax close to their sides with the forearms supported in a 90° angle at the elbow. Good chair arms will adjust well enough to allow them to bring the chair in as close to the front of the desk as possible.

These adjustable chair features, along with the proper size of gas lift, will bring Joanne’s working height parallel to the table top and allow her to work in a neutral posture. To eliminate the possibility of her feet not touching the ground, introduce a footrest and she is all set. John on the other hand, just has to sit down in the chair and make a few small adjustments to the chair and he is ready to work ergonomically in an ideal shared home office space.

John and Joanne shared home office space with a tCentric Hybrid and an upCentric 3L.
John and Joanne shared home office space with a tCentric Hybrid and an upCentric 3L.

Sharing a Home Office Desk

Desk sharing is also a concern. A standard, fixed height desk is 29-30” high and was designed with the 6’ male in mind. If your budget permits, introduce an electric height adjustable table. This will allow everyone in your household to reap the benefits of setting the proper working height in both the standing and the seated postures, the latter of which is often overlooked. Electric height adjustable tables are more desirable than crank or sit-stand desktop converters as they are less prone to causing user injury.

How to use the Shared Office Space

If forced to share a home office workspace, be sure to set parameters with everyone you are sharing the space with. You could set a schedule, much like you have to book a meeting room in traditional offices. As for changing over to the next user or adapting the space to home-schooling, something as simple as a laundry basket is a great solution to fit all your office equipment (e.g. laptop, mouse, stationary, etc.) and is easily stowed away making the space available for the next person.

airCentric 2 Office Chair

Invest in Quality Home Office Furniture

Buying your home office furniture should be an investment in both your home and your well-being. You likely spend a good deal of time researching a bed that fits your needs and your home office chair should be no different, if not more important when you evaluate the amount of time you will be sitting in it. A great place to start is with the online ergoCentric chair fitter. If you’re working in a shared home office space with someone, make sure to let us know in the comments section of the form.

About Lyn Hatt

For more than 20 years, Lyn Hatt has been raising public awareness in the discipline of ergonomics through her consulting firm ErgoLynx. As a Certified Ergonomic Specialist (CES), Lyn has shared her abundance of knowledge through training sessions, ergonomic assessments, and most recently with ergoCentric as our Online Chair Fitting Specialist and New Business Development Specialist.

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