When you spend all day in an office space that isn’t optimal, you might start becoming aware of some discomforts – a tingling in the fingers here, a stiff neck there or just a general sense of ‘blah’ that begins to slow down your work and sap your enthusiasm. Do not ignore these warning signs. They’re more than a passing annoyance: they’re your body and mind’s way of telling you something’s wrong.
One solution is to design a better office environment. Ergonomics are your friend. But if the words ergonomic and office instill fear in your bank account, take heart: a comfortable office need not be expensive. In fact, even if you have to refresh your office furniture and lighting, you can still create a comfortable workspace for well under $1,000.
At the end of the day, you want to create a space that is good for your body and allows you to do your best work. Design an office that inspires you – a place where you enjoy spending your days. Because when you are enthusiastic about your home office, when being there makes you feel energized, you’ll find that you’re much more productive – and happier.
Element #1: Your Office Desk
Your desk is one of the most important elements of a productive home office – and can be one of the most expensive! Here are some styles to get you thinking. But if you are on a tight budget you can create a great looking desk, with tons of space from a counter top and a couple of trestles, trimmed to the right height.
Of course, the key to an ergonomic desk is not cost but physical comfort – the desk’s height, depth, storage, and free space should all fit your height and needs. This simple ergonomic desk calculator can help determine your ideal seat height, sitting elbow height range, and desk depth (eye to screen length). But remember, no mathematical formula is perfect: try out several desks in person to see which best fits your body, work style and office layout.
Element #2: Your Office Chair
For many, the simple office chair is the single most important element of an ergonomic and productive office. Why? Because when you sit for 4, 6, 8 or even 12 hours a day, you stress your spine, neck and back. A good, ergonomic office chair supports your lower back (lumbar region) and encourages good posture.
So how do you choose an ergonomic chair? Evaluate your favorite options based on seven basic criteria: seat height, seat depth, seat pan angle, lumbar support, backrest height, backrest angle, and armrests. Most of all, choose a comfortable chair – a chair that you’ll be happy to sit in for 4, 6, 8 or even 12+ hours a day.
Element #3: Your Computer
I know what you’re thinking, an ergonomic computer? Well, not quite.
Computer selection is up to personal preference, but every computer worker should pay attention to monitor height and keyboard positioning. And that holds true for laptop users, too – if you’re on the computer all day, everyday, then you should think about purchasing an external monitor and keyboard. Here are the two basic rules:
- Proper Keyboard Position: Your keyboard may not be optimally positioned on your desk, but rather closer to your lap – so that your shoulders are relaxed and your upper arm and forearm form a right angle or greater.
- Proper Monitor Placement: Your monitor should sit about an arm’s length (16-28″, depending on your height) away, and should be placed so that the upper 1/3 of the screen sits just below eye level. Position your monitor away from the sun to avoid glare.
Element #4: Sound, Sun & Lighting
Too often, we underestimate the importance of light and sound in the home office environment. The Cliff’s Notes version is that you want plenty of one and very little of the other – and we’re talking about light and sound, respectively.
Your office requires adequate lighting – big, open windows to let in the sun, if possible, and artificial lighting that’s bright enough to see, but not so bright that it creates glare or washes out your computer monitor.
As for sound, do your best to reduce background noise. An office door, especially a solid door, goes a long way to eliminating distractions. If additional sound reduction is needed, consider purchasing a white noise machine or buying a white noise/meditation/yoga/nature sounds CD to help you focus on the task at hand.
Element #5: Smells that boost performance
Keep your office clean and fresh – you’d be surprised how much a messy, funky office begins to unconsciously diminish your performance. And you may want to consider a diffuser that emits your favorite inspiring scent to uplift and invigorate, and help you stay mentally fresh. A peppermint based essential oil works great.
Bonus Element: You!
Finally, don’t underestimate your own role in creating a comfortable and productive office environment. Even if you have the most ergonomic office on the planet, you’re still at risk for “chair disease.” The only remedy: get up and move! Change your position, adjust your posture and, most importantly, move around often. Grab a cup of coffee or take a quick walk around the house. Walk the dog. Jump rope. Do whatever it is you like to do, and be sure to do it every hour or so.
You now know the basics of designing an inspiring and ergonomically correct home office. As you make adjustments, assess your office with San Diego State University’s excellent ergonomic self-evaluation; this easy checklist will help you ensure your new office setup won’t cause you any unnecessary physical pain.