What's Wrong With Your Home Office...and How to Fix It

Whether you work at home in a dedicated home office or simply have set aside a small section of your home as an occasional workspace, chances are this space is one of many compromises. Home offices aren't usually so much planned as organically thrown together, and that means there are plenty of "I've learned to live with it" details that can not only slow down productivity, but also have adverse effects upon your health. Here are a few tips for a common home office trouble spot...

Your desk is too high (or your chair is too low): An ergonomically correct desk is one which aligns your wrists to be lower than your elbows when your shoulders are relaxed while using a keyboard and mouse. Ideally, your the angle of your elbow should be almost perfectly 90 degrees. And from all the photos of idealized home offices on sites like Tumblr, Pinterest and even here at Apartment Therapy, we're seeing too many desk and chair combinations which throw ergonomics out the window in exchange for style.

The solution: the easiest and most common fix is to simply increase the height of your chair (assuming you're using a real task chair and not an occasional chair, an ergonomic no-no). Depending upon your height, this might mean you may need to add a footrest or additional support underneath.

If desk surface space is an issue, consider adding a keyboard tray and one that permits "negative tilting", as recommended by Working-Well.org. The downward tilt will keep your fingers curved in a relaxed position, easing strain that can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.

Height for Sitting Adjustable Work Surfaces*
  • Minimum: 25” - 30”; Range = 5”
  • Optimal: 22” - 33”; Range = 11”
Height for Standing Adjustable Work Surfaces
    Minimum: 38” - 42”; Range = 4”
  • Optimal: 35” - 47”; Range = 12”
Height for Sit-to-stand Adjustable Work Surfaces
  • Minimum: 26” - 40”; Range = 15"
  • Optimal: 22” - 47”; Range = 25"
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Now you've got your desk and chair properly aligned, it's now time to take a refresher course about how you should be sitting while working. Although we've often read that sitting upright at 90 degrees is the best position, we've also noted sitting further back beyond 90 degrees can help alleviate the strain of something that doesn't come naturally to our bodies for hours on end: sitting.

So what's a a "good" sitting body position when you need to get work done and can't lounge back 135 degrees? According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety there's no one-size-fits-all position; in fact, they recommend moving around regularly and adjusting positions. But here are their general recommendations for sitting comfortably at a desk, offering a specific range which should keep your body properly aligned throughout the day at a desk:

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  • Keep the joints such as hips, knees and ankles open slightly (more than 90°)
  • Keep knee joints at or below the hip joints
  • Keep ankle joints in front of the knees
  • Keep a gap the width of 3 fingers between the back of the knee and the front edge of the chair
  • Keep feet flat on the floor or on a foot rest
  • Keep the upper body within 30° of an upright position
  • Keep the lumbar support of the back rest in your lumbar region (around the waistband)
  • Always keep the head aligned with the spine
  • Keep upper arms between vertical and 20° forward
  • Keep elbows at an angle between 90° and 120°
  • Keep forearms between horizontal and 20° up
  • Support the forearm
  • Keep the wrists straight and aligned with the forearms
  • Position monitor so that it can be viewed at 10° to 30° below the line of sight.
  • Keep shoulders low and relaxed
  • Keep elbows tucked in
  • Tuck chin in and do not bend forward when looking down and forward
  • Change positions frequently but remain within recommended ranges
  • Alternate crossed legs
  • Avoid bending to the side
  • Avoid bending forward
  • Do not slouch
  • Do not sit for more than 50 minutes at a time.

That's enough to remember to make anyone to sigh, then slouch in frustration! But if you're going to remember anything we've listed, it should be to take breaks every hour (drink plenty of coffee or tea and this won't be a problem...or an option!) and walk around to break up the periods in a seated position. And feel free to revert to a 7 year old kid and fidget in your chair; those small changes in position will improve circulation, reduce fatigue and keep you productive, whether at home or at the office.

*(Recommended work surfaces heights via ErgoTalk)

(Image: Flickr member Marc Phu licensed for use under Creative Commons)