Do you interact with people who work at computers? Are you in a position to influence them? I thought so.
So it’s not a bad idea to come up to speed on the latest thinking around workstation ergonomics.
Why should you care about workstation ergonomics?
- Ongoing medical research continues to illustrate how workstation ergonomics play a very serious role in various health issues. From eye problems to back pain, from repetitive stress injuries to obesity, and even high blood pressure. And I’ve only listed a few; there are more.
- If my guess is right, you probably spend a good deal of time in front of computers yourself, so maybe you can pick up some tips to keep yourself more healthy and comfortable.
- Your employees are your lifeblood. Their awesomeness can be a key competitive advantage for you, and you are in a position to set an example for them. Furthermore, you control their office equipment budgets, so you want to make sure they spend that money wisely.
- Your end users look to you for advice on all things technical. Even though workstation ergonomics might not officially be in your bailiwick, you can position yourself as a strategic partner by being a positive influence and sharing your knowledge. As we’ve written before, your clients don’t just want IT support, they want business support.
Standing vs sitting
According to the Mayo Clinic, "Research suggests that sitting for long periods is linked with health problems, including obesity and metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels."
So if sitting all day is bad for your health (really bad) then standing must be part of the solution. But even standing in one spot all day is not really the answer.
Standing all day can be unrealistic or tiring for many people. The ideal work surface allows for frequent, easy transitions from standing to sitting and back up again.
There is a whole class of sit-stand desks that are quickly becoming popular (and ever more affordable) in the modern workplace. To help round out your thinking on standing vs sitting, here is a nice article with tips for switching to a standing desk.
When I first starting looking into this a few years ago, desks were around $1000 and up. Now you can get started with a converter that sits on a standard sitting desk for a few hundred.
Move - even a little
Experts now recommend moving often and varying your posture throughout the day. When standing while using a computer, most people will naturally vary their posture without thinking about it, for example, shifting weight from one leg to the other. This is another vote for the sit-stand desks discussed earlier.
Have you ever observed a small child as they watch TV? They are typically wiggling around, standing, sitting, squatting, and fiddling while their attention stays glued to the show. Believe it or not, that’s what we should all aspire to while we are working on our computers. Funny how our bodies naturally know to do that when we are young!
Monitor placement matters, too
You basically want to keep your legs, torso, neck and head approximately in line and vertical. Without hunching over or twisting or bending.
To accomplish this, you typically want the monitors directly in front of you, about an arm's length away. The top of the screen should be at eye level, or even a tad lower. Think of it this way: you don’t want to have to bend your neck down to see, so don’t go too low. You also don’t want to have to strain your eyes or neck up, so don’t go too high.
The best way to accomplish this is with a monitor arm, which allows you to easily adjust throughout the day to prevent yourself from staying in the same position for too long. But stationary monitor stands can do the trick, too. (Or heck, I’ve even see people use plastic milk crates from WalMart. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!)
Where should the keyboard and mouse go?
The game here is to keep those shoulders, arms and wrists healthy and happy by reducing muscle load and minimizing stretching, bending and twisting.
Place your mouse and keyboard such that you can keep your wrists straight and your upper arms close to your body. Your hands should be at the level of your elbows or slightly below.
Bonus tip: Laptops
Hunching over a laptop all day is a really bad idea. Because the keyboard is attached to the screen, you simply can’t get your monitor and your keyboard in the right positions at the same time. The solution can be as simple as plugging in a keyboard and mouse or hooking up an external monitor while working for extended periods of time.