How to achieve an ergonomic work setup at home

Allen Foster

If you're spending more time sitting in a way that you aren't used to (like hunched over your laptop at your kitchen table or reclined on the couch) take a look at these tips to help prevent pain from unnatural strain on your body.

For freelancers and a handful of other types of remote workers, having a home office was always the norm. 

Now, due to the lifestyle changes brought about by social distancing protocols, many individuals who never even considered this a possibility are finding themselves facing the challenges that come with working out of the home.

Although it's tempting to simply place a laptop on your kitchen table, that's not a sustainable option. The minor aches that you feel at the end of the day from hunching over your small screen could escalate into chronic pain that eventually diminishes your overall quality of life. 

By paying attention to your body and making a few minor adjustments, however, you can create a healthy ergonomic home work station without investing in a whole home office. Here's some advice from people who have been working from home since before the arrival of the coronavirus.


Finding the right space

Spending eight or more hours in a single location isn't easy. Especially when it's in your own home. Before worrying about the ergonomics of your workspace, you'll first need to find a space that works. Following are three key elements to keep in mind when searching for that perfect location in your home.

1. Good lighting: Everyone aspires to that corner office with an exquisite view. If you've got a room with a large window that allows an ample supply of natural light in -- but not direct sunlight on your sensitive equipment -- for most people, that is the ideal. If you can only find space in a corner of the room, make sure it has an abundance of lighting options (but no screen glare). Besides enhancing your mood and making you more productive, good lighting can reduce eye fatigue and headaches.

2. Distraction-free: Especially with the kids being home, you'll need to find a location that is as quiet and distraction-free as possible. An out-of-the-way nook, a corner in the bedroom, or even a modified closet can all serve better than the playroom, the TV room, or the kitchen, where you'll have constant distractions. Finding the right in-home work location is crucial to eliminating the interruptions that can transform your 40-hour workweek into a 60-hour one.

3. Functional: Yes, your home workspace needs to be aesthetically pleasing and free from distractions, but it also needs to be functional. If there is no access to WiFi or power sources, or there isn't enough room for all of the office essentials that you regularly use, then the space isn't going to work. Make sure the area you choose will allow you access to everything you need.


Fine-tune your setup

The secret to having an ergonomic workstation is to create a setup that allows you to have proper body position while providing adequate support as you work. You could purchase specially design products, such as an ergonomic keyboard and mouse, but it is also possible to achieve an ergonomic setup simply by adjusting the items you already have.

Neck, shoulders, and back: Often, the most noticeable discomfort first presents itself in the neck, shoulders, and back areas. The best way to combat that situation is by using a chair that offers back and lumbar support while encouraging you to sit at a slightly reclined 100- to 110-degree angle. Your setup should allow you to keep your chin up and the armrests on your chair should actually be removed (if you have them) because using armrests can add tension to your neck and shoulders.

Elbows, wrists, and fingers: The ideal ergonomic setup for your arms and hands involves no tension. The best way to achieve that is by adjusting the height of your desk (or chair, whichever makes more sense in the big picture) so there is a gradual descent from elbows to your fingertips: your shoulders should be relaxed, your elbows should be slightly higher than your wrists, and your wrist should be relatively level (not bent down or up) with your fingertips dropping effortlessly below that wrist line to type. You should also be seated close enough to your desk so you do not have to move your elbows forward to reach the keyboard or the mouse.

Hips, knees, and feet: Depending on who you consult, hip and knee positioning could be a little controversial. We like to stick with OSHA's (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) recommendations. The best position is to have your feet flat on the floor with your knees roughly at a 90-degree angle. If your feet do not reach the floor, you will need to use a footrest. If your knees drop too low, it will pull your back forward from your chair and create unnecessary stress. On the other hand, if your knees are above your hips, the tension that position creates may result in lower back pain.

Don't forget the eyes: You might think that your fingers do a lot of work when typing, but your eyes never stop focusing on the screen. To create the best work environment for your eyes, the screen should be roughly arm's length away (but easily readable) and the top of the screen should be level with your eyes. No glare, reflections, or shadows should be visible on the screen. As noted previously, the workspace needs to be well lit -- but not too bright as that may cause eye strain as well. And don't forget to drink plenty of fluid and use lubricating drops to keep your eyes from drying out.

Remember to move: Ergonomic means comfort. If you have pain or even mild discomfort throughout your workday, adjust your workstation before the condition becomes chronic. Also, it is important to realize that even with the perfect setup, the body isn't designed to remain stationary for extended periods of time, so treat yourself to a movement break every 30 minutes. Similarly, every 20 minutes, allow your eyes to focus on something that is 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.

Allen Foster is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds. 

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.