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HOWTO Design Ergonomics: Make a Home Office Comfortable Without Breaking the Bank

By Edited Oct 30, 2015 0 0

Comfort doesn't have to be expensive

As much as people dismiss the importance of ergonomics (possibly because employers treat it as a liability and take care of it as such), the comfort of your home office can have a great impact on your health and enjoyment of working at home.

While you can find an amazing array of prohibitively expensive office products designed with ergonomics for the office worker in mind, many individuals are not interested or able to spending that kind of money even if they are dissatisfied with the comfort of their setup. The good news is that there are some simple and cheap steps that you can take to improve the comfort of a home setup. You may not need to spend any money at all.

This article doesn't contain details and pictures of how these changes are made, but there are many examples around of how people have made these modifications.

Before you start - while it may seem irrelevant, a good place to start is removing clutter that surrounds your feet and keyboard/mouse. Anything that gets in the way of your normal posture can make things uncomfortable over periods of time.

Summary of the steps:

  1. Adjust the chair so that your feet are flat on the ground

  2. Adjust the monitor to an ideal height

  3. Adjust the desk to the right height

Now, on to the detail of how to implement those steps.

From the Ground Up

The place to start in designing an ergonomic workspace is the ground. It is natural to adjust your chair to your desk height, but since this is a ground-up (literally) review of your workspace. If you don't have an adjustable chair, this is a great place to start.

You want a chair that

  • Adjusts in height

  • Has adjustable armrests

  • Has a good backrest

  • Has good rollers

  • Has the right depth of pan (the sitting part)

The last one is very important. If the pan is too long, you won't be able to sit with your feet on the ground and your back on the backrest at the same time, and your chair will never be totally comfortable. Even at the big-box office stores, there are many inexpensive options to start with an adjustable chair.

As a side note, if you have carpet a floor mat makes it vastly more comfortable to move the chair, which can also reduce strain.

Step one

So, step one is to asjust the chair so that your feet sit flat on the ground with your legs at a 90 degree angle. Don't worry yet about your desk yet, just make sure that you are comfortable relative to your chair and the ground, with your back against the back of the chair and your arms able to rest comfortably on the armrests when you are sitting with your back straight. Don't neglect this important first step, as everything else depends on this height. Also consider if you will be wearing shoes most of the time – I don't wear shoes in my home office often, so the chair is a little lower.

Step two

Now that you know the best height to work at, it's time to determine where everything else should be. A common metric stated is that the top of the monitor should be at eye level, although some even suggest placing it lower than that. That means that you will look slightly down (more comfortable for your neck than looking straight ahead all day) and tilt your monitor to point straight at you.

Next, consider distance – consider placing the monitor at least 25 inches from your face, more if the monitor is large enough to allow comfortable viewing at that distance.

This step may be trickier if you don't have an adjustable monitor stand, since you are at the mercy of your desk. For this reason, you may want to consider a wall mount. These can be fairly inexpensive and give greater flexibility in your setup – not just in height, but also for distance and angle. They can also free up desk space. Most flat-panel monitors produced today support the VESA mounts that are standard for mounting monitors and TVs. There are inexpensive mounts available online at places such as Monoprice.com.

Step three

Now, the desk. With your monitor and chair planned out, you want to figure out your ideal desk height. While desks are commonly 28"-30", that might not work well for you.

You want to be able to work with your elbows at greater than a 90 degree angle – that means that the keyboard should be below where your elbows rest at your normal sitting position. Many computer desks have a lower section for the keyboard. so consider those. If you are using a flat desk, you should consider making the entire desk at a comfortable height. Adjustable desk and table options can get very expensive. A few cheaper options for raising or lowering the height without buying a new desk (or an adjustable height desk) are to use concrete blocks (or anything else stable and cheap) to raise the desk, and to cut the legs to shorten the desk. If you are handy with tools it may be possible to make something look very nice without spending the $1000+ that most adjustable desks seem to cost.

Alternatives

If after figuring out all of the right height for everything you can't find a way to get your desk at the right height (cost or logistics), there are some options such as attachable keyboard trays as well as foot rests that make it possible to have a higher comfortable chair height.

Conclusion

With all of the inexpensive options to improve your working environment, don't allow your home office to be uncomfortable or painful! If you spend considerable time in this office, it is work optimizing.

Total costs can range from nothing (proper adjustment of current assets) to as much as you want to spend, but there are some inexpensive options to improve things.

Further reading:

You can find a few articles here on InfoBarrel on selecting a comfortable chair or desk. There are a myriad of sites on the internet that will explain ergonomics, including the benefits and justification for attending to it. Many of those sites are also part of storefronts designed to convince you to purchase their products, so beware.

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