The Ultimate Ergonomic Guide to Working from Home

working from homeThis is a definitive guide to ergonomics, working from home, and how to stay healthy, fit, and happy in your home office.

Working from home can be an adjustment, especially if you don’t really know where to start.

This guide will take you through the process from start to finish. We share with you the basics of ergonomics, the products, the stretches and exercises, and our favorite tips & tricks for being productive at home.

What is ergonomics?

Ergonomics is the study of how people work in their environment.

It’s a way to work smarter and not harder.

It’s “comfort” in terms of design and the way we use our office products, and it’s “efficiency” in terms of making the way we work simpler.

Ergonomics is something that was once taken for granted.

Now, many more companies and offices are paying attention to this science. They are seeing an increase in productivity as workers are happier and safer in their work environment.

Ergonomics definiton


Ergonomics at home

But what happens when our workplace is our home? Things can become more complicated.

Creating a safe and healthy workspace at home might not be easy, or perhaps you might not even know where to start.

Unlike most office spaces, people are generally not equipped to work comfortably from their own homes.

But don’t worry, we have you covered. You will find in this guide everything you need to know to have good ergonomics while working at home, including:

  1. The products we recommend
  2. The exercises and stretches you can do
  3. Tips for being more productive

Why is ergonomics in the home so important now?

Recent studies show us that remote working is here to stay. 56% of Americans hold a job compatible with working from home and some estimates show that up to 30% of the workforce could regularly work from home by the end of next year.

This isn’t an employee-only benefit.

In fact, a typical employer could save about $11,000/year for every person who works remotely just half of the time.

Many people have started to work from home recently for the first time and it’s possible that more and more companies will adopt remote working from now on. Moreso, workers who were working remotely already will probably increase their frequency of doing so.

“Our best estimate is that we will see 25-30% of the workforce working at home on a multiple-days-a-week basis by the end of 2021”

– Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics

That’s why, more than ever, we think it’s very important to create an ergonomic home office.


Common aches & pains

A common consequence of bad ergonomics is pain and injury.

Many people around the world suffer from work-related injuries, which manifest in many different ways. From eye strain to lower back pain, there are countless forms of pain related to poor ergonomics.

Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) form a large group of these issues and are one of the most prevalent causes of pain in the office. They cost the government and employers billions of dollars per year.

Did you know for example that Carpal Tunnel Syndrome alone costs the USA over $2B per year?

Or that workers with CTS will take an average of 27 days off work, ultimately a huge cost to employers.

Carpal tunnel costs

Most of us have experienced one of these MSDs (or all of them) at least once after a long day of work.

In the next sections we will show you how to prevent them, but let’s see first what are the most common aches and pains caused by long working hours.

1. Back Pain

Jump to lower back stretches and exercises.

Upper back pain, lower back pain, and sciatica are just three of the many forms of back pain. Four out of five adults will experience one of them at one point in their lives. Bad posture and long periods of sitting have both been linked to back pain in office workers.

Article: How to Reduce Back Pain in the Office

2. Wrist Pain

Jump to wrist stretches and exercises

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is one of the most common MSDs, affecting between 3 – 6% of the population. Incorrect use of a computer mouse or keyboard and repetitive movements are a common cause of CTS and other Repetitive Strain Injuries.

Article: How to Avoid Common Wrist Injuries

3. Shoulder & Neck Pain

Jump to shoulder & neck stretches and exercises

Shoulders and neck are vulnerable to stress. When we are stressed our shoulders and neck can become stiff and tight. Long periods of sitting and poor posture such as rounded shoulders, often caused by laptop usage, can also cause neck strains and shoulder impingement issues.

Article: 10 Tips for Shoulder Pain in the Office

4. Eye Strain & Headaches

Given it is not a Musculoskeletal Disorder, eye pain is often overlooked. However between 50 – 90% of office workers show at least one symptom of Computer Vision Syndrome such as blurred vision, red eyes, headaches, or double vision.

Free Product: We suggest using a screen light adjuster such as Flux


Sitting Disease

Have you heard the expression “sitting is the new smoking”?

This saying arose in recent years due to the correlation between a sedentary lifestyle and negative long-term health effects.

This correlation is an issue for people who work a 9-5 office job.

According to recent studies, if you live a sedentary lifestyle you have higher chances of being overweight, developing heart disease, and experiencing mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

Being more active should be your goal.

According to America’s Health Rankings, the level of inactivity in the USA is 23.8%. This means almost 1 in 4 people have done no activity in the past 30 days.

Kentucky is currently the worst offending state with 32.4% of the population being inactive. Colorado and Oregon are the least inactive with only 16.4% of their populations not doing any activity in the past 30 days.
Data visualization of inactive adults in the USA

Sitting vs standing at work

Being active at work is also possible, even if you work from home.

Walking while on the phone with a colleague, taking frequent breaks, going for a short walk in your lunch break, and doing regular stretches are some of the things that can become part of your working from home routine.

Some people may recommend standing all day as a solution to the problem, but we don’t agree.

Our suggestion is a healthy balance of sitting and standing, mixed with light exercise and movement. Ideally, you want to be able to alternate between these throughout the day which is why we, and many other websites, recommend adjustable standing desks.

Sitting at a 90-degree angle tightens the hip flexors, weakens the lower back and core, and often leads to rounded shoulders which is why many companies have begun to equip their offices with standing desks. These desks are also suitable for a home office environment.

All that said, if you don’t have a standing desk it isn’t a huge problem. Just remember to stand up regularly, stretch, and move around during the day.

Office Desks

The most important product in your home office is your desk. As we mentioned above, there are various types of office desks including the increasingly more popular standing desk.

In the end, your desk choice is less important than how you set it up and how you sit or stand while using it.

Posture is key.

Setting up your desk

The most commonly asked question when it comes to setting up a desk is, “how tall should my desk be?”.

Whether you sit or stand at your desk, the optimal height will vary from person to person. Although the average desk height is 29″, this is a far from ideal for many people. An adjustable height desk allows you to set a more comfortable position for your body type.

Inexpensive adjustments can be made to any desk by placing blocks under the legs of the desk, or using boxes or books to elevate the area where you place the keyboard and mouse. If the desk is too tall you can raise your chair height and then place a box under your feet to make sure they are planted.

Article: See our guide to setting up your desk height for both sitting and standing desks.

Correct posture while working

Posture while working is the most important aspect of correct ergonomics. For your desk, this means having it at the correct height so your elbows and wrists are in a comfortable position.

Correct desk posture

As you see in the image above, your desk height should be such that:

  1. Foot position: While seated your legs fit comfortably under the desk, feet flat, and knees bent at 90 degrees.
  2. Elbow position: Your elbows should be by your side, bent at 90 degrees.
  3. Wrist position: Wrists should be horizontal or slightly below elbow height, in a neutral position.
  4. Back position: Back in an upright, not hunched position.
  5. Shoulder position: Shoulders relaxed and pulled back and down.

Article: A standing desk buying guide.


Office Chairs

The second most important product for your home office is your chair. Once again, there are many styles of chair and personal preference will determine your choice, but ultimately you should look for:

  1. Adjustable height: If your chair is not adjustable this can be achieved with a seat cushion.
  2. Back support: Most ergonomic chairs will have a curve that supports the natural curve of your spine.
  3. Armrests: A chair with armrests is ideal to hold the weight of your arms, but it must be set up correctly as not to force your shoulders to hunch.

Setting up your chair for correct posture

Correct sitting posture

Referring to the above image, you can see the key areas of correct sitting posture:

  1. Adjust the seat height: Adjusting the seat height (or using a cushion) so that your feet can sit flat on the floor (or on a footrest)
  2. Leg positioning: The angle between your thigh and shin should be 90 – 120 degrees
  3. Back positioning: The angle between your thigh and back should be 90 degrees
  4. Armrests: Your armrests should be at a height that allows you to rest on them lightly, but not so high that they force you to hunch your shoulders
  5. Seated posture: You back is upright and supported by the back of your chair

Article: An ergonomic chair buying guide.


Monitor (or Laptop Stand)

If you use a laptop for work then you’ll definitely need either one (or both) of these products.

Working ergonomically on a laptop is physically impossible. If the screen is at the right height the keyboard is too high, or if the keyboard is placed ergonomically you’ll have to hunch to see the screen.

An adjustable monitor allows you to set the height, tilt, and angle of your screen while a laptop stand can prop your laptop an additional 8 – 12 inches off your desk.

Setting up your monitor

Monitor ergonomics

The most important factors of your monitor setup are:

  1. Height: your monitor should sit directly in front of your eyes so that you can maintain a neutral spine. Ideally, the top of the screen is in line with somewhere between the top of your head and eyes.
  2. Distance: set your monitor anywhere from 19 – 25″ from your seat. If you don’t have a tape measure then you can estimate that this is about the length of your outstretched arm.
  3. Tilt: angle the monitor slightly upwards, as shown in the image above.

Article: A monitor arm buying guide.

Article: A laptop stand buying guide.


Ergonomic Keyboard & Mouse

Given one of the most common strains associated with working at a desk is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, it is only natural that two popular additions to an ergonomic office are a good keyboard and mouse.

keyboard posture wrists Image courtesy of Apple.com keyboard posture Image courtesy of University of Florida

Setting up your keyboard

For a keyboard, the priority is to maintain a neutral wrist position at all times. This means:

  1. Keyboard height: Ideally, the keyboard would be slightly below your elbow height in order to achieve a negatively angled position, as in the image above.
  2. Wrist angle (vertical): The wrists are not angled backward or forward, putting unnecessary pressure on the joints and tendons.
  3. Wrist angle (horizontal): The wrists do not deviate laterally as shown in the first picture above. This requires your elbows to be tucked into your sides, and your keyboard to be slightly further away from your body.

mouse posture Image courtesy of Business Insider

Setting up your mouse

As with the keyboard, a mouse is imperative for productive working from home. Don’t just rely on your laptop’s trackpad. The main issues with incorrect mouse usage are:

  1. Wrist angle (vertical): Forward or backward wrist deviation as shown in the image above.
  2. Wrist angle (horizontal): Lateral deviation left or right.

If your wrist is a weak point that causes you a lot of grief, then maybe consider a vertical mouse that is designed to remove as much stress as possible from the joint.

Article: An ergonomic keyboard buying guide.
Article: An ergonomic mouse buying guide.

Part 3: stretches & exercises

Stretches and exercises should be part of your daily routine to correct the imbalances that are caused by poor posture and long periods of sitting.

Below we have set out some basic stretches and exercises that you can incorporate into your work from home routine, addressing the main aches and pains: lower back, wrist, shoulders, and neck.

In each group there are three stretches, and one strengthening exercise.

Stretches for Lower Back

knee hug

1. Lying Knee Hug

The lying single-leg knee hug stretches the hamstring, glute, and lower back.

  1. Lay flat on your back with both legs out straight
  2. Wrap your arms around your knee and hug your knee into your chest
  3. Make sure to keep the opposite leg flat on the floor and not let it rise as you pull into the stretch
  4. Repeat with the other leg

Hip flexor stretch

2. Hip Flexor Stretch

One of the biggest issues with hours of sitting is tight hip flexors that in turn can lead to lower back pain, which is why this stretch is a necessity for office workers.

  1. Kneel on the ground with an upright posture
  2. Step out with one leg so that your knee is bent at a 90-degree angle
  3. Very important: make sure your pelvis is tilted under to accentuate the stretch
  4. Lean forward so you feel a stretch in the front of the back leg

chair twist

3. Seated Chair Twist

This stretch is great for the office since you can easily do while still in your chair and at your desk.

  1. Sit on a chair (preferably without armrests) and rotate to one side
  2. Using the back of the chair, twist your torso while keeping your lower body in place
  3. Make sure to twist slowly and hold the position for 15 – 30 seconds
  4. Repeat on the other side of the chair and rotate in the other direction

Exercise for Lower Back

back bridge

4. Back Bridge

In order to avoid back pain, you must also strengthen your lower back.

  1. Lay flat on the floor on your back
  2. With your arms by your sides, bring your knees in so that your heels touch your fingertips
  3. Push your hips up by engaging your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. Your knees, hips, and shoulders should form a straight line
  4. Hold this position for 10 seconds then relax 10 seconds. Repeat this 5 times

Stretches for Wrists

Wrist flexor stretch

1. Wrist Flexor Stretch

If you type a lot during the day, the wrist flexor stretch will help stretch your over-worked forearms.

  1. Hold your arm out in front of you with the palm facing up
  2. Using your other hand slowly pull your hand down so your fingers point to the floor
  3. Try to keep your arm as straight as possible, you should feel a nice stretch on the underside of your forearm
  4. You can also achieve this stretch against a wall or the floor instead of using your other hand to flex the wrist

Wrist extensor stretch

2. Wrist Extensor Stretch

The wrist extensor stretch stretches out the other side of your forearm and is just as important for those who type a lot.

  1. Hold your arm out in front of you with the palm facing down
  2. Using your other hand slowly pull your hand down so your fingers point to the floor
  3. Try to keep your arm as straight as possible, you should feel a nice stretch on the top of your forearm
  4. You can also achieve this stretch against a wall or the floor instead of using your other hand to flex the wrist

Thumb stretch

3. Thumb Stretch

If you’ve ever suffered from “gamer’s thumb” then this is the stretch for you. You should feel a stretch along the length of the tendons that run from your forearm through the wrist and into the thumb.

  1. Hold your arm out straight at shoulder height
  2. Tuck your thumb into your palm and make a fist
  3. Use the angle of your fist to stretch along the tendons of the thumb

Exercise for Wrists

Wrist exercises gif

4. Finger Press / Reverse Palm Press

These are two simple exercises that can be done to strengthen the wrists. Be careful, as most people have very weak wrists so these need to be done with very little weight. You can either do this leaning against a wall, or on all fours against the floor, and only putting a small amount of your weight onto the wrists.

Finger Press:

  1. Place your palm flat on the wall (or floor)
  2. Using your fingers, push up onto the tips of your fingers. You should feel the muscles in the underside of your forearm contract
  3. Exercise can be done in sets with 10 repetitions per set

Reverse Palm Press:

  1. Place the back of your hand on the wall (or floor)
  2. Slowly push up from this position until your hand forms a fist and your wrist is straight
  3. Exercise can be done in sets with 10 repetitions per set

Stretches for Neck & Shoulders

Side neck stretch

1. Side Neck Stretch

Sitting or standing with rounded shoulders can cause neck pain. Lateral stretching of the neck helps to stretch out the trapezius muscle which tightens due to poor posture.

  1. Stand (or sit) up straight with your shoulders back and down
  2. Use one hand to reach over to the opposite side of your head
  3. Use your hand to pull your head down and to the side, you should feel the stretch along the side of your neck
  4. The other arm/shoulder can stretch down and away from your head to amplify the stretch

Reverse prayer stretch

2. Reverse Prayer

The reverse prayer is another great stretch for rounded shoulders as it stretches the front of the joint. This area tightens and shortens due to shoulder rounding and weakness in the back of the shoulder.

  1. Stand (or sit) up straight with your shoulders down and back
  2. Put both hands behind your back
  3. Place your hands together in a prayer position
  4. Try to keep pulling your shoulders and elbows back without arching your back

Pectoral stretch

3. Pectoral Stretch

Since we often use our chest more than our back we can become imbalanced. A weak back and tight chest will lead to shoulder rounding and hunching, so this stretch will help loosen the pectoralis major and minor muscles.

  1. Stand side on to a wall or doorframe
  2. Place your hand on the wall with your wrist rotated so that your fingers point behind you
  3. Look over your opposite shoulder
  4. Rotate your torso to feel a stretch along the chest and front of the shoulder

Exercise for Neck & Shoulders

Band pull apart

4. Band Pull-Apart

This exercise is an absolute must for anyone working long hours at a desk. As we mention above, tight chest and shoulders coupled with weak rear deltoids (shoulder muscles) will cause rounding in the upper back and shoulders. By doing this exercise you will strengthen these rear deltoids which are essential for good posture.

  1. Hold the band at shoulder height with your arms out in front of you
  2. Pull the band keeping your arms straight by pinching your shoulder blades together
  3. You can either have your thumbs facing to the side (palms facing down), or for more external rotation you can point your thumbs up (palms facing in)

Part 4: WFH Tips & Tricks

These are our top suggestions to keep you at your most productive while working from home.

Working from home can be an opportunity to create an amazing working environment.

Good ergonomics will have a huge impact on your health, your wellbeing, and also your efficiency and productivity.

The following tips will help you to make the most of working from home, whether you are new to this or you have worked remotely for years.

workspace

1. Create a workspace

The top tip for working from home successfully is to set up a dedicated space of work. We know it can be tempting, but don’t work from your bed or sofa – not only will you be less focused and motivated, but you are most likely to end up with pain from poor posture.

Ideally your workspace would be in a separate room and would include a good desk and chair. Additionally, you may want a monitor, laptop stand, mouse, and keyboard as we explained above.

If you don’t have an office desk you can use any table such as the dining table. Remember to make the adjustments detailed above to maintain good posture. Avoid distractions and don’t mix your office with your downtime such as eating while working.

ergonomic office products

2. Invest in the right office equipment

If possible, your office should be equipped with the correct, ergonomic products.

If you work from a laptop, an external monitor or a laptop stand are essential products.

Additionally, you’ll need an external mouse and keyboard.

The above products are all designed to help you maintain an ergonomic posture while you work and to avoid any repetitive strains or postural injuries.

schedule

3. Stick to a routine

Set a schedule and stick to it. Waking up at your normal time, taking a shower, and getting dressed in “work” clothes help your mind to prepare for the day and also will improve your mental wellbeing. It is all too easy to stay in your pajamas during the day, but this will only make you less productive and motivated at work.

Openly communicate with your work and team your hours of work. Perhaps you’d like to work a little later in the evening and start later in the morning – so just make sure expectations are clear.

A common issue with working from home is working longer hours than expected since a specific timetable is never set. In the US people who work from home may work up to 3 hours more per day, while in the UK this is closer to 2 hours more. This is why a strict routine is paramount.

Exercise

4. Keep active with exercise and stretching

If you have gained an extra hour or two from not commuting, it’s a good opportunity to use that extra time for exercising.

The Wellness Council of America recommends regular stretching of the neck, back, hips, shoulders, and wrists in order to reduce workplace stress, reduce risk of injury, and improve workplace productivity.

Exercising also has many health benefits that we all know of, and even just a small amount each day is a good place to start. Bodyweight exercises that you can do in your home, or a short walk around the block will keep you feeling energized during your workday.

Lastly, if you are willing to invest in office equipment you should consider a standing desk. Being able to alternate between sitting and standing during the day will help you to avoid some of the common aches and pains associated with sitting for prolonged periods.

Leave the house

5. Leave the house at least once per day

Science Daily states that studies have shown people living near to or who have regular access to green spaces have a much lower chance of severe health issues such as Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Our recommendation is to leave the house at least once a day and spend some time getting fresh air, sun, and spending a bit of time in your local park.

This can be just a short 15-minute break during your lunch hour and it will help you tremendously both in the short and long-term.

Natural light

6. Have fresh air and natural light in your workspace

A large part of ergonomics is related to the quality of air and light in your workplace.

As much as possible try to work with natural light, rather than strong artificial lights. This means setting up your workspace near a window. Even if you do need artificial light for part of the day, use a desk lamp that you can adjust the brightness on.

Fresh air is also a necessity as we previously mentioned, so open that window during the day to make sure the air inside stays fresh.

Socialize with colleagues

7. Socialize with your colleagues

Loneliness and isolation are common problems in remote work life. Use what you have at your disposal to socialize as much as possible – even set short catch-ups with colleagues for some “water-cooler” chats.

Keep in touch via Slack, Zoom, Skype, or whatever your preference is.

Open communication and socializing are very important to staying productive while working from home. Try to make the most of video conference meetings and phone calls rather than emails.

Drink water and eat well

8. Drink water and eat well

Take the time to make proper meals and eat on a regular schedule, rather than snacking the whole day.

If you don’t have the time to make a meal during lunchtime, cook it the night before or, even better, use the batch cooking technique and cook during the weekend for the whole week.

It is common to snack more when you work from home, whether it is from boredom, procrastination (or maybe you are actually hungry) – so try keeping some healthy snacks ready-to-go. Celery, carrot sticks and houmous are a great option.

Finally, drink water regularly. Use a glass rather than a bottle, and try keeping it full at all times. This will force you to stand up and go to the kitchen, keeping you more active.