Office Ergonomics Made Easy

For a lot of people, working from home has meant trading their office workspace for a laptop in bed. Or slouching on the sofa instead of sitting upright in a chair. And while these may seem like the better option at first, they reinforce bad posture and bring down productivity in the long run.

Guest Contributor

December 7, 2020

7 min read

We get that work isn’t necessarily “fun” one hundred percent of the time, but your home office desk should always be comfortable and ergonomic, at least.

What is Office Ergonomics?

Office ergonomics refers to the setup of a comfortable, efficient work station, customized to an individual’s particular physiology. It’s the science of optimizing your work environment for better productivity, focus, and health. Practically speaking, it means organizing your office (or home office) space to eliminate strain on your muscles and joints.

In other words, good office ergonomics helps to make your home office desk work for you and your body. It encompasses everything from where you place your monitor and keyboard, to the size of your desk, to the way you sit.

Now, like me, you’ve probably heard the phrases “sit up straight” and “don’t slouch” throughout your childhood. Maybe you’ve even found yourself repeating these idioms to your own kids after seeing them bent over a laptop for virtual social studies. But five minutes later, engrossed in another class or focused on dealing with another fire drill, our good postures disappear. You may be reading this hunched over a computer right now, or looking down at your smartphone. Clearly, “sitting up straight” is not enough.

And those hours spent hunched over a screen can lead to more than just carpal tunnel--think chronic back and neck pain. This is true whether you work in a company office or at your kitchen table.

Luckily, good office ergonomics depends on more than just individual posture--it requires setting up your work equipment and home office space in a way that best serves you and your body. And this begins with adjusting your chair, desk, and screens.

Adjust Your Chair

Protect your lower back by sitting all the way back in your chair. Your lower back should be flush against the chair. Some chairs will have an extra cushion space to provide lumbar support. If yours doesn’t, no need to spend hundreds of dollars on an ergonomic desk chair. Just roll up a small towel, or sweatshirt, or even your dog’s plush toy, and place it behind you.

Secondly, adjust your chair’s height to fit the length of your legs. When sitting, your thighs should be parallel to the floor with feet flat on the ground. And these measurements vary from person to person. A good office chair for someone short is not going to work well for someone tall. If your chair’s height is non-adjustable, sit up on a thick cushion or downcycle some old textbooks.

One last tip: Use a wireless headset or earphones to avoid the cellphone slump or “iposture” when talking on the phone.

Adjust Your Desk

Ergonomically speaking, the most important aspect of your desk is its height. If you’re sitting, make sure to use a desk that works for your chair. (i.e. Your thighs are not being compressed, and you can reach your keyboard and mouse without having to lean forward.)  And if you’re using a standing desk, the surface should align with your elbows.

I know, these are a lot of tiny measurements. Fortunately, there exists this great desk and chair height calculator. Just input your height and it does the rest. And again, these measurements should be customized to your body and what feels good for you.

Same goes for desk counter space. You want enough room for your monitor, keyboard, mouse, and any other frequently used tools. Think pens, post-it notes, cellphone, planner, water bottle, chapstick, oreos--whatever gets you through another day at the (home) office. Add an organizer or stackable storage drawers for extra hoarding space.

And if you have trouble finding pre-made desks with the dimensions you need, try Baru’s custom furniture selection and input your preferred desk height, length, and width. Better yet, opt for an adjustable height desk that allows you to alternate between sitting and standing.

Adjust Your Screens

As a rule of thumb, your monitor should be about an arm’s length away from your body and directly in front of your face. If you extend your arms, the tips of your middle finger should just touch the screen. And depending on the height of your laptop or desktop screen, you might need to place a couple books underneath. Essentially, try to avoid having to hold your head at an uncomfortable angle.

Your keyboard and mouse, however, should be at elbow level. Note that if you normally work from a laptop, you might want to invest in a separate keyboard. Or maybe you opt for an ergonomic mouse instead of using the laptop’s trackpad.

And depending on how much screen time your day requires, you may want to consider using glasses with a bluelight filter to combat eye fatigue.

Keep Moving

As much as we would like to prescribe quality desks as a panacea for work discomfort, we recognize that the best solution to office burnout is to simply keep moving.

Even with the perfect office space ergonomics, no human body was designed to sit (or stand) still for hours at a time. Our advice is to alter your posture throughout the day, take frequent screen breaks, go for a walk outside (with a mask!), and maintain regular exercise.