What is ergonomic furniture?
The word “ergonomic” sounds like some fancy, space-age technology - something mysterious and out of reach for us common office Joes. In reality, ergonomic just refers to office equipment that is comfortable and safe, creating a happier and healthier environment for you to work in. It’s no secret that sitting for long periods of time at a desk can be damaging to your health. For years, statistics have been coming out that link office work to carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, muscle fatigue, back pain, and other musculoskeletal disorders. As such, we as a society started to rethink how our offices were set up, and got to work designing office furniture and equipment that works for our bodies. From contoured and split keyboards designed to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, to office chairs designed for maximum adjustability and increased lumbar support to prevent muscle strain and back pain, ergonomic changes are popping up in offices throughout the world.
What are the benefits of ergonomic furniture?
Aside from being easier on your body and better for your health, ergonomic furniture and office equipment has also been shown to increase productivity in the workplace. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, by creating an ergonomic work environment for employees, businesses can see an 11% increase in worker productivity. How? It’s simple - the happier and more comfortable an employee is, the better their output will be. No one performs their best when their body is aching and their eyes straining. When workers have to spend time frequently shifting in their seats and stretching their sore muscles in an effort to get comfortable, productivity decreases. Plus, physical strain causes mental strain, making focusing on the job more difficult.
According to a study done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, musculoskeletal disorders are the cause of over one-third of lost workdays. This means that the strains and injuries office workers are experiencing are resulting in them cashing in those sick days and office productivity decreasing. Depending on the injury, this may result in prolonged absences and possibly workplace compensation. More and more employers are beginning to recognize this. They want their team reaching for the next batch of reports - not the Advil. That’s why so many offices are starting to invest in ergonomic office wares. They realize that by spending a little extra on creating an ergonomic work space, they will soon see an increase in their revenue.
Choosing ergonomic office furniture and supplies
You’ve probably been hearing a lot of hype lately about standing desks. Why are so many offices now being equipped with standing desks? It’s all in an effort to combat prolonged sitting, which can have serious negative effects on your health. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even cancer have all been linked to sedentary lifestyles. Now, we aren’t saying that you’re going to get cancer if you don’t have a standing desk. We’re just pointing out that sitting for long periods of time is hard on your body - and your mind. Some studies have also linked prolonged sitting to fatigue and depression. So, in an effort to get workers on their feet and improve their health and wellbeing, standing desks made an appearance on the market. More and more options are becoming available, with adjustable desks being very popular. Desks and attachments that allow you to go from sitting to standing enable you to adjust your work space as your body tells you when it is ready for a change. These desks and attachments range widely in price, from highly affordable to executive-only pay grade. While there are some truly incredible models out there, you don’t need to spend a fortune. As long as it allows you to get out of your chair for a bit, any standing desk or attachment you invest in will do wonders for your health.
Don’t be tempted to switch over to a standing desk full-time, though. Just as prolonged sitting is dangerous for your health, prolonged standing can be as well. Lower back pain, varicose veins and cardiovascular problems are just a few of the potential health risks associated with standing all day. In addition to physical stresses, constant standing can cause you to tire more easily, making focusing on your job more difficult. Some studies even suggest that our fine motor skills don’t work quite as well when we are standing, which makes a good argument for sitting when trying to meet a deadline or work out a particularly difficult assignment. For optimum mental and physical performance and comfort, switch back and forth between standing and sitting throughout the day. Listen to your body and make position changes as necessary.
Even without a standing or adjustable model, there are other ergonomic factors to consider when choosing a desk. The main goal of ergonomic desk setup is comfort. So, you want to choose a desk that is large enough to accommodate your work requirements. Feeling cramped puts strain on your muscles and can increase stress. Do you have enough space on the desk for all your supplies? Are your knees going to be banging into the keyboard tray constantly? Do you have room to move about and adjust? Choosing a desk that is the correct height and size for you can make a huge difference in your comfort and productivity.
If you haven’t convinced your boss to make the switch to adjustable desks yet, you’re most likely going to be spending eight or more hours a day in your office chair. As such, you want to make sure that it is designed to fit your body and put as little strain on your joints and muscles as possible. Obviously, you want your chair to be comfortable and have plenty of padding. Seats with proper cushioning put less pressure on your pelvis, and make for less shifting in your seat. Arm rests are also an important feature of an ergonomic office chair. You want arm rests that allow your arms to sit comfortably at a 90-degree angle, putting less pressure on your neck and shoulders, and aiding proper posture. If you are purchasing a chair for multi-person use, be sure to get one with adjustable arm rests, so each person can configure the arm supports to fit their body.
You also want to select a chair that has plenty of back support - and in the right places. Lower back pain is one of the major complaints of people who spend all day sitting at a desk. When you aren’t sitting correctly, with your pelvis, head and shoulders aligned, pressure is put on your spine causing discomfort. Proper lumbar support encourages good posture by gently supporting the natural curve of your spine. You see, the spine naturally curves inward slightly in your lower back (lumbar region). However, many of us have a tendency to slouch forward at our desks, pushing the spine outwards. An office chair with lumbar support will have a backrest that curves inwards towards the bottom, just like our spine does. The proper location for this curve to take place is going to be slightly different for everybody, as every body is a little different. That’s why many office chairs feature adjustable back supports, to be raised or lowered to accommodate every user’s need. Make sure your office chair’s lumbar support is located in the right position to fit the curve of your spine.
Right up there with lumbar support is height adjustability. Most desks are not adjustable, so having a chair that adjusts to the height of your work space is vital. To minimize injury and discomfort, feet should be able to lay flat with knees at a 90-degree angle, thighs parallel to the floor, arms able to comfortably reach the keyboard, and eyes able to comfortably see the computer monitors without straining the neck. All of these factors fall into line when the seat is at the appropriate height for the desk. Adjust your chair height in a way that allows you to achieve the best posture to work comfortably and without strain. If your desk is too high to allow you to rest your feet on the floor while accomplishing your arm and head placement goals, consider getting a foot rest.
There are many different types of ergonomic keyboards available today. Common models are the split keyboard and the contoured keyboard. They allow you to type in a way that allows for more natural arm placement. Rather than the cramped typing area that most of us are accustomed to, these keyboards let you spread your arms a little further, reducing strain in your wrists, neck and shoulders. Typing on one of these could take some getting used to, and may slow down your typing speed at first, but once you get the hang of it, an ergonomic keyboard could reduce your risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive motion induced injury. Again, the model that works best for one person may not be the best option for another. Test out a couple of different ergonomic keyboards to find the one that feels the most natural for you.
Standard mice often leave our hands and wrists in an unnatural, uncomfortable position. Ergonomic mice are more curved and designed to fit your palm, allowing for a more relaxed hand position and causing less strain in the wrist. There are many different options to choose from, varying from contoured horizontal mice to vertical ones, sometimes resembling arcade game controllers. Many ergonomic mice come in various sizes, so you can choose one that best fits the size of your hand. Like keyboards, choosing an ergonomic mouse that is best for you is a matter of experimentation. Look for one that fits comfortably in the palm of your hand and lets you position your arm and wrist in a way that feels natural.
Big and Tall
The main theme when talking ergonomics is customization. In order to create an ergonomic work space, you have to customize the space to fit the individual using it. Every person has different needs, and they need equipment that will fit to their body. Unfortunately, though, most run of the mill office furniture isn’t made to accommodate those of larger stature. Office chairs, in particular, often only hold up to 250 pounds, and don’t adjust high enough for tall users. If you are over six foot and/or more than 250 pounds, there are a few extra things you’ll want to look out for when shopping for an office chair. In addition to lumbar support, arm rests, and other ergonomic features, a safe, comfortable chair for you will also have a wider base and a reinforced seat. Check the weight recommendations. While 250 pounds may be the norm for standard office chairs, there are more and more chairs being manufactured now that hold up to 500 pounds. You’ll also of course want to make sure that you can adjust the chair high enough to be able to comfortably rest your feet on the ground, with your knees at a 90-degree angle. If at the chair’s highest point your knees are elevated above your hips, you need to keep looking. Sitting in such a position puts a lot of pressure on your hips and pelvis, and can cause sciatic nerve pain and lower back pain. Luckily, there are many chairs for big and tall workers available today that are not only suitable but are also ergonomic.
Another major consideration for big and tall persons is desk height. Make sure your desk is tall, wide and deep enough for you to slide under easily and comfortably, without banging your knees or making your legs feel cramped. No one likes feeling claustrophobic, and being able to move about and have some wiggle room is important for an ergonomic work space. If you are thinking of purchasing a standing desk, make sure to read the maximum height! Many standing desks don’t extend high enough for tall users. You want to make sure that when standing at your desk, your arms are at a 90-degree angle with the keyboard and your eyes are level with the address bar on your monitor.
Ergonomic Healthy Habits
Even if you have achieved the perfect ergonomic desk setup, there are still some things that you can (and should) do to help achieve a healthy and comfortable work space. First and foremost is posture. Yes, you’ve heard this time and time again, but that is because it’s so important! While it is very tempting to slouch, sit on your leg, or assume other inexplicable body configurations, our bodies do not thank us for such contortionist impersonations. Hopefully, if you’ve set up your office with an ergonomic desk and chair with everything in the proper position, proper posture will come naturally. Old habits die hard, though. If you have been a lifelong sloucher, actively practice good posture until sitting in a body-friendly position becomes the new normal.
In addition to good posture, stretches will help your muscles and joints stay relaxed. While you may not be able to take frequent breaks for yoga exhibitions in the middle of your office, there are many simple stretches that you can do right at your desk. By just taking a couple minutes to do a few simple stretches without even leaving your chair, your body will be getting a break that it will be thankful for. Try stretching your legs out in front of you and reaching for your toes, or clasping your hands and reach them out in front of you with your head between your shoulders. Shoulder shrugs are also a great way to help ease tension in your neck and shoulders. When possible, get up and walk around - even if it’s just to the copy room. Remember, every little bit of movement is beneficial to your health.