Oh, My Aching Back! Making Your Home Workstation Work for You


I’ll admit it. I used to think ergonomics was a trick to get offices to buy more junk.

Just like Jim Halpert in the hit TV series The Office, I scoffed at the Dwight Schrutes of this world, balancing precariously on their “fitness orbs.” And while I did not take a pair of scissors and pop said fitness orb (see clip below from The Office’s second season, episode eight – the “Performance Review”), I still thought it was a waste of money to invest in equipment that made employees look like they were in fitness class instead of working at their desk.

Now that I have spent a few years sitting at a desk and typing for hours on end, my tune about ergonomics has changed significantly – especially when I started working from home multiple days each week.

You see, working from home is a major benefit, but if you don’t have the right set up, it can be a major pain.

When I first began teleworking from my apartment, I didn’t have a dedicated office space (because with 580 square feet, where would I put it!?). I started each day at my hand-me-down desk, perched on a wooden kitchen chair and hunched over my laptop. After an hour, I would begin to feel that numbing sensation I used to get as a middle school student sitting at a rickety old desk during study hall. I would retreat to the sofa, feeling temporary posterior relief; but after another hour passed, my body would feel out of sorts. Lunchtime couldn’t come soon enough.

My husband decided to intercede (thank you, Honey!) and told me it was time to upgrade our home workstation.

The components of a home workstation that I addressed included:

  • The Chair
  • The Desk
  • The Keyboard
  • The Monitor

#1: The Chair – You don’t have to break the bank!
The first step was buying a real computer chair, but plunking down $700+ for a premium Herman Miller ergonomic chair like the Aeron made my eyes bug out. After some bargain shopping, I found a reasonably priced model (the Staples Carder Mesh Office Chair) that is comfortable, supportive, adjustable and (my favorite feature) affordable!

Check out the Top 10 Best Ergonomic Chairs of 2016 to find a seat that fits your budget.

#2: The Desk – A custom-look that will last
Lucky me, I married a very talented man who was able to build me a custom desk perfectly tailored to my height. I realize not everyone has a gifted carpenter in their midst, but having a lovely desk or table that fits you will make work a much better experience.

You can search for a stylish ergonomic desk via Wayfair.com, snatch a deal on Amazon.com or explore the trend of standing desks that are now prevalent.

#3: The Keyboard – A new type of “space”bar
I have tried “ergonomic keyboards” in the past and have found them difficult to use. However, typing on my laptop’s keyboard results in hand cramps, arm fatigue and the inevitability that I will be leaning forward, hunched over the keys for a majority of the day. The solution? A keyboard tray.

Bring the keyboard to you by installing an adjustable keyboard tray to the underside of your desk. This will assist in keeping your shoulders and arms relaxed while typing and can be easily purchased for about $100.

#4: The Monitor – Look me in the eye
There is a place in the center of my upper back, right between my shoulder blades, that begins to ache when I have been sitting improperly for extended periods of time. The #1 culprit for me – leaning forward and hunching over a laptop screen.

According to an article on the Mayo Clinic website, a computer monitor should be “about an arm’s length away. The top of the screen should be at or slightly below eye level. The monitor should be directly behind your keyboard. If you wear bifocals, lower the monitor an additional 1 to 2 inches for more comfortable viewing.”

To ensure that my laptop could be easily used at home, we dismantled an old computer monitor that was just a little too short and mounted it on an adjustable arm (like this) to make it easy to position and view. We have an HDMI cable running from the monitor that I can plug into my laptop and voila! Instant eye-level monitoring.

Parting Words: Work it out
Reminder: It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on your workstation – if you don’t get up and move around every once and awhile, you will still be aching at the end of the day.

I love this article on Forbes.com because it has a short video with easy exercises you can do at your desk to keep the blood flowing.

And don’t forget to do what your Mom always said – “Sit up straight!”

Lacey Scully is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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