For better or worse, it looks like the world will be working from home for the foreseeable future. While it might seem like now is the perfect time to lounge out and work from bed all day, for the sake of productivity, you would do better to set up a home workstation. In the beginning, this might have looked like a simple chair at the kitchen table, but since we’re going to be here a while, we might as well get comfortable. And no, don’t go crawling back into bed or to the couch.
What we recommend instead is that you set up an ergonomic home workstation. Rather than reclining on the couch all day and putting unwanted strain on your neck, shoulders, and back, an ergonomic workstation will provide you with a similar work environment to what you would find in the office and keep your back from giving out while you wait for the world to return to some sort of normal. With comfort in mind, we’ve gone ahead and made a primer for how you can achieve the ultimate work-from-home workstation.
The Right Desk and Chair
Unless you already have a quality work desk, the odds are that you’ll be working from the kitchen table. This means you won’t be able to make many adjustments to the table itself. Instead, you’re going to have to think outside of the box.
Most dinner tables are designed so that your food is closer to your mouth. While this makes eating easier, it’s not ideal for a workstation, especially if you are shorter. If this is a problem for you, start by making some changes to your chair. Ideally, you want a chair that can swivel up or down. This will let you find the perfect height. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor, and your knees should bend at a 90-degree angle with your feet flat on the ground.
If you don’t have an office chair, you can get the same results by sitting on a pillow or cushion. Memory foam is excellent for this, as it will eventually take on your natural curves and provide the most support. If it is not possible to get your legs into this position because the table is too low, you can also try propping up the table higher using some wooden blocks or stacks of paper.
Where to Place Your Computer
Now that you’re seated comfortably at the table, it’s time to start assembling your workstation. Start by thinking about where your computer will go. If you’re working with a laptop, you won’t be able to change the screen’s height without also moving the keyboard. This is a problem because you want your computer positioned in your natural line of sight. If the screen is too low, you’ll spend all day hunched over, staring down at your laptop. By nighttime, you’ll go to bed with a stiff neck.
An easy workaround for this is to find a few books or a stack of printer paper on which you can rest your computer. Aim to get your screen high enough that your eyes natural look slightly lower than the center and far enough away that the screen is about an arm’s length from your eyes. Instead of using the laptop’s built-in keyboard and touchpad, use a plugin keyboard and mouse so that you are not typing like a Tyrannosaurus Rex (wrists bent up).
How Should You Hold Your Arms?
With Tyrannosaurus arms in mind, let’s talk about how you should position your elbows and hands. Having armrests on your chair is a great way to find added elbow support and prevent slouching, but not every chair has armrests. If yours doesn’t, keep adjusting your chair until your arms can rest on the table at a 90-degree angle.
As for your wrists and hands, they should comfortably and naturally reach the keyboard. You should not have to strain your arms to reach the keyboard. By that same note, you shouldn’t feel cramped up against the table or computer. Find a spot that feels most natural and stick to it. Try to keep your hands positioned slightly higher than the keyboard and pull your elbows in as you type.
Focus on your Lower Back
After setting up your table, chair, computer, keyboard, and mouse, it’s finally time to sit down and do some work. Before you start typing away, though, examine how you are sitting. Are you sitting firmly on your butt? As silly as it sounds, we actually have sitting bones. These are the roundish boney protrusions that we sit on in each buttock. They are anatomically designed to absorb weight and support our spines as we sit.
If you are not sitting straight and firm, your lower back will absorb most of the stress instead of your sitting bones. To keep your posture straight, slide all the way into the back of your chair, plant your feet into the ground, face forward, and act as if there is a string pulling the crown of your head up towards the ceiling. Your back doesn’t have to be completely smashed against the chair—our spines do curve naturally—but do your best to roll your shoulders back and against the chair. If you find it hard to maintain this posture, an added cushion or towel can help support your lower back.
Get to Work but Remember to Move Around
Now that you’ve got your homemade ergonomic home workstation set up, it’s time to settle in, pull up an assignment, and get started. Work hard, but remember to check your posture regularly. Sit straight and tall with confidence as you work through the day. Keep your shoulders rolled back and pull your chest out, but be relaxed. The point is to be comfortable while still holding yourself up.
After a few hours, you’re surely going to be ready to get up and move around. This is an excellent idea, as it gives you some time to stretch and get your blood pumping. Don’t just go to the bathroom and get some water. Take a few minutes to walk around the house. Stretch from side to side and also upwards. Touch your toes if you can and try rotating your arms in little circles. The more you move, the less stiff you’ll feel at the end of the day. If you have time in your schedule, maybe even take a quick walk around the block to get some sunshine.
When you sit back down to do more work, you’ll feel refreshed and ready to finish the day. Some light exercise is a great way to restart the brain and come up with new ideas, especially after a long morning spent sitting at the computer.
Consider a Standing Desk
Perhaps you’re more of an active person and don’t like to sit for too long. If you cannot commit time to regular walks around the block, you might benefit from a standing desk. The same limitations apply to a standing desk that apply to a sitting desk so you’ll still have to think outside the box.
Because a table will likely be to low to stand at and work, we recommend heading to the kitchen. If you’re dedicated to creating a standing workstation, the countertop should work well. Maybe add a few extra books for some added height, and remember to keep your elbows and arms tucked in as you type. Stand at a healthy distance to maintain a 90-degree bend in your arms.
The key to making a standing workstation comfortable is a good pair of house shoes. Keeping your feet comfortable means that you’ll feel less inclined to lean over or slouch into your shoulders. The same standards that apply to a sitting station apply to a standing station, so if you feel that you’re starting to lose balance and alignment, take a quick walk around the house, come back, and finish whatever it is your working on.
If you’re not fully committed to a standing station but still like the idea of standing to work, you could also set up two stations at home. As long as your housemates, wife, or husband are okay with you occupying more than one area, there’s no reason why you can’t adapt the entire house into an office.
Why Having a Comfortable Home Workstation Matters
Setting up an ergonomic home workstation is about more than just getting some work done. While a dedicated work area can help you stay productive, setting it up to be comfortable on your back, shoulders, and neck means that you won’t be left sprawled out on the couch in pain after a couple of weeks. It doesn’t seem that we will be heading back into the office anytime soon, so who knows when you’ll see your ergonomic office chair and keyboard again. Instead of suffering until then, why not make use of the space you have and turn your kitchen or dining room into a quality at-home workstation?