DIY Home and Mobile Office Ergonomics

eyboard_mouseRecently, I changed my home office setup, and found myself with pretty severe neck pain as a result. I switched to a chair that provided better back support and raised my laptop, adding an external mouse and keyboard to try to alleviate the problem. It did, but not as much as I’d have liked. Now I’m trying regular breaks and exercises to see if that makes a difference.

Interestingly, I never had these problems when I worked in an onsite office: I always managed to adjust my chair to suit my needs, and have my monitor at the right level. Since I spend a lot of time out of my home office anyway, my office setup only has an impact on the sedentary part of my work week; the rest is, as they say, in the lap of the gods.

Do You Have Problems with Your Home Office Ergonomics?

A range of symptoms can indicate that your home office is not as comfortable — or suited to your body type or posture — as it could be. Do you find yourself beset by:

  • headaches
  • neck pain
  • back pain
  • tired or sore eyes
  • numbness in the hands, legs or specific muscle groups
  • tension in joints, often the neck, shoulders, fingers and wrists
  • device frustration

This last point can be the tip-off that if you don’t do something soon, you’ll suffer more than a bad mood. If you find the use of one of your devices — your mouse, keyboard, monitor, scanner and so on — is frustrating you, it may be a sign that your body is having to work harder than it’s used to, or than it needs to, in order to get your work done. In short, it can be a sign of unnecessary strain. Perhaps your scanner’s a few inches too far from your chair, or maybe you need a mouse mat to facilitate smooth mouse movement and stop your fingers straining to push the device around your desktop.

They seem like such small points, but when you need to operate these devices for eight hours every day, it’s important to get things right.

DIY Home Office Ergonomics

Yes, you can arrange to have an ergonomics expert come into your home and assess your workspace — some of the more liberal (or is that just sensible?) employers will even foot the bill for this service on behalf of their remote employees.

But you can alter your home ergonomics for the better yourself. There’s a a lot of information out there to help you set up your workspace to meet your ergonomic requirements. I found a handy Office Ergonomics Checklist and a discussion of conventional ergonomics wisdom as compared with current research results. Both of thee resources helped me adjust my workspace to my specific requirements. You could also try changing things up with a standing desk.

Ergonomics On the Go

This is all well and good for those days when we’re at home or in an office, but what about ergonomics for those who are working on the road? It would seem that the basic advice that applies in your fixed workspace should be applied as best as possible on the road:

  • sit comfortably with your feet resting on something (the floor? a bag?)
  • try to ensure you have lower back support
  • set a decent amount of space between your eyes and the monitor; although the “arm’s length” rule isn’t achievable on a laptop, make sure you’re not cramped
  • have your screen at a workable level of brightness, and try to avoid having light shining directly on it
  • make sure your arms are comfortable — not pushed back against your body or out to the sides
  • try resting your elbows or forearms on arm rests if your seat has them
  • take regular breaks: stretch your arms and hands, get up and stretch your legs, rest your neck, look around
  • try not to work for long, unbroken periods

How about you? How have you improved your home — or remote — office ergonomics?