Feel Better: The Benefits of a Keyboard Tray
Ever feel like your desk is too high? You may be onto something. Standard-height desks in the United States are fixed at 29.5” off the ground because they were never built to fit a person. As office work began to emerge as the norm in the forties and fifties, work surfaces were placed on top of three-drawer filing cabinets and—voilà—a desk was created. To maintain an aesthetically uniform office, employers continued to implement such “desks.” While we no longer build desks this way, the 29.5” tall trend stuck. A desk at this height will properly accommodate a 6’4” person—less than 2% of our working population—and nobody shorter.
Unless you’re 6’4”, you likely need to adapt your body to your desk. You may shrug your shoulders, lean forward, put pressure on your forearms and extend your wrists to use the keyboard. Even the best ergonomic task chair on the market may not help you because you simply won’t be able to sit back in it. A chair won’t change your posture; the placement of your hands and eyes will.
So, how do we make the standard-height desk accommodate everyone? Try an adjustable keyboard tray to lower the tools into your lap and allow you to sit back in your chair. But not all keyboard trays are created equal. If you tried one in the past and didn’t like it, a few contributing factors may have been at play. Some desks are equipped with keyboard trays that slide in and out like a drawer, and do not adjust. Others feature bulky adjustment mechanisms underneath the tray that get in the way of your legs. Many so-called “ergonomic” keyboards aren’t ergonomic at all, in fact.
Truly ergonomic keyboard trays adjust to you and your task, not the other way around. They feature negative-tilt to keep your wrists in a neutral posture and a palm support. They are extremely intuitive and can be used without the interference of locks, levers or buttons. The mouse platform can be independently adjustable, so if you have to move the tray, the mouse doesn’t fall off. And they don’t hit your knees or otherwise obstruct the space underneath your desk. The goal is a hands-in-lap position to allow you to sit back and relax into the backrest of your chair, using as little muscle activity as possible.
If you’re looking for a simple ergonomic enhancement for your workspace, a keyboard tray is an easy and cost-effective solution. Try it for at least a week. Once your body gets used to it, you’ll start to see how sitting in supported, neutral postures can feel much better.
Smartcomfort: Healthy Ways to Use Your Portable Devices
These days, there are few situations that don’t involve your smartphone or tablet, or even phablet, if that’s what you prefer. When you’re out to dinner, you may take a peek at your phone to answer an email or two (or post pictures of your food on Instagram). While on public transit, you might read the morning news on your tablet. Though these tasks are seemingly necessary, they may be taking a toll on your body. Our ergonomists had some recommendations for how to use your many devices in the healthiest ways.
It’s always best to consider your task, and then to think about the equipment you might use. We’ll start with smartphones. If you’re going to be inputting a lot of data, such as writing emails, your finger may get sore from tapping away. To avoid this, use a stylus. (Even better, save the responses for when you get to work. Give yourself a break!) Talking on your phone while resting your elbow on the desk or armrest of your chair may put you at risk for cubital tunnel syndrome (often confused with carpal tunnel syndrome), which occurs when the ulnar nerve that runs through the cubital tunnel becomes impinged. Try using a headset or headphones and make sure the armrests are at the right height to support the forearms to prevent this problem.
Moving on to tablets: If you’re watching a movie or a TV show on your tablet, prop it up so it’s at eye level, instead of in your lap, to avoid neck pain. If you’re writing emails, there is a healthy way to do it. It’s always best to separate your hands and your eyes, since they drive your posture, so use an external, wireless keyboard you can put on the table or in your lap.
With a little help from a few accessories, you can work and play with your devices in the name of health and comfort.
Ergonomics Tips for Everyday Life
You’ve got the best ergonomic work tools to keep you safe, healthy and comfortable while you work, but have you ever wondered how to protect your posture doing everyday activities? We spoke with our ergonomists about how to prevent discomfort, injury and musculoskeletal disorders in daily life.
Though makes and models of cars may vary, play around with your car seat adjustability as much as possible. Ensure you can reach the pedals comfortably while still reclining to keep your spine healthy. If your car seat lacks lumbar support, invest in a small lumbar roll or try a rolled up hand towel that you can position in the curve of your lower back for more support. If your steering wheel is adjustable, position it at a comfortable height so you’re not overusing the muscles in your arms, and remember to take a break and stretch every hour on long trips.
At the Movies
Most movie theatres have seats that are designed for you to recline in. Try to avoid sitting too close to the front and focus on sitting toward the middle of the theater, not the sides, to protect your neck, but otherwise, sit back and relax in your chair with your feet comfortably on the floor–not on the seat in front you, as this can irritate your fellow movie-goers.
On Public Transport
We don’t always get to choose whether we sit or stand on public transit, but there are healthy strategies you can employ on long commutes to keep you comfortable. If you are seated, ensure that the seat pan isn’t hitting the back of your knees, which can impinge circulation. If you’re standing and holding onto a pole, keep your elbow close to your hip to strengthen your grip. And, if you must work on your smartphone while traveling, don’t hunch over or clutch it too tightly. Try a case that allows you to slip your hand in the back, and use a stylus to save your fingers.
On a Plane
Working on flights is increasingly common, so when you’re on a plane, consider the task. If you’re emailing or typing, place the laptop in your lap. This will minimize the strain on your fingers and upper body. Investing in an external travel keyboard will automatically separate where you type and view and will save you from the “laptop hunch.” If you’re watching a movie on your laptop or tablet, use some magazines to raise the device high enough to keep your neck comfortable. Also, don’t forget to incorporate as much movement as you can into your flight. Keep your circulation up by stretching and walking around the cabin.
Shoveling snow can be tough on the body, especially the arms and shoulders. The solution? Try an ergonomic snow shovel, which features a curved handle to alter the direction you apply force so that shoveling is more comfortable. Don’t forget to try to lift with your legs, not your back, limit the amount of heavy lifting you do, and keep your loads low to the ground and as close to your body as possible.
Working On a Laptop or Tablet at Home
Aside from investing in an external keyboard or mouse to ensure you can control the position of your hands and eyes (remember: they drive your posture), our ergonomists have a few tips to stay healthy. First, try working on the couch, where you can mimic a healthy posture by reclining, propping your legs up and placing the laptop or tablet on your thighs. And, when you’re using your laptop at your desk, try raising your screen up with a laptop stand or a pile of books to keep your neck comfortable.
Using Hand Tools
Anyone who has had to put together Ikea furniture will attest to the fact that your hands get tired very quickly. From screwdrivers to wrenches, more tools on the market these days are designed to better fit the body, with features like ball handles to reduce bending your wrist when you twist, or softer and wider grips to take pressure off points in your hand. Consider the grip and diameter of the tools you choose and, remember, just because something is labeled as “ergonomic” doesn’t mean it truly is.
In the Kitchen
If you love to cook and spend time in the kitchen, put an anti-fatigue mat in front of your prep area to take pressure off your lower joints while you’re creating a culinary masterpiece. Also, there are good brands of kitchen tools out there that have wide, soft handles and ergonomic features that make repetitive tasks easier, such as the line from OXO Good Grips.
We hope these tips help you to live more comfortably!
Hot Desking: A Trend for the Future
If you’ve heard the term “hot desking” thrown around lately and haven’t got a clue about what it means, fear not. We spoke with our ergonomists to clarify the emerging workplace trend.
A clever business strategy that’s grown in popularity in the last handful of years, hot desking evolved as employers began to notice that 100% of their employees weren’t present at their workstations 100% of the time. Though implemented differently depending on the company, hot desking refers to workstations that employees can use on an as-needs basis.
It’s an effective space-saving strategy, but hot desking can have some pitfalls if the workstations aren’t set up with the comfort and safety of the users in mind.
When it comes to this trend, some people throw ergonomics out altogether. They may believe that the tools don’t need to adjust to the user, because the user isn’t using them very consistently or for very long. On the contrary, these workstations should especially emphasize comfort and be tailored to the employee who sits there, however infrequently. Even working at a computer for one hour a day has the potential to cause musculoskeletal discomfort. Now, if you work at a computer for four hours a day, that risk is nine—yes, nine!—times higher. Remember, the effects of poor posture are cumulative, so sitting well at all times is crucial.
For employers with a mobile workforce, it’s important to note that a workstation that is set up with ergonomics in mind is more likely to be an incentive for staff to work in the office, rather than from home. You can’t expect a “dumb desk”—that is, a desk that uses typical office furniture, rather than ergonomic work tools—to help create the workstation of the future. If the future is going to allow employees to have a more flexible schedule, then the workstations must be as flexible to accommodate and fit the user, instead of forcing the user to fit into the furniture.
Consider investing in sit/stand desks, quality task chairs and laptop stands or monitor arms to allow all employees to position their equipment where it’s comfortable for them. Task lights can encourage users to customize their space, helping to compensate for the psychological ramifications of not having a desk to call home.
Regardless of how often employees work in the office, it’s important for them to be comfortable. Even more than that, they should have a sense of control and ownership over their space, too. Ergonomic work tools can provide this feeling. Believe us, a little investment in the hot desking workstation goes a long way.
Revolutionize Your Home Office
More and more employees are working from home these days, a nod to the changing–and shrinking–nature of workplaces. There are many benefits to working from home, such as taking frequent microbreaks and personalizing your space. But it’s not all roses. Many people do not outfit their home offices correctly, leading to discomfort and, worse, injury. Often, it may seem easier to use existing furniture–such as a dining chair as a task chair–for aesthetic reasons, rather than considering the improvement in comfort and productivity offered by actual work tools. Whether you work from home one hour or 60 hours per week, it’s important to consider the following tips.
If you are setting up your own space and work on a laptop, our ergonomists recommend investing in three essential work tools that can help put you on the path to comfort: a quality task chair, a laptop stand and an external keyboard and mouse system. The key fundamental recommendation here is to separate your eyes and your hands, since they drive your posture, and these are tools that can help you do that.
A well-designed task chair is guaranteed to ensure that you’re sitting in comfortable postures and can provide the support and flexibility that a standard kitchen or dining chair simply can’t. If you’re concerned about aesthetics, shop around. Many are designed to be both functional and beautiful.
Once you’ve got your chair picked out, you should consider a laptop stand, which will position your screen at eye level. The combination of a stand and external keyboard and mouse helps you work more comfortably and safely. For ultimate workflow improvement, consider investing in an external monitor (and a monitor arm to hold it) to increase screen size and resolution.
Other tools to consider when outfitting your home office include a task light, which provides the correct amount of light for paper-based work, and a keyboard tray that ensures your hands are in your lap while you type. A keyboard tray is a cost-effective way to prevent you from hunching forward, and also frees up your work surface.
If you’re pinching pennies or aren’t looking to invest in new work tools yet, our ergonomists have a couple of cheats. You can put your laptop on a pile of books, while using the external keyboard, to truly separate your eyes and your hands and allow you to work in a more comfortable position. If you can’t overcome the height of the desk, try working off an ironing board for a little while, as it is height adjustable. Finally, working on a couch or bed, where you can recline, put your knees up and place your laptop on your legs keeps you in a neutral posture and allows you to change positions throughout the day.
Investing in the best tools to support your body will improve your comfort, reduce your risk of injury and enhance your productivity while working from home.
See (and Feel) Better: How to Position Your Monitor
Gone are the days of tiny, boxy CRT computer screens. In 2014, you’re likely to be working on monitors that are far better for your vision, posture and overall wellbeing. However, like any work tool, if your monitors aren’t used correctly, you won’t reap all the benefits. We asked our ergonomists to explain the ins-and-outs of monitor positioning, so you can work as comfortably as possible. Though these recommendations apply to multiple monitor configurations, those who are using more than two monitors may have to take additional elements into consideration.
Regardless of the type of monitor system you’re using, there are four key factors to consider when positioning your monitor: alignment, depth, height and angle.
To prevent straining of the upper back and neck, ensure the middle of the monitor is aligned with the midline of the body, which is the line formed from your belly button to your nose. If you use two monitors equally, the point where they touch should be at the midline of your body and angled in a V-shape around your body. If you’re using one as a primary monitor and one as secondary, the primary monitor should be at the midline of your body and the secondary should be next to it. Again, the monitors should be angled in a V-shape around your body.
Because everyone’s vision and visual acuity is different, depth can be a fairly loose guideline and is not exactly a “rule.” A good place to begin with positioning your monitor’s depth is to put your monitor about an arm’s length away when you’re sitting back in your chair. Feel free to adjust the depth of the monitor to accommodate your own vision. If you find this depth makes reading the screen difficult, bring the monitor closer. If it’s too close, it could strain your eyes, so push it away until it feels comfortable.
Unless you wear bifocals, trifocals or progressive lenses, everyone has a natural 15-degree downward viewing gaze, which means your line of sight falls about 15 degrees below the height of your eyes. Because it’s naturally easier for us to look down than it is to look up—think about reading a newspaper—it’s best to set the top line of text on your monitor at or just below the height of your eyes. This should keep your neck and head in a healthy, neutral posture. If you wear the lenses mentioned above, your line of sight may be slightly lower than 15 degrees and you should adjust the monitor slightly lower in order to keep the neck relaxed.
The angle, or tilt, of your screen can make it easier or more difficult to view the screen. It is easiest to view your screen when it is angled so that your vision is hitting the screen perpendicularly. Since you naturally look down at your screen at about a -15 degree angle, by angling the screen from 0 to 15 degrees upward (toward your face), it should be easiest to view. Most modern monitors are angle adjustable, so you can perfectly position your monitor.
So remember, take the necessary steps to ensure you’re in a healthy, comfortable posture when working on your computer. For even easier positioning, try a monitor arm. And don’t forget about the other factors at your workstation that could affect your monitor viewing, such as lighting.
Ergonomics: It’s Different for Every Body
The word “ergonomics” is thrown around a lot these days, but essentially, it describes the science of adapting the task and tools to the user to maximize productivity while reducing discomfort, fatigue and injury. However, it’s important to remember that there is no standard for what’s considered ergonomic. It’s all about finding the best fit for you, among the tools you use, the work you do and your body.
We compiled a list of 10 fascinating facts about ergonomics, so you can start the year with a healthy awareness of your body and how to maximize your wellness at work.
Give Your Hands A Break
The average office worker types enough that their fingers travel a whopping 16 miles per day. Because the hands and fingers are comprised of very small muscles and tendons that aren’t designed for such rigorous use, this can cause discomfort, injuries or musculoskeletal disorders.
The solution? Treat your hands with care. Use a keyboard system that is keeps your wrists and hands straight and neutral and take microbreaks to give these muscles a rest.
Sit Well for Healthy Discs
The discs between our vertebrae are made of a jelly-like substance that thins and hardens as we age, acting as shock absorbers for our spines. This aging process can be accelerated if we sit incorrectly, particularly if we sit at a 90-degree angle or lean forward while working, which puts pressure on the spinal discs and contributes to them flattening.
Try sitting in a healthy, reclined position to take the pressure off these discs, and incorporate gentle movement to nourish your spine throughout the day.
The Eyes Have It
The number one most commonly reported musculoskeletal complaint is visual discomfort. The tiny muscles in our eyes control everything from the direction we look in to our long-distance eyesight.
To keep your eyes comfortable, it’s essential to alter your lighting levels according to the task you’re undertaking. You need 10 to 20 times less light to view a computer screen than you do for paper-based work. Try an ergonomic task light for paper and reading tasks and the “20-20-20” rule. If your eyes feel fatigued, look 20 feet away every 20 minutes for 20 seconds to allow the muscles to rest and relax.
The average American spends 90% of the time sitting. Health hazards don’t come from sitting alone, but from immobile sitting. Incorporating gentle and spontaneous movement into your day is the best way to ensure you stay healthy.
Try unlocking the back of your chair and adjusting the recline tension so you can recline freely, or standing up to take breaks. If you have the option of using a sit-stand workstation, regular standing intervals can help counter our sedentary lifestyles.
Rock Your Feet
Because we sit so much, our lower legs can be prone to swelling and discomfort. To keep your lower body in good shape throughout the day, ensure your chair isn’t adjusted too high, as this can cause contact stress and impinge circulation to your legs.
Try a dynamic footrest. The gentle movement keeps your ankle and knee joints active, and can reduce any fluid buildup during the workday.
Work Well on Your Laptop
Laptops and tablet computers are now more common than traditional desktop computers and can cause problems like “laptop hunch.” If you’re working constantly on a portable device, pay attention to the position of your hands and eyes; they drive your posture. Try a laptop or tablet holder and an external keyboard and mouse to ensure you’re always working in a neutral position. Remember, it’s all about moving the tools to your body, not your body to the tools.
Comfort Equals Productivity
Think being comfortable doesn’t matter? Think again. If you’re uncomfortable, it’s likely you’ll also be unproductive, have to take longer and more frequent breaks and change the way you work.
A workstation that is set up to facilitate healthy, comfortable and neutral postures will help you to be more productive throughout the day.
Wrist Pain? It May Be Your Nerves
Many of the nerves that control sensation in your hands and fingers originate in your spine and neck. If your monitor is positioned incorrectly, you can pinch these nerves and end up with pain in different parts of the body. Ensure your monitor is at eye level to encourage comfort and support your well-being. Also, if you wear bifocals, trifocals or progressive lenses, remember to adjust the monitor appropriately to keep your neck relaxed and neutral.
Take Action to Prevent Carpal Tunnel
Carpal tunnel syndrome requires, on average, the highest number of days away from work than any other injury. The best thing you can do is try to prevent it. Keeping your wrists in a neutral posture and ensuring the hand is supported at the palm, not the wrist, can help. Try a negative-tilt keyboard system, which encourages neutral hand and wrist postures.
Find a Mouse that Fits You
Not all ergonomic mice are created equal, and just because a mouse is labeled ergonomic doesn’t mean it will keep you safe. When choosing a mouse, look for one that keeps your hands and wrists the flattest, free of pressure and transfers more motion to your elbow or shoulder.
We hope these tips help you work more comfortably in 2014! Share with us your healthy tips and tricks.