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DIY Home and Mobile Office Ergonomics

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eyboard_mouseRecently, I changed my home office setup, and found myself with pretty severe neck pain as a result. I switched to a chair that provided better back support and raised my laptop, adding an external mouse and keyboard to try to alleviate the problem. It did, but not as much as I’d have liked. Now I’m trying regular breaks and exercises to see if that makes a difference.

Interestingly, I never had these problems when I worked in an onsite office: I always managed to adjust my chair to suit my needs, and have my monitor at the right level. Since I spend a lot of time out of my home office anyway, my office setup only has an impact on the sedentary part of my work week; the rest is, as they say, in the lap of the gods.

Do You Have Problems with Your Home Office Ergonomics?

A range of symptoms can indicate that your home office is not as comfortable — or suited to your body type or posture — as it could be. Do you find yourself beset by:

  • headaches
  • neck pain
  • back pain
  • tired or sore eyes
  • numbness in the hands, legs or specific muscle groups
  • tension in joints, often the neck, shoulders, fingers and wrists
  • device frustration

This last point can be the tip-off that if you don’t do something soon, you’ll suffer more than a bad mood. If you find the use of one of your devices — your mouse, keyboard, monitor, scanner and so on — is frustrating you, it may be a sign that your body is having to work harder than it’s used to, or than it needs to, in order to get your work done. In short, it can be a sign of unnecessary strain. Perhaps your scanner’s a few inches too far from your chair, or maybe you need a mouse mat to facilitate smooth mouse movement and stop your fingers straining to push the device around your desktop.

They seem like such small points, but when you need to operate these devices for eight hours every day, it’s important to get things right.

DIY Home Office Ergonomics

Yes, you can arrange to have an ergonomics expert come into your home and assess your workspace — some of the more liberal (or is that just sensible?) employers will even foot the bill for this service on behalf of their remote employees.

But you can alter your home ergonomics for the better yourself. There’s a a lot of information out there to help you set up your workspace to meet your ergonomic requirements. I found a handy Office Ergonomics Checklist and a discussion of conventional ergonomics wisdom as compared with current research results. Both of thee resources helped me adjust my workspace to my specific requirements. You could also try changing things up with a standing desk.

Ergonomics On the Go

This is all well and good for those days when we’re at home or in an office, but what about ergonomics for those who are working on the road? It would seem that the basic advice that applies in your fixed workspace should be applied as best as possible on the road:

  • sit comfortably with your feet resting on something (the floor? a bag?)
  • try to ensure you have lower back support
  • set a decent amount of space between your eyes and the monitor; although the “arm’s length” rule isn’t achievable on a laptop, make sure you’re not cramped
  • have your screen at a workable level of brightness, and try to avoid having light shining directly on it
  • make sure your arms are comfortable — not pushed back against your body or out to the sides
  • try resting your elbows or forearms on arm rests if your seat has them
  • take regular breaks: stretch your arms and hands, get up and stretch your legs, rest your neck, look around
  • try not to work for long, unbroken periods

How about you? How have you improved your home — or remote — office ergonomics?

10 Responses to “DIY Home and Mobile Office Ergonomics”

  1. Laptop ergonomics can be really tricky as a laptop alone is an ergonomic disaster. As you said, you can’t get your monitor at eye level and your keyboard (which should be in your lap)in proper position at the same time, thus some external apparatus is necessary. A separate keyboard and mouse are the cheapest solution. A good chair if you sit long hours is a must too, but what many don’t know and you don’t point out is that “good” needs to be defined as appropriate for your body size and how you work. Your buddy’s favorite chair may be all wrong for you. Also office box stores don’t carry anything that can be defined as a good chair for long hours. You need to contact an ergonomic retailer and, as another commenter posted, likely spend in excess of $400. Given that crippling pain will put you out of work, a good chair is no place to scrimp.

    In any case, check out this blog post series on laptop ergonomics – Portable Ergonomic Laptop Workstation Accessories Part 1 (it will link to parts 2 and 3). It was written by Ergonomic experts.

    Also a cool, cheap tool I use at home was just released to market. It’s called the MOBO and it’s a chair mounted system with two mousing platforms on each arm (great for reducing stress on the shoulders) and a platform that lays across them that can hold either your laptop or keyboard. I use it in front of the TV and it’s under $90.

    Hope you find your pain solutions. Oh and we offer cheap online/phone ergo consults for $50 or free with a chair or desk purchase over $500.

  2. Good advice in the article. A good chair is a great starting point, as is taking a few minutes to sort out the layout of your equipment – it’s amazing so few people do this.

    However, a good chair alone can’t break you out of bad posture habits if you’ve grown used to sitting badly. Most of us know how we should sit, but knowing and doing are two very different things.

    I’ve spent the last few years developing award-winning software to treat and prevent back pain and other painful health conditions by reminding computer users about their posture precisely when they need it – whenever they’ve been sitting badly for a few minutes.

    It does this by using a webcam to continually check your posture using patent-pending automatic image analysis. If you consistently sit in a damaging posture, PostureMinder will provide a friendly reminder to improve how you are sitting.

    There’s a free 30-day trial on my website – if you’re suffering back pain at your computer, or just want to improve your posture on a preventative basis, why not give it a try?

  3. tony neria

    My two lifesaving items for my home office (I telecommute 40 hours a week) are my Microsoft Natural keyboard (wired…I have to type to hard with the wireless model) and a really good chair. I actually went to a business office store and bought my chair. Seems like it was around $400.00 about 8 years ago! I know, very expensive but you figure you’re sitting in it 8 hours a day 5 days a week.

  4. I actually have more problems in my regular office than my home office. Several years ago I was having back issues and finally decided to spend some time (to find) and money on a good chair. One of the best investments as it could change to fit me better, raise and lower to be better for working at the computer and more.

    I’m looking again, and I won’t look at the sub $99 chairs like I used to. I’ve been looking for 3 months and still not found a good replacement. I only wish I could bring mine into my regular office.

  5. I use a standing desk and I love it. I work from home mostly and when I go into the office I have a chair and it only takes a few days before my back starts to hurt.

    Mine is a Jerker from Ikea. They don’t make this model anymore but you can find it on Craig’s List just about anywhere. I like it because you can adjust the height of the desk from 8 inches to 55 inches from the ground. I’m about 6 feet tall and mine desk is 46 inches high.

    If you are going to go standing two more things to buy: a pair of Crocks or other squishy type shoes and an anti-fatigue mat. Both force you to adjust to stay balanced and help with joint fatigue.