Anyone who’s spent an extended time sitting at a computer, whether for school or work, has probably experienced some form of strain. What once was the exception is now the norm -- desk jobs are more common than ever, and so are the related health risks.
Companies and universities are finally catching on. And now they’re literally putting their workers in a position to succeed.
There is a surprising number of injuries you can suffer by working at a computer for an extended time, including:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Rotator cuff injuries
- Eye strain
- Neck pain
An ergonomic workstation setup is the easiest way to minimize the risk of such injuries. Whether you’re setting up office workstations for employees, students, or yourself, the following will serve as a useful office ergonomics guide for beginners.
Ergonomic Workstation Setup
Here are seven ways that you can provide users with an ergonomic computer workstation:
- Adjustable-height desks
- Ergonomic monitor mounts
- Ergonomic keyboards
- Equipment that can be hidden away
- Employee training
- Encouraging breaks
- Promoting maneuverability
1. Use an adjustable-height desk.
Besides making you look like “the cool boss,” sit-stand desks offer a lot of ergonomic benefits:
- When you have 6-7 people using the same desk each day, an ergonomic desk setup makes it much easier for everyone to be comfortable and avoid strain.
- An employee who uses that same desk all day can adjust it periodically to keep their body fresh.
- A sit-stand desk mechanism often includes memory settings where you can press a button and adjust to the proper height automatically.
Taller guys and gals may prefer an adjustable height desk because they can’t fit their legs under a fixed desk. By using ergonomic computer solutions that are tailored to the individual, everyone gets a fair shake.
Note that sit-to-stand desks are less appropriate for classrooms (where an elevated desk may block others’ views), but great for computer labs and offices.
2. Use an ergonomic monitor stand.
There are many adjustable monitor stands and mounts that can be used to obtain the best ergonomic position for a screen. Proper setup for a monitor looks like this:
- Position the monitor an arm’s length from the eyes.
- Keep the top of the monitor at eye level or slightly below.
- To avoid glare, tilt the monitor forward slightly.
3. Use an ergonomic keyboard setup.
Believe it or not, the keyboard is the most important component of good ergonomics in the workplace. Many users don’t realize their keyboards are positioned incorrectly and suffer long-term consequences as a result:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Shoulder pain
- Back pain
- Neck pain
Top ergonomic chairs and keyboard trays make it possible to customize positions for each worker. Some tips for proper keyboard positioning:
- Elbows should be level with or above wrists while typing.
- Keep elbows in a relaxed, natural position near the body when typing.
- Consider ergonomic keyboard trays that allows the user to tilt the keyboard forward (known as negative tilt)
4. Use equipment with hiding spots.
You can get the most out of a workstation when you can hide certain components away.
An under-desk keyboard mount allows workers to stow the keyboard and use all that extra space to write, have multiple books open at once, and so on. A monitor lift mechanism allows users to slide the monitor away and have even more real estate.
As silly as it sounds, these small features can make an office a little less crowded. Your workers will be less likely to bump into sharp corners, too. (Who hasn’t slammed their shin into a hard office table?)
5. Train your workers.
Train all workers to use their computer equipment and peripherals correctly. Having great equipment means nothing if your users don’t maintain good posture and don’t bother to learn how their equipment works.
Ideally, the right ergonomic office solutions will make it easy for users to:
- Keep arms and legs supported
- Maintain arm’s length distance from the screen
- Keep the lumbar area supported
- Type at a proper height
- Keep the monitor at the right level
And don’t forget those crucial keyboard tips we listed in #3!
6. Encourage breaks.
Sitting in the same place in exactly the same position for extended periods is healthy for neither body nor spirit. It’s unsurprising, then, that it’s also bad for productivity.
Sometimes it’s better to work smart than to work hard. That busy bee who doesn’t leave his desk all day might actually turn in less quality work than someone who takes frequent breaks.
Encourage users to:
- Rest eyes and body every 30 minutes
- Move around to get the blood flowing regularly
- Encourage taking work around the office
What do we mean by that third point?
7. Promote maneuverability.
Workspaces have evolved rapidly the last few years. Try imitating forward-thinking companies like these (but maybe don’t spend so much …).
Encourage users to take advantage of any flexibility allowed by your workspace. Is there a sofa, lounge, or outdoor area they can take their laptop to?
By moving around during the workday, they can switch up posture and positions, and enjoy a more relaxed, comfortable work environment. Happy workers are more productive workers.
Give the People What They Want!
Everyone has their own preferences for using keyboards, mice, monitors, chairs, and other equipment. Karen in accounting who’s 5’1” might need a footrest for good posture. A restless person who sits at a desk 40 hours a week might want to take her laptop elsewhere for a 30-minute breather.
The important thing is to keep your users in mind. In a work office, that may mean optimizing down to the individual level vs. buying a one-size-fits-all solution. Think with your mind and heart instead of your wallet -- the long-term ROI of office ergonomics can no longer be ignored.