Monday, September 5, 2011

Creating an Ergonomic Workspace

woman at computer, with ergonomic set-up

I'm not an expert in ergonomics — and consulting with an expert can be a very worthwhile investment. But it doesn't take much expertise to see that many of the offices I walk into have major ergonomics issues — as do many of the "on the go" offices I see as people work in coffee shops and such. If you're spending any significant amount of time on your computer, please take the time to get your workspace as ergonomically adjusted as you can.

The single best source of information I've found is the illustration and description of a user friendly workstation from the University Health Service at the Tang Center, UC Berkeley. (There's a PDF version available, too.)

You may notice that some of the recommendations are a bit different from what you've seen in the past. The biggest change I noticed is that slightly reclined seating is now recommended by many experts, rather than the totally upright seating I always used to see. (Of course, the common hunched-over pose was always known to be a bad thing.)

And what about laptop users? The advice I see, time and again, says: "First and foremost, whenever possible plug an external mouse or trackball and keyboard into your laptop." [Wi-Fi Planet, via Lifehacker] Nowadays, we may not even have to "plug them in" since many mice and keyboards are wireless.

For more suggestions specific to laptops you can see my prior post on laptop ergonomics, which linked to some of the best information around. There's been more written since then, so you might want to also look at the articles I found on GigaOM and Core77, as well as the advice from Dr. Stephanie Maj.

For a bit of fun, take a look at the videos produced by Vodafone - showing proper ergonomics for working at home and on the road. (OK, it still promotes that "sit up straight" approach, but aside from that, the advice seems solid.) Here's the first one:

[Photo from U.S. Department of Agriculture, found on Flickr, licensed through Creative Commons]


Rachel said...

Thanks for this one Jeri. My home office now features a standing desk. I love it, and my back feels so much better at the end of the day! I can send you the pic if you like.

Nathan said...

Berkeley seem to be pretty proactive when it comes to ergonomics. I remember that they came up with a fantastic poster that used Spock and Uhura to show ideal and less-than-ideal monitor positioning. As I recall, Spock is hunched over his monitor and Uhura is sitting slightly reclined. Providing that Berkeley isn't full of hardcore Star Wars fans, that poster was probably more effective than anyone coming in and lecturing about ergonomics.

That's what makes those Vodafone videos so effective, in my opinion; they don't nag and they aren't patronising. Sadly, ergonomics isn't just a case of supplying the monitor arm, the chair, the wrist rest, they do have to be used properly. And you're often asking people to change the habits of a lifetime; if they've always hunched over the keyboard, suddenly not doing so is going to feel downright unnatural. And a nagging, lecturing approach is never the best way to get them to persevere.