Working from home is commonplace these days. Many companies who have employees that do computer-based jobs allow these employees to work from home—from 1 day per week to everyday. Having a workstation that fits the employee well is just as important if they work from home as it is if they work in the office. I’ve lost track of how many office ergonomics assessments I’ve done over the years be it at work and home (and travel, but that’s a totally different environment). There are common mistakes or misconceptions that people make when it comes to their computer workstation. Take a look at the Top 5 list and see if any apply to you.
#1: Purchasing a chair with little to no regard to their fit and function
In my opinion, the chair is the heart or foundation of the office workstation. If the chair doesn’t the fit, then the employee will not be comfortable which in turn affects job performance. Chairs are typically purchased based on price and looks. Most people who buy their own chair want a low priced chair that looks cool. Unfortunately, chairs under $150 will have few features that allow for adjustability for fit and comfort. Purchasing a chair is an investment and just like financial investments, it is important that the home office worker investigates chair options and finds one that fits well as he/she will be spending thousands of hours in that chair over the next months and years. Here are 5 key characteristics to look for in a home office chair:
1. Height adjustment: height should have 5” of adjustment, typically from 17”-22”
2. Seat depth adjustment: if the seat pan depth is too short, then the legs won’t be properly supported, if the seat pan depth is too long, then the edge of the chair will push behind the knees preventing the person from sitting back in the chair.
3. Good lumbar support: this one is more subjective. Some people like a lot of lower back support and others not so much. The lumbar support has to be enough to support the natural curve of your lower back and have it at the correct height. Look for a seat back that can be adjusted up and down so the lumbar support can be placed where it feels best.
4. Seat back tilt: Some people like to sit straight up and others like to have more of a recline position. Look for a chair that allows the seat back to be adjusted separately from the seat pan. (On some chairs, the seat pan and seat back tilt are adjusted together. Make sure these functions are separated).
5. Armrest adjustment: Armrests are a personal choice for most. Armrests can become a problem for 3 reasons: 1) they don’t fit the person where their arms/elbows naturally rest by their sides (they are often too wide), 2) they prevent the person from sitting close to their desk and 3) the height doesn’t fit (doesn’t go high or low enough). If the chair comes with armrests, make sure they can be removed. Avoid chairs with fixed armrests.
#2. Purchasing a desk with little to no regard to their fit and function
When I talk to home office workers, I will ask how and why they choose their desk and chair. A few companies provide their home workers desks and chairs but most let their employees purchase the desk and chair of their choice and reimburse them. In either case, the fit and function of the desk to the job the employee performs and the fit to the employee is rarely considered. For the home employee the desk has to fit 3 things: 1) their “office”, i.e. the size has to fit the room/location, 2) the job tasks/functions they perform and 3) it has to fit them physically (height). The first one is self-explanatory—the employee needs to have room for it. The second one involves looking what the employees does, i.e. does he/she use paperwork or calculators or other non-computer tasks? If so, then the desk would be larger and a different shape compared to computer only jobs where the desk space needs only to accommodate the monitor, keyboard, mouse and phone. The third one pertains to whether the desk height fits the person’s height. In a great majority of cases, the “standard” desk height is too high; however, this can be dealt with by adjusting the height of the chair.
#3: Chair height is too low
This is related to both #1 and #2. Everyone is most comfortable when sitting with their feet resting comfortably on the floor. However, if the desk is too high then this becomes an issue. How do you know if your chair is too low? Check your elbow height compared to your desk height. If your elbow height is at or lower than your desk then your chair height is too low. If this happens, a person will compensate by either sitting on the edge of their chair or pushing their keyboard/mouse farther away from the desk. A good rule of thumb is the elbow height should be about 1” higher than the desk height.
#4: Monitor(s) are positioned too high or too low
The most common mistake people make with their monitor is that it is at the wrong height. In my experience, most people tend to error on having their monitor too high which causes them to look slightly upwards resulting in neck/upper back pain. Conversely, if the monitor is too low, then the person looks slightly downward and this too results in neck/upper back pain. The monitor should be positioned so that the top of it is just below eye level. (Note: bifocal uses, the monitor height should be even lower).
#5: Lighting—not enough or too much
In the workplace, the most common lighting mistake is too much light. In the home the most common mistake is usually too little light. The amount of light needed depends on the person (younger individuals require less light and older) and the task (computer only tasks require less light than computer plus paperwork tasks). A clue that lighting may be an issue is if your eyes are tired by the end of the day.
The home office can be just as challenging, if not more so, than the work office in setting it up correctly. You’ll be well on your way to a comfortable and productive home office workstation if you avoid making these 5 common mistakes.
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