How do I set up an ergonomic home office?

Laptops can be considered harmful if used for prolonged serious work rather than casual use. If you have neck and shoulder problems, you should seek medical help. I’ve been saved twice by an excellent physiotherapist, at my own expense. I’ve also spent time and money mitigating problems, but there is no panacea. Buying an ergonomic keyboard is only one part of a solution that could also include the mouse, desk, chair, lighting, work habits and, perhaps, glasses.

You don’t need a computer to get a repetitive strain injury (RSI). Housemaid’s knee, tennis elbow, writer’s cramp, potter’s wrist and other afflictions are much older than iPad neck, but they all have similar causes. According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the risk factors include repetitive work, the use of sustained or excessive force, awkward and static working postures, and doing the same thing for long periods without taking rest breaks. Without job rotation, that last one may be the hardest to solve, though software can help.

Unfortunately, people tend to feel invulnerable until they get an RSI. Just as losing a hard drive tends to persuade people that backups are a good idea, carpal tunnel syndrome is a great spur to taking ergonomics seriously. It’s better to do something before you reach that stage.

Start with a sheet of paper, a tape measure, and a friend. Drawing a stick-figure diagram with your measurements will help you find products that will work well for someone of your height.

To get the correct posture, your feet should be flat on the floor, and when sitting upright, your eyes should be roughly level with the top of the screen. Your friend can then measure the distance between your eyes and the floor. Everything else has to fit in between.

Your thighs should be parallel to the floor or pointing very slightly downwards, which will fix the height of the seat of the chair. This won’t happen by magic, which is why proper office chairs have adjustable seats.

Your arms should be roughly at right angles or pointing slightly downwards, not upwards. This will fix the height of the top of the keyboard, and possibly the height of the desk. I say “possibly” because many desks are designed for writing not typing, and will therefore be too high. One solution is a keyboard tray that slides under the desk. Some “computer desks” have trays as standard, but you can buy them separately. Wheeled computer stands do the same thing for a low price, and you can pull them out to fiddle with the wiring at the back.

As a cross-check, extend one arm horizontally. It should almost touch the centre of the screen.

When you are trying to find the most comfortable position, some tweaking is inevitable. It’s therefore better to buy products that allow for minor adjustments. You can fudge things with cushions, footrests, and books under monitors, but it’s better to do it right.

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