It’s clear that we are not going to be able to control our outside environments to a point where everyone feels healthy and safe without someone’s sense of entitlement getting hurt, but we can definitely control our home office environments, especially how we work. And seeing as I am typing at you with dual wrist braces (aggravated by some light DIY home construction, not computer work!) it seems timely that I should share with you some important things to pay attention to as we continue our work at home journey together for at least several more months.
A list that should not be ignored!
I don’t know that any one of these is more important than another. None of these should be disregarded, but depending on your situation and state of physical health, certain things may have a higher priority. As always, if you have a medical condition that may be impacted by one or more of these recommendations, please consult with your physician before making any changes or decisions.
- Your feet should be flat on the floor, thighs and forearms parallel to the floor. Your upper body and neck should be straight and head neither tilted forward or back to look at the monitor, the top of which should be more or less level with your eye-line, which, again, should be parallel to the ground. If the height of your workspace does not allow for your feet to rest on the ground, use a foot rest to achieve this rather than compromising on the parallel lines. This article from the Mayo Clinic has a good illustration of proper body placement/positioning.
- Your keyboard and mouse should be at a height that allows your hands and wrists to be parallel to the ground, and as you are typing or mousing, the back of your hand, wrist and forearms should be completely straight – you should not have to flex up or down to perform either of these tasks. It’s also acceptable for your typing position to be slightly below the level of your elbows, but not to the point where you have to flex your wrists to type. Your head, shoulders and torso should not need be rotated to work, which means that your main monitor and keyboard should be directly in front of you.
- Make sure your office is properly lit – don’t just rely on the light of your monitor. This can cause eyestrain, which can lead to poor posture as you compensate for tired eyes. Also make sure your monitor brightness, size and distance is at a comfortable level where you can easily read text on screen. If you find yourself hunching forward to read the screen, adjust the screen, magnification or distance so that you can comfortably view your typical work screens without sacrificing ergonomics. If you wear glasses or contacts for day to day activities but are having trouble comfortably viewing your screen, you may need glasses designed specifically for computer viewing, a new monitor, or even both.
- Keyboard and mouse choice can have a great impact on wrist and hand health. If you regularly type on a smaller laptop and have large hands, consider using an external keyboard and mouse to avoid awkward typing angles and finger cramps from using the touchpad. Don’t cheap out on the peripherals. Get a mouse that is comfortable to use for your hand size, and a full-sized keyboard with appropriate spacing between the keys. If you do a lot of number crunching, a full number pad will be indispensable.
- If you are using a laptop as your only computing device, consider purchasing a laptop stand and external keyboard and mouse, which will allow you to place the monitor at a proper viewing height and your typing/mousing surface at an ergonomically correct angle – flat or at a slight decline from the elbow. Do not attempt to use the laptop keyboard while it is propped up on a laptop stand. Remember – straight line across the back of your hands to your forearms.
- If you are still one of those people who cradles the phone on their shoulder – stop it! Get a headset or use the speakerphone.
- Wrist rests are helpful if you spend long hours on the computer, but make sure they stay clean and dry, and don’t change the angle of your typing position, especially if they force your wrists and forearms out of alignment with the backs of your hands. When I type I rarely rest my wrists on my wrist rest, but that is because I frequently use my mouse or key combinations that move my hands out of the traditional “home” position on the keyboard. Your usage and preference will differ, but never sacrifice the straight lines.
- If possible, position your monitor in front of something other than a wall, such as a window or open space in your office. This allows you to change your focal point throughout the day – essentially letting your eyes “stretch”. If that’s not possible, see #9.
- Stand up or stretch at least every 15-20 minutes, especially if you are likely to be in front of the computer for several hours. Let your eyes rest by closing them, or focusing on something other than a computer screen (not your phone!).
- If you are considering a standing desk, all of the above still applies except for the leg positioning (obviously). Make sure you use something that can switch between standing and sitting easily, especially if you are new to standing while working, as you will want to start slow. Even though I’ve been doing it for years now, I rarely stand for more than an hour or two at a stretch before switching to a seated position, and regardless of position, I try to stretch or move every 15-20 minutes. If your office has hard floors (thin carpet or hardwood), make sure you are standing on a pad, even if you have proper footwear. If it’s something very rigid like concrete or stone, the pad will be crucial.