Working from home is commonplace these days. Many companies who have employees that do computer-based jobs allow these employees to work from home—from 1 day per week to everyday. Having a workstation that fits the employee well is just as important if they work from home as it is if they work in the office. I’ve lost track of how many office ergonomics assessments I’ve done over the years be it at work and home (and travel, but that’s a totally different environment). There are common mistakes or misconceptions that people make when it comes to their computer workstation. Take a look at the Top 5 list and see if any apply to you.
#1: Purchasing a chair with little to no regard to their fit and function
In my opinion, the chair is the heart or foundation of the office workstation. If the chair doesn’t the fit, then the employee will not be comfortable which in turn affects job performance. Chairs are typically purchased based on price and looks. Most people who buy their own chair want a low priced chair that looks cool. Unfortunately, chairs under $150 will have few features that allow for adjustability for fit and comfort. Purchasing a chair is an investment and just like financial investments, it is important that the home office worker investigates chair options and finds one that fits well as he/she will be spending thousands of hours in that chair over the next months and years. Here are 5 key characteristics to look for in a home office chair:
- Height adjustment: height should have 5” of adjustment, typically from 17”-22”
- Seat depth adjustment: if the seat pan depth is too short, then the legs won’t be properly supported, if the seat pan depth is too long, then the edge of the chair will push behind the knees preventing the person from sitting back in the chair.
- Good lumbar support: this one is more subjective. Some people like a lot of lower back support and others not so much. The lumbar support has to be enough to support the natural curve of your lower back and have it at the correct height. Look for a seat back that can be adjusted up and down so the lumbar support can be placed where it feels best.
- Seat back tilt: Some people like to sit straight up and others like to have more of a recline position. Look for a chair that allows the seat back to be adjusted separately from the seat pan. (On some chairs, the seat pan and seat back tilt are adjusted together. Make sure these functions are separated).
- Armrest adjustment: Armrests are a personal choice for most. Armrests can become a problem for 3 reasons: 1) they don’t fit the person where their arms/elbows naturally rest by their sides (they are often too wide), 2) they prevent the person from sitting close to their desk and 3) the height doesn’t fit (doesn’t go high or low enough). If the chair comes with armrests, make sure they can be removed. Avoid chairs with fixed armrests.
#2. Purchasing a desk with little to no regard to their fit and function
When I talk to home office workers, I will ask how and why they choose their desk and chair. A few companies provide their home workers desks and chairs but most let their employees purchase the desk and chair of their choice and reimburse them. In either case, the fit and function of the desk to the job the employee performs and the fit to the employee is rarely considered. For the home employee the desk has to fit 3 things: 1) their “office”, i.e. the size has to fit the room/location, 2) the job tasks/functions they perform and 3) it has to fit them physically (height). The first one is self-explanatory—the employee needs to have room for it. The second one involves looking what the employees does, i.e. does he/she use paperwork or calculators or other non-computer tasks? If so, then the desk would be larger and a different shape compared to computer only jobs where the desk space needs only to accommodate the monitor, keyboard, mouse and phone. The third one pertains to whether the desk height fits the person’s height. In a great majority of cases, the “standard” desk height is too high; however, this can be dealt with by adjusting the height of the chair.
In part 2 we'll look at top home office mistakes 3-5