If you work at a desk, you’ve probably experienced some office-furniture-related pain. Maybe your chair isn’t providing the right support, leading to a consistently aching back (ouch). Or your desk is a few inches too short, and you hunch over it like Quasimodo, doing a number on your neck. These ergonomic flaws are a painful reality for many of us, and they do some surprisingly significant financial damage, too: Nearly a $1 billion a week is spent on work-related musculoskeletal disorders in America — any of them caused by small flaws in body positioning, reports journalist Melinda Wenner Moyer in the New York Times. Luckily, these damages can be prevented by simply “engineering your office work environment properly,” she writes.
Making this effort is essential to creating a thriving workplace, because when employees are comfortable in their physical environment, they’re more productive and motivated by the work they produce, research from the University of Reading shows. This advice from experts in organizational design can make all the difference:
Invest in adjustable furniture
A healthy workspace consists of furniture that accommodates your specific size and shape, Alan Hedge, Ph.D., the director of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Group at Cornell University, tells the Times. Look for a chair that easily reclines and has an adjustable height. Desks are tricky because many of them are built for writing with a pen, not for typing, Hedge says. He suggests purchasing a keyboard tray with a negative slope (which ensures the front of the keyboard is angled higher than the back), to avoid straining your wrists while you type.
Check your chair position (yes, there’s a “right” way to sit)
When you’re sitting in your chair, there should be about an inch of space between your outer thighs and the edge of the seat. When you sit back, Moyer writes, the rim should touch the area behind your knees. And your feet should be flat on the floor, always. Hedge adds that it’s important to sit back while you work, so that your body is supported by the chair, and not by your spine. It sounds simple enough, but most people don’t do it, he says.
Switch it up often
“Your next position is your best position,” Michelle Robertson, Ph.D., a lecturer at Northeastern University and the director of the Office Ergonomics Research Committee, a group of companies that fund ergonomic research, tells the Times. Sitting in the same way for too long restricts blood flow, Robertson explains, so it’s essential that you shift your position often (if you’ve been sitting down for a while, stand up or walk around). The same goes for your eyes, Robertson adds. Be sure to focus your attention on new objects every 20 minutes or so to prevent eye strain (a great opportunity to get off Slack and actually talk to your co-worker next to you).
Keep your most-used objects within reach
The experts say your goal is to work in a “neutral, relaxed position,” so you’ll need to have your key work tools nearby for easy access. “Is your mouse way off to the side? Bring it close to you so you don’t have to reach so far,” Moyer writes. The same goes for papers you refer to often. She suggests keeping a document holder close to your monitor so that you don’t have to move your head too much.
Use this keyboard trick
Handy ergonomic tip: The B and H keys on your keyboard should be aligned with your midline. If they’re not, you’ll want to readjust your desk or seat. Similarly, if you’re working on a monitor, it should be straight in front of you. You’ll know it’s at the right level when you don’t need to tilt your head up or down to see what you’re working on. Happy readjusting — and pain-free working!
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