Working from home? Here’s how to set up your workstation ergonomically

Person typing on keyboard

Whether you’re a work from home veteran or trying it for the first time, it’s likely you can do with some guidance in setting up your home workstation. 

Working from an office provides a number of benefits that we can forget about when we take that process into a household.

In a workplace, you get used to an environment which is in essence, safe for work. The lighting is optimal for reading and looking at screens, the desks are the right height, the chairs have adjustable heights and backs, and usually there’s things like multiple screens and screen stands.

All of this is in place to ensure our safety and comfort when we’re maintaining a position for a long period of time. When we take this into the household, a number of things can happen to throw this out. 

If you have a home office set up with an office chair, you’re in luck, as it’s a lot easier to make that space ergonomically friendly. If you’re working from a bench or dining table (or a bed or couch – which we don’t recommend), it’s a little more difficult to get the space set up, but there’s still things you can do to help reduce the stress on your body and avoid injury. 

Workspace ergonomics

90 is the magic number 

The reason office workstations are set up the way they are is to ensure an individual’s joints are aligned. When they’re misaligned or have to sustain awkward postures, your muscles overcompensate, often leading to pain and injuries such as repetitive strain injury. 

The first thing to do when setting up your workstation ergonomically is to ensure that you have your joints aligned correctly, and when doing this, remember that 90 degrees is what you’re aiming for. That means, your ankles, knees, hips and elbows should all be at a 90 degree angle.

It might help to have someone take a photo of you at your workstation so you can look at the angles of your joints. That will help you problem solve and identify where you need to correct. 

A couple of things to note: 

  • If your feet don’t reach the floor or aren’t flat, try a large book to prop them up, it’s important that your feet are flat and supported to ensure your posture muscles don’t tire throughout the day. 
  • Your back should be straight. This is where an office chair is helpful as you will be able to adjust the back position. Back and lumbar support will stop you from slouching throughout the day. 
  • Your arms should be flat on the desk with your wrists in a neutral position – not flexing up or reaching down as that puts strain on the wrists. You may need to raise your chair to correct this. 

Set up your screen

It’s easy to walk into your house and open the laptop on the dinner table, but this tends to have us looking down, creating a strained neck position causing stiffness in the neck and shoulders. Instead, your screen should be straight in front of you when your back and neck is straight, with  your eyes looking in the top two thirds of the screen. 

If you’re working from a desktop computer, this can be corrected using a computer stand or some large books. With a laptop, it’s a bit more tricky. You can prop the laptop up or use a second screen. Just remember if you’re doing this it’s recommended you use a seperate mouse and keyboard to ensure your neutral wrist position is maintained. 

Lighting is important 

If you’ve ever worked late and noticed your eyes starting to strain, it’s likely that the poor lighting is making the muscles in your eyes work overtime. 

Bright, natural light is best for working on a computer or reading. Low light causes your eyes to strain and will quickly make your eyes tired.

To avoid soreness of your eyes, you should give your eyes a break from looking at the screen for a couple of minutes once or twice an hour. This helps them to relax and will reduce strain which can lead to headaches and injury. 

Remember to move 

Having your workspace setup ergonomically is important for sustaining long periods of sitting, but it’s recommended that you get up and move around throughout the day. Ideally, you should have movement breaks once every half an hour, allowing your body to use different muscles and reset.  

Ergonomics infographic

Ready to give it a go? Check out these quick tips from Worksafe Queensland to get your workspace set up: 

  • Position the computer monitor/s so that you do not need to twist your neck, tilt or arch your head or back.
  • Position your keyboard directly in front of you by pushing the keyboard back so that your forearms are supported on the front part of the desk when keying.
  • Give yourself space. You should be able to use both your keyboard and mouse comfortably on the same level of the desk surface.
  • Adjust your chair to suit you, including the seat height and tilt, lumbar support and backrest position. This includes having your feet flat on the ground or footrest.
  • Check that the screen characters can be seen clearly and comfortably and that your specific eyewear is suitable for computer use.
  • Reduce the glare and shadowing on the screen. Adjust the window coverings for glare and provide additional task lighting to suit you and your task.
  • Sit closely to the desk and remove fixed armrests if they stop you from doing this.
  • If you use a laptop for long periods of time, use a separate full-sized keyboard, mouse and monitor.