A couple of weeks ago I published a post on how to stay healthy and productive at your computer. The article’s headline was very deliberately worded, because although we would all like to be healthier, it often isn’t as much of a priority as it should be. On the other hand, most of us will jump at the chance to improve our productivity.
Well, today I’m back for more. This time around I want to teach you about the surprising history behind ergonomics, how it can help you make more money, and what you need to know about setting up your very own ergonomic workstation.
The Economics of Ergonomics
Dan McLeod, a highly respected ergonomics consultant, published a PDF in 2006 entitled 25 Ways Ergonomics Can Save You Money. Although the report is aimed at businesses of all types, everyone down to one-man bands can find value in his conclusions.
Although many of McLeod’s 25 points are of interest, perhaps the most compelling is the following:
It is common for ergonomic improvements to increase productivity 10-15%. In fact, one of the more rigorous studies showed a 25% increase in output at computer workstations when using ergonomic furniture, while concurrently improving employee well-being. The book on which this summary is based contains an example from a printing facility where productivity increased 300%, simultaneously with reducing physical demands on employees.
I don’t know about you, but I sure wouldn’t mind a 25% increase in my own output. Here are some of the additional benefits you can expect from using an ergonomic workstation:
- Decreased likelihood of repetitive strain injuries
- Fewer mistakes
- Improved efficiency
- Reduced fatigue
- Improved morale
Just look at it from a practical perspective — if you are more comfortable, are able to read your screen more easily and input information with greater ease, it’s going to have a beneficial effect to your productivity, and in turn, your bottom line.
Some people are easy to dismiss ergonomics as hocus-pocus, but in reality its history is rather more practical than one might imagine.
Ergonomics is formally defined as follows:
…the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of the interactions among human and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance. – International Ergonomics Association
It was first coined during the Second World War as the aircraft designers of the British Royal Airforce sought to create flight controls, dials and indicators that were easy to operate and understand. If the Royal Airforce felt that ergonomics could help their pilots win the Battle of Britain, I for one am interested to see how it can benefit my own working environment.
As you can see from the above video, the principles behind workstation ergonomics are fairly self-explanatory. Let’s take a closer look at what I consider the most important elements of an ergonomic workstation.
This has to be the most important part of your working environment — if you cannot sit comfortably, your productivity is bound to be affected (not to mention the potential health implications).
There are an enormous number of office chairs available that are touted as ergonomic, but rather than get overwhelmed, look out for these key features:
- Easy-to-use controls
- Automatic back adjustment
- Lumbar support
- Armrests connected to the chair’s back
Monitor Arm/Laptop Holder
We’ve all squinted at a screen before — many of us probably do it on a daily basis. There are two main causes for this:
- Improper monitor placement (relative to your eyes)
If you use a flexible monitor arm (or laptop holder), you will be able to adjust the screen so that it is at a suitable distance (about arm’s length) and positioned to reduce any ambient glare.
Articulating Keyboard/Mouse Support
I don’t know about you, but the biggest complaint I have from spending hours at my computer is discomfort in my wrists/hands. This is largely down to the angle at which you “address” the keyboard, which can largely be resolved by using a keyboard support.
A keyboard support should be positioned so that you are able to sit in a comfortable position and type with your arms comfortably by your side. Furthermore, a good keyboard support should allow negative tilt so that your wrists are straight as you type.
The same principle applies to a mouse tray which should ideally come attached to the keyboard support, so that your mouse is within a similarly comfortable reach.
Whilst I consider the above three items most conducive to an ergonomic workstation, you should also consider the following depending upon your circumstances:
- Personal air purifier: definitely worth consideration if you work in a heavily populated and/or poorly ventilated environment.
- Task light: essential if you spend prolonged periods of time looking at physical documents.
- Footrest: these help promote circulation and prevent lower back issues.
- Monitor glare filter: these help further reduce glare and increase screen contrast.
- Ergonomic peripherals: i.e. your keyboard and mouse. Make sure to test these out for your own individual comfort before buying.
Are You Ergonomic?
So is all of the above old news to you, or are you now an ergonomic convert? What measures do you already take to improve your workstation comfort, and what do you think you will do in the future? Let us know in the comments section!