by Fred Decker
Often the decision between buying one product over another comes down to which one "just feels right." Producing that feeling in the workplace is one focus of ergonomics, a branch of engineering science aimed at incorporating human factors into design. If you're looking for ways to improve productivity and reduce costs — and who isn't? — the Puget Sound Human Factors and Ergonomics Society compiled many studies that show that ergonomic upgrades in your workplace can help. Even better, it's easy to make your office more ergonomic with a few simple tweaks in your workspace.
Ergonomic Office Chairs - The Seat of Power
The more time you spend sitting, the more important your chair will be. If you find that your current chair leaves your back stiff or your legs numb, it's probably time to upgrade to an ergonomic office chair. As a rule, the best office chairs are the most adjustable. You should be able to raise and lower the seat to a comfortable height, as well as adjust the angle of the seat back and the height of the head rest. Your lower spine naturally curves inward, and good chairs incorporate a corresponding curve or "lumbar support" to keep your vertebrae in a natural position. The chair should also have armrests at a comfortable height, and swivel or roll so you can reach items around you without stretching uncomfortably.
Lines of Sight
Your body might spend its day in a chair, but your eyes do their work on a computer screen. According to Cornell University, orienting that screen properly, and upgrading it if needed, can make a great difference in your workspace's ergonomics. Center the monitor directly in front of you, so you don't have to angle your neck up or down to see the entire screen. Its upper edge should be no more than a couple of inches above your line of sight. If you work on a laptop, you might need to place it on a stand to bring the screen to the right height. Monitor mounts and arms can help you achieve an ideal screen location for your eyes and position. If you strain to see small print, or fine details in images, it’s a good idea to invest in a larger, higher-resolution monitor.
Office Lamps: Let There Be Light
Even a very good monitor, positioned correctly, can be difficult to see if your workstation's lighting is poor. Direct light from windows or overhead fixtures can be especially problematic, because it makes for glare or shadows. Use window coverings to reduce sunlight, and counter harsh overhead lighting with desk lamps placed to the sides of your viewing area. Your monitor shouldn't be significantly brighter or darker than the ambient light in your office, so adjust it if necessary. Some higher-end monitors sense the level of light in your office, and adjust themselves automatically as it changes through the day.
Ergonomic Keyboards:A Question of Touch
Standard rectangular computer keyboards aren't especially ergonomic. A better arrangement would curve or angle the keyboard slightly, to reflect the way your arms angle inward as you type. Some companies manufacture ergonomic keyboards incorporating that kind of thinking, and switching to one can ease the strain on your wrists over time. Even with a conventional keyboard, a few minor tweaks can improve your ergonomics. For example, center the "F" and "J" home keys directly in front of you so you're not typing at an angle. Keep the keyboard at the same height as your elbows, so your wrists aren't arched up or down as you work; and use a soft wrist rest whenever possible to provide a more natural typing angle.
The Whole Workstation
Ergonomic, computer-centric workstations are a far cry from the traditional rectangular desk. The best are height-adjustable, so you can first set your chair to the correct height for your body and then your desk to the correct height for your chair. A slide-out tray places your keyboard and mouse at elbow level. Many are arranged in a roughly semicircular fashion, so everything you handle frequently can be within easy reach. If you frequently work with hard-copy documents or other objects, you should have plenty of room on your desktop for those as well.
References & Resources
About the Author
With a background in technology, business and personal finance, and B2B sales, Fred Decker has over eight years of experience writing on a broad range of business topics. He’s been featured in top publications including the Houston Chronicle.