Make Your Workspace Healthier with Five Cheats
October is National Ergonomics Month, so we’ve chatted with our ergonomists about some tips on how to make your workspace healthier and more comfortable.
Get Comfortable in Your Chair
Whether or not your chair is truly “ergonomic,” you should be able to make a few adjustments to it to ensure you’re supported and as comfortable as possible. If your chair has an adjustable, contoured backrest, you can reposition it so that it supports you in the correct spot, situated so it fits like a puzzle piece. The largest most pronounced curve of the chair should fit right in the natural curve at the small of your back. Don’t forget about adjusting the lumbar support, too. Some chairs offer tailored lumbar support that doesn’t require manual adjustments. But, if you do not have one of these, keep an eye out for the adjustments you can make to better support your lumbar region, such as a button that can be depressed, a slider that can be moved or a foam cushion that can be repositioned. For some additional tips on how to position your chair, check this out. Above all, understand the chair you’re sitting in. Read online tutorials or the manual that came with the chair to learn about how to make basic adjustments. And don’t be afraid to try things. If you make an adjustment and it’s worse, just change it back. Once you’ve found the right fit, you can leave the locks, levers and knobs where they are and sit back in comfort.
Now, if you had a chair with weight-sensitive recline that obliterates the need for tension knobs and levers, you wouldn’t need to take our advice. Simply sit back and enjoy the benefits of reclining while you work.
Prop Up that Monitor
For the most comfortable viewing experience, our ergonomists recommend that the monitor should be about an arm’s length away and at a height where the top line of text is at or below eye level. Our eyes naturally gaze downward at a 15-degree angle. By positioning the height of the monitor correctly, this allows you to use your eyes to pan the screen rather than moving your whole head up and down. Chances are, your monitor is on a stand and may be low to the desk, forcing you to look down. Now that we’ve told you the optimal viewing position, your first inclination may be to stick a few books under the stand—but, what if you need the books? Although it’s not the most attractive solution, paper reams may be more effective and slightly more “adjustable” since you can take paper out of them to lower the monitor. Be cautious when you do this: if you end up placing the monitor too high, you’ll start to crane your neck. Pro tip: get a friend to look at you from the side while you are seated to determine if your eyes are level with the top of your monitor.
The best-case scenario would be to get a monitor arm that would both clear valuable desk space by lifting your monitor off the work surface and offer easy positioning to tailor it to your body.
Paper documents require 10 to 20 times more light than a computer screen because monitors emit light and paper reflects light. It’s essential that you have a light at your desk. While we recommend task lights (reasons why are explored here), it’s possible to use a typical desk lamp for your paper-based work. Make sure you position the light on the side opposite your dominant hand to avoid casting shadows on the work surface. And, at all costs, do not use underbin lighting to illuminate your documents. Not only can it create glare on the computer screen, it’s also usually in the wrong place. You need focused illumination, and a task light—we’ll say it again—can definitely provide this.
Type More Comfortably
There are a few cheap and easy solutions to encouraging healthy postures when it comes to typing. First, lower the feet underneath the keyboard to flatten it out. Next, get a palm support and place it in front of the keyboard so your palms rest on it when you’re typing. Last, bring the keyboard close to your body and within the neutral reach zone for the most comfortable experience. If there’s a large height discrepancy between the height of your desk and your height, and you feel that you shrug your shoulders or lift your forearms to work on top of the desk, raise your chair so your arms are in a neutral position on the work surface and prop up your feet on a foot rest. This is a cheap way to make your keyboard situation more ergonomic and to also support the lower body while you work on top of a desk that might be too tall for your’ height.
But the absolute best way to type more comfortably is to get an ergonomic keyboard tray. They’re relatively inexpensive and promote truly neutral postures by allowing the keyboard to slope away from the body. This allows you to sit back and relax in your (correctly adjusted) chair.
We’ve all heard the news: sitting all day can have negative impacts on our health. So, how do you get up and move around more? There are some simple strategies for that. You could remove your waste basket and force yourself to get up every time you have a piece of trash. Take phone calls standing up and advocate for standing meetings with your colleagues. One of the best tips our ergonomists had was to set a “stand up” Outlook appointment for every 20 minutes each day to get up and stretch.
In addition to incorporating these strategies, you could try a sit/stand product. There are even a few models that retrofit to your current desk, so there’s no need to buy new furniture. Try standing for 15 minutes an hour to break up the chunks of time that you’re sitting.
These cheats are a great place to start, but nothing beats the complete ergonomic workstation in terms of improving your comfort while you work.