Creating an Ergonomic Workplace in 2021
With many workers preparing to end their long telecommute and return to the office after vaccinations have been fully rolled out, entire companies are preparing workspaces that have been virtually abandoned for over a year. Given the level of comfort that many employees were able to achieve by working from home, there will be a particular emphasis on coming back to a healthy, comfortable working environment.
With that in mind, this article compiles all the science and recent trends to help decision makers design an optimal ergonomic workplace in 2021 and beyond.
Ergonomic Desks and Chairs
The popularity of standing desks has been growing exponentially over the last eighteen months. The science is fairly clear about habitual sitting. It’s bad for the heart and can shave years off one’s life. The mechanism of this unhealthy turn is still up in the air, but the benefits of standing and other light activity to reduce overall sitting time are well proven.
Adjustable sit stand desks are the suggested workplace choice in a corporate environment. They allow the employee to alter their posture as needed, and do not need to be replaced if a 100% seated employee eventually takes over that space.
For all employees, adjustable ergonomic chairs are a must. Decades of research has shown that a proper seated position with lower back support and legs bent at approximately a ninety degree angle has multiple benefits: blood pressure regulation, increased arm and wrist health, avoiding back pain and leg cramping, etc.
Studies focused on how adjustable the armrests should be have been conducted, leading the industry to the current generation of chairs.
All seats should be cushioned, and all chairs should be wheeled. The adjustability should cover three main areas:
- Seat height, depth, and tilt.
- Armrest height
- Lumbar support amount or depth
The corporate benefits are also clear. More satisfied, healthier employees perform better in the workplace. They file fewer insurance claims, use fewer sick days, and are less likely to seek other employment.
Part of any good desk setup is the employee’s interface with their computer. The selection of a quality ergonomic keyboard is central to arm and wrist health for anyone who is on their computer for long stretches.
Ergonomics must come above other ‘nice to have’ features. Proper wrist positioning and forearm stress relief are key to avoiding pain and potentially a long term health care crisis or physical rehabilitation. Some of the features to look for include:
Mechanical Action: The right mechanical keyboard allows the user to determine how far a key needs to be depressed before it registers as a real keystroke. This impacts typing speed and forcefulness, since some folks have lighter touches than others. Many mechanical keyboards offer different switch types, which will give users options. In an office environment, it is suggested that none of the ‘loud’ or ‘clicky’ keys be used unless it is within a closed office. There is still the option to have tactile feedback at the actuation point, or just a single, smooth stroke.
Negative Tilt: In an upright or slightly reclined position, experts say that a negative tilt keyboard is superior to either a flat (worst) or a positive tilt (better) configuration. The angle of the keyboard should match the relaxed posture of a wrist, which tends to be slightly downward.
Split Keyboard: This is a more difficult decision in an office environment. Yes, split keyboards provide the most protection against wrist and forearm injury. However, they also take some getting used to. Therefore, rolling them out as a universal solution might be upsetting to some. The intent of a split keyboard is to get the wrists bent slightly inward, not straight, or outward. The horizontal slope of a split keyboard relieves forearm stress caused by pronation. The split option should be offered but be prepared to have a number of one piece positive and negative tilt keyboards on hand for those who prefer them.
Some employees see the keyboard as the centerpiece of an ergonomic workplace. This is not an area to underestimate.
The jury is still out on curved or flat monitors in terms of ergonomic benefit. However, there are some general rules that we know about the placement of the monitors, which hints at what features are the most helpful.
Glare is the number one monitor related cause of eye strain and breaking posture (to avoid said glare). In addition to keeping monitors at a ninety-degree angle from sunlight and work lights, anti-glare measures are highly desirable.
Monitor height is critical. To achieve the correct viewing angle, any two of the three main working apparatus (chair, desk, or monitor) must be height adjustable. If only one (normally the chair) device has height adjustment, it can force bad posture and bent necks for optimal viewing. Therefore, the rule of thumb is: if the desk is not height adjustable, the monitor should be. Ultimately, having all three of them height adjustable leads to the most comfortable typing experience.
The center of the monitor should be at a fifteen to twenty degree down angle from the user’s eyeline. The goal is clearly reading the screen without bending the neck forward or backward. A monitor with adjustable tilt features is recommended for any employee with a history of neck pain or injury.
Multi monitor setups should be close together if not touching, to avoid too much neck rotation and eye wandering. One of the benefits to thin bezel or frameless monitors is that they can be placed side by side seamlessly and adjusted for the same contrast and brightness levels. This can reduce eye strain.
Benefits of Ergonomics
An ergonomic workplace should be the norm these days. Minimizing employee injury due to repetitive stress and muscular tension is, of course, a benefit for everyone involved. It leads to fewer sick days and better productivity. Whether that is achieved through the benefits of using a standing desk or an ergonomic chair, or via a split mechanical keyboard over a traditional ergonomic keyboard, should be left up to the individual user. Beyond the health aspects, the primary additional benefit should not be underestimated: employee retention.
Could your business benefit from better ergonomics? In addition to Outsource IT’s complete Managed IT Services offerings, we also help clients with day to day procurement of IT related solutions and planning new facilities. We have partnered with top brands like Ergotron and can assist in planning your new ergonomic workspaces. Contact an Outsource IT account manager to learn more.