Strictly defined, ergonomics is the study of people in their working environment. Initially, this study was about efficiency. It was about modifying the work environment to maximize productivity. It was about redesigning the assembly line to make fourteen widgets per hour instead of just thirteen.
These days when most people think about an ergonomic workspace, they’re thinking about worker comfort and safety. It’s still about efficiency—a healthy worker is a productive worker—but there’s a big focus on avoiding the little and big injuries that come from performing the same repetitive tasks hour after hour, day after day.
Fundamental Principles of Ergonomics
To design an ergonomic workspace that maximizes efficiency and reduces the risk of injury, follow these ten guidelines:
- Maintain neutral postures
- Minimize the use of force
- Make everything easy to reach
- Keep things at an appropriate height.
- Minimize repetitive and excessive motions
- Reduce fatigue and static load
- Relieve pressure points, whether it’s your feet on the floor or your wrists on the desk
- Move, stretch, and exercise regularly.
- Maintain comfortable lighting, temperature, and air quality
Ergonomic Products Help Shape Your Workspace
Many people shifted to working at home in 2020, and in many cases, that meant scraping together an office from whatever they had available: a card table, a folding chair, a space under the stairs. It worked for a while, but if this is your new normal, it’s time for an upgrade.
Ergonomic desk and chair
Your chair and desk are key pieces of the ergonomic workspace puzzle. Pay close attention to how they work together. If both are adjustable height, you’re in a good position already.
If you have money to burn, the Herman Miller Aeron Chair is a great example of ergonomic design. But there are plenty of less expensive ergonomic and gaming chairs available today that will work just as well. One thing to consider is perhaps buying a less expensive chair along with an exercise ball and a kneeling chair. That will give you several options to switch between during the course of a day, providing variety to your environment and reducing repetitive stress.
As for desks, something with an adjustable height is nice but not strictly necessary if you can adjust your chair’s height. Full-time standing desks are overrated despite the risks of prolonged sitting, but it’s good to have the option of occasionally standing for a change of pace.
Additional items you might (or might not) need to fine-tune your space:
- a riser to elevate the level of your monitor on your desktop
- a keyboard tray to lower the level of your keyboard and mouse below your desktop
- a footrest to support your feet
If you work primarily with a laptop computer, remember that it’s not meant to use in your lap! If you’re using a laptop as your primary workstation at a desk, get a laptop riser to elevate the screen to an appropriate height. You’ll immediately notice that the keyboard is now at an inappropriate height, so now you’ll need an additional external keyboard and mouse or trackpad.
It can get complicated. You’ll feel like Goldilocks in the three bears’ house at first, struggling to find the parts that fit together just right. But once you get it, you’ll know.
After that, finishing touches can include good lighting, perhaps noise-canceling headphones, and a houseplant to bring some life to the room. And if you’ve got anything left in your budget, an Apple Watch is a great way to give yourself hourly reminders to stand and stretch.
Beyond Ergonomics: Keeping Fit
While ergonomics is the science of adapting the environment to the human body, the human body remains an important part of the equation. And one of the best things you can do to adapt yourself to any environment is to stay fit.
General strengthening, stretching, and cardiovascular exercises, along with exercises to improve your posture, will go a long way toward helping you withstand everyday stresses and strains without injury.
Tools to strengthen your posture are affordable and easy to find and will do as much for you as any thousand-dollar chair.