When I initially posted about “virtual school” ergonomics in March, it was with the intent that those tips would be a temporary fix. Ordering office equipment and supplies from places like Amazon isn’t any quicker than it was back in March at the early stages of sheltering in place, but for many states it looks like many of us will be working from home for a while longer.
I’ve been seeing posts and hearing that the kitchen chair or bench at the table isn’t really working out any more and that aches and pains are starting to become a little more chronic. This is not a surprise as these chairs aren’t made for sitting in all day long. The good news is this is a problem that can be corrected. Where and how you sit is an important part of reducing aches and pains.
The before and after photo below shows a couple of quick changes with setting up a temporary home workstation.
While this photo illustrates using an iPad and keyboard, the process is the same when using a laptop. On the left, the chair is set too low and the feet are not adequately supported. With some adjustments, the feet are supported and the chair is at a better height for using the keyboard without stressing the wrists, elbows, or shoulders. With the display slightly higher, there is less flexion of the neck and the back posture is improved. With a regular kitchen chair, it would be much more difficult to improve sitting posture for using a keyboard without adjusting the desk height.
A good chair for performing desk work should:
- Allow you to maintain a good neutral posture with the ears over the shoulders and the shoulders over the hips.
- Allow you to adjust the height to get you to an appropriate height for using the keyboard and mouse.
- Provide adjustable back rest support to allow the back rest to be upright or slightly reclined.
- Provide adjustable support for your lumbar spine.
- Have a seat pan that supports the upper legs and provides a 2 to 4 finger gap between the front edge of the seat pan and your knees. This helps to make sure that the seat isn’t too short and not supporting your thighs as well as not being too long and reducing blood flow at the knees.
- Have your knees slightly lower than your hips.
- Provide adjustable arm rests that can raise to a level that support your arms when typing at the computer.
- Has a weight capacity that will accommodate anybody that will be using it. The hydraulic cylinder that allows the chair to raise and lower has a weight capacity (typically between 250-275 pounds) but stronger cylinders are available based on user weight.
The Kroy Mesh Task Chair from Staples is a solid, basic ergonomic chair with a reasonable price for home usage. It has adjustable arms, lumbar support, and the main hydraulic cylinder can accommodate users up to 275 pounds. (Note: I have no affiliation with Staples and do not earn anything from any purchases via the link.)
The image below demonstrates optimal angles for sitting and standing when using the computer. As mentioned above, when sitting, the ears should be over the shoulders and shoulders over the hips. The keyboard should be at a height that allows your elbow to be flexed between 90 and 120 degrees (whether sitting or standing).
What about my feet touching the floor?
You shouldn’t let your feet dangle in the air. If your feet don’t touch the floor once you have adjusted your chair for your workspace (correct height for using the computer keyboard and mouse and performing other tasks on your work surface), you need to use a footrest to support your feet. A box or a stack of books work as a good temporary foot rest. Ideally, an adjustable height foot rest, such as the Eureka Ergonomic Tilt Adjustable Footrest, works best as it is easier to adjust to the appropriate height for a range of users. (Again, I do not receive any compensation for these linked items.)
What if I have to use my kitchen chair?
While not ideal, using your kitchen chair is not the end of the world. If you can add a thin seatpad to cushion the seat and a lumbar pad or lumbar pillow to support your back, you can make your kitchen chair comfortable for longer stretches. Make sure that you have a box or footrest to support your feet.
What else should I know about being more comfortable in my chair at home?
Get out of your chair at least once an hour to move around and stretch. If you didn’t spend the bulk of your work day sitting in your normal work environment, you won’t be used to sitting all day at home. Walk around the room a little bit. Do some easy backward bends and bend forward towards your toes. Remember when you are stretching, you should feel slight discomfort but not pain.
A few additional resources
“Virtual School” Ergonomics – This blog post discusses best improvised setups for using tablets and laptop computers, raising the laptop to a better display height, and adjusting the chair and footrest. It also covers improving ergonomics if you have to use a couch as a workstation.
Here is a powerpoint presentation on SlideShare that I have put together that explains some ergonomic basics for improving your temporary workstation, including converting a kitchen