Without an office to go to, most of us have been spending way too much time hunched over laptops on the couch or awkwardly perching on uncomfortable desk chairs for hours on end. According to Dr. Michelle Robertson, the executive director of the Office of Ergonomics Research Committee, there has been an increase in reported work-related musculoskeletal injuries since lockdown orders went into place.
“We are adaptable as humans for a while, but we’ve been in this position for six months,” she explained. “The body is made to move and needs to be supported.”
With no end to work-from-home policies in sight, it may be time to invest in some home office equipment that can actually support your body in the way that it needs. Doing so won’t just prevent the backaches, wrist tightness, and eye strain; it’ll also help you get more work done. “When people were provided with ergonomically designed equipment that they knew how to adjust and were taught how to adopt healthy computing habits and behaviors, we found a significant increase in productivity, job satisfaction, and positive relationships [between coworkers],” said Dr. Robertson.
Ergonomic Home Office: What Do You Need?
With the advice of multiple ergonomics experts, we’ve put together a list of products that might help ease your aches and pains and spark your productivity. It’s important to note that the products themselves won’t do much unless you set them up properly, actively work to correct your posture, and take regular breaks to stretch and move around.
A high-quality, adjustable desk chair will not only prevent musculoskeletal injury by supporting your neck and the natural curve of your back, but it may also help you feel more alert throughout the day. Dr. Jay Brand, an engineering psychologist with extensive experience in corporate ergonomics, said that a hard chair will push the tailbones into the surrounding tissue which subsequently releases a central nervous system suppressant that causes drowsiness. In order to avoid this, you want to find a chair with a soft seat pan that distributes pressure as evenly as possible.
The Hbada Ergonomic Office Desk Chair ($190) is about half of that price at Amazon, but still has plenty of adjustments and cushion to keep you comfortable. (You may also want to check out Money's previous roundup of the best home office chairs.)
Because of the way laptops are designed, our bodies tend to “turtle” in order to reach the keyboard. Using a separate keyboard facilitates a straight-backed position. Those that are slightly wider than your laptop and have a domed, angled shape will help prevent wrist strain and repetitive stress injury.
The Goldtouch keyboard ($81) is split and attached in the middle by a ball and lever that can be adjusted to angle and tent to the neutral position of your wrists.
While the Microsoft Sculpt keyboard ($70) isn’t adjustable like the Goldtouch, the domed, split shape as well as the cushion at the bottom offer some much-needed support. It has the added benefit of coming with a separate keypad which makes it a great choice for professionals who spend a lot of their time working with numbers.
Computer Mouse for Work
An ill-fitting computer mouse can cause just as much damage as an unsupportive keyboard. While there are dozens of formats to choose from, it is best to pick one that molds to your hand’s shape and natural orientation.
The Contour mouse ($70) comes in three different sizes, each of which comes in options for left-handed and right-handed people. The shape fits to the natural arc of the hand and the positioning of the buttons and scroll wheel prevent stretching or twisting of the wrist.
The Anker Vertical Mouse ($28) is a cheaper, highly-rated option that also uses a large, angled shape to prevent strain or repetitive stress injuries.
Adjustable Standing Desk
Having a workstation that will enable you to switch positions every 20 minutes or so — from sitting to standing and from reclining to declining (lowering the seat pan to widen the angles of your hips and knees) — while maintaining a 90-degree angle at your elbows can decrease back pain and increase energy levels. “We want to encourage movement through different postures,” said Robertson. “Your next position is your best position.”
An electronic sit-stand desk often comes with customizable presets so that you can quickly move from position to position without having to tweak the height every single time.
Like the Seville Classics desk, the less expensive UNICOO Adjustable Standing Desk ($350) has four customizable presets and a curved edge. It also has a built-in second tier, so you won’t have to worry about investing in a separate piece of equipment to raise your monitors up to eye level.
Portable Sit-Stand Desk
A portable sit-stand desk can be a fine alternative if you already have a desk you like, but you want to add the option to occasionally stand while working. Ideally, you want one that provides enough surface space for your monitor, computer, keyboard, mouse, and any paperwork that you might need to look at.
The extra-wide model of the Seville Classics Stand-Up Desk Converter ($235) is plenty spacious. There’s a keyboard tray, a built-in display slot for your phone or tablet, and a thin cut-out in the back so that your cords won’t clutter up your workspace.
Although the FITUEYES Tabletop Workstation ($100) is over a foot shorter, the two-tiered design and the cheaper price (look for a $10 coupon before check out, it pops up from time to time) makes it an attractive alternative.
Footrest for Good Posture
For those of shorter stature, a footrest may be beneficial. Bringing the ground closer will allow you to orient your legs at a 90-degree angle and prevent the edge of the chair from putting pressure on the back of your legs.
The height and tilt angle of the Mind Reader Footrest ($21) adjust to best fit you and your posture. It also has a textured surface that will provide your feet with a gentle massage.
With its memory foam, teardrop curve, and machine-washable, velour cover, the Everlasting Comfort Footrest ($31) is basically a pillow for your feet.
Bringing your laptop screen up to eye level will prevent you from hunching your back or extending your neck. With a laptop riser, you’ll be able to position the screen so that the top of your screen is at eye level and close enough that you can touch it with your fingertips without moving from a neutral position.
You can easily press the Boyata Laptop Holder ($46) to the height and angle that best suits you, because it features a Z-shape and two sets of joints.
With a heavy-duty C-clamp, an 18-inch pole, and a tilting, swiveling tray, the Mount-It! Laptop Desk Stand Mount ($58) can act as both a laptop riser and a sit-stand desk. One of its advantages is that you won’t have to interfere with the placement of the keyboard in order to bring the laptop closer to your face.
Second Computer Monitor
Adding a second, larger monitor to your desk may seem like an unnecessary luxury, but studies show that doing so can boost productivity, reduce mistakes, and — especially for those with waning eyesight — prevent eye straining or neck craning.
In order to prevent eye strain or headaches, the BenQ IPS Monitor ($120) uses less blue light than the average screen.
The Philips Frameless Monitor ($109) also reduces blue light and comes in a variety of sizes.
If you spend a lot of time on the phone or on Zoom calls, a headset is essential. It’ll prevent you from pinching your neck in order to hold a phone or turtling in toward the computer’s speaker and microphone.
The Jabra Evolve 75 UC Stereo Wireless Bluetooth Headset ($255) can pair with two devices at once, has a Bluetooth range of 100 feet, and a talk time up to 30 hours. It’s the perfect choice for those who live in busy households or on loud city streets.
If you’re looking for something more inconspicuous, check out the Plantronics Voyager Bluetooth Headset ($120). It has noise-cancelling technology and built-in Alexa that can make calls or answer questions while you’re on the go.
Free Wellness Software
Creating a truly ergonomic office that supports your body and mind requires that you make holistic changes. Potentially the most important change you can make is to take regular breaks to stretch, to give your brain a rest, and to relax your eyes. Downloading software that reminds you to take these breaks might be helpful if you tend to get lost in your work.
The eyeCare Chrome widget uses the 20-20-20 rule (look out at a 20-foot distance every 20 minutes for 20 seconds) for avoiding eye strain in order to prompt regular breaks. It’ll also provide little tips for how to take care of your eyes and the rest of your body if you spend your day at a desk.
The Wellnomics Workpace software has a free version that will remind you to take “microbreaks” to rest your eyes and longer breaks to stretch (a separate window will pop up to assign you stretches) and move around.