Ergonomics At-Home with Team ROMBOT

Working from home can come with many challenges: kids interrupting Zoom calls, dogs barking at the mailman, partners on conference calls in the same room. Many of us were not expecting to work outside the office and have found ourselves curled up on our couches, and hunched over our laptops. Are you feeling increased lower back pain? Eye strain? Upper back knots? Wrist aches? Our team at ROMBOT is feeling the at-home strains ourselves. 

Ergonomics: What are they?

Ergo-what?!  Ergonomics consists of designing a work environment and associated equipment to specifically fit an employee so they can work in the best position possible. Using ergonomics, one can optimize their work equipment to best fit to prevent injuries and potential for repetitive strain from improper positioning. 

Ergonomics vs. Posture: What’s the difference?

By adjusting your work environment to better optimize your positioning, you can help support proper posture while sitting at a desk. Check out our article, 6 Benefits of Good Posture, for more information!

Annie, our ergo-expert, took a look at our at-home setups (including herself!) and how we are physically positioning ourselves. She also offered ways for our team to adjust to working at home.

Annie- DPT, Ergonomics Expert, Dog Lover: 

Annie changes her workspace throughout the day because she lacks a true desk in her one-bedroom apartment. As a former workplace ergonomist and lifetime physical therapist, she recommends moving and adjusting your position at least every hour! “When we move we get to reset our posture, get the blood flowing, and stretch our muscles.”

Work at-home from couch.
Annie, sitting on her couch while working.
Evaluation:
Pros:Cons:
– Shoulders are relaxed. 
– Supported lower back.
– Wrists are relaxed and supported on the laptop.
– Easy access to dog snuggles!
-Legs are crossed instead of flat on the ground.
-Eyes are angled down, with a slight forward bend in the neck.
Work at-home from coffee table.
Annie working at her coffee table.
Evaluation:
Pros:Cons:
– Screen height is closer to eye level. 
– The lower back is supported, though it’s definitely not “perfect.” 
– Elbows are not at the optimal 90-degree angle
– Bent wrists, with pressure point accentuated at the wrist joint.
This type of wrist position can lead to what ergonomists call “planting and pivoting,” which can irritate the wrist joint and forearm muscles.
– Her ear is not in line with her shoulder. 
– Eyes are angled down.
Standing desk with Ikea stool.
Annie uses an Ikea stool as a standing desk.
Solutions:

As an ergonomist, Annie suggests repositioning throughout the day.

  • She can stand while working on her laptop to break up positions.
  • Best practice: invest in a separate keyboard and mouse from the laptop and elevate the laptop screen using books, boxes, or a laptop riser. 
    • Sometimes Annie uses a stool from Ikea to make a mock standing desk at her kitchen table. 

Patrick: Back-End Development

Patrick spends most of his day at his at-home desk. Thankfully, he had this work set-up prior to shelter-in-place.

Sitting at desk at home.
Patrick working at his at-home desk.
Evaluation:
Pros:Cons:
– Monitor height allows for his eyes to fall at the top third of the screen
– Monitor distance is approximately one arm’s length away
– Shoulders are relaxed
– Back is fully supported by a supportive and adjustable chair
The chair supports Patrick’s back position, which is often recommended to encourage more aligned posture
– Elbows are bent more than 90 degrees
– Wrists are bent with the pressure point at the edge of the desk that may create planting and pivoting
– Laptop screen is too low, which creates a slight forward bending of the neck
Solutions:
  • Instead of using the laptop as a separate monitor, he could mirror the laptop screen to the external monitor and use the laptop as if it is an external keyboard, and a separate mouse to avoid looking down.
  • By raising the chair’s height or adding a pillow on top of his chair, he can relieve pressure on wrists.
    • The monitor height will feel lower so Patrick may need to place some large books or a riser underneath the monitor.
  • He should take a look at his chair adjustments; sometimes there are hidden adjustments that can make all the difference in providing more support.

Justine: ROMBOT’s Founder and CEO

At-home work space with large monitors.
Justine working at her desk at home.
Evaluation:
Pros:Cons:
– Supportive and adjustable chair
– The monitor is at an ideal height and distance if she is using it. 
– This workspace offers plenty of room and natural light! 
– Back is forward and rounded, ears not aligned with shoulders and hips because the chair is too low or the desk is too high and her shoulders are shrugged towards her ears.
– Her eye-line is angled down because she is using her laptop screen instead of the monitor.
The forward, rounded position forces her to rely on an additional pillow for lumbar support instead of the natural curvature built into the chair.
Solution:
  • Make a separate space for standing so that the standing desk doesn’t interfere with arm placement while sitting.
  • Use the monitor as a primary display by mirroring the laptop screen.
  • Move the laptop to the center of the workspace, in front of the monitor.
  • Raise the chair to achieve ideal desk height and raise the monitor to the correct eye level.
  • Remove pillow from the chair and assess available adjustments on the chair for lumbar support.
Portable standing desk.
Justine using her standing desk extension.
Evaluation:
Pros:Cons:
-Standing is a great alternative position to sitting. This adjustable standing desk allows for multiple users to benefit from a position change and also allows transitioning from standing to sitting quickly and easily.
Note the difference in Justine’s posture here compared to her sitting position:
– Her ear, shoulder, and hip are much more closely aligned despite looking down to her laptop screen
– Using the foam roller is a perfect standing “prop” and can actually help prolong comfort in standing
– Her eye-line is angled down, and the screen is too low.
Solution:
  • She can stand in this position for up to an hour and then adjust to sitting as a resting position. 
  • She can let her arms rest down by her sides when not actively typing to give the back of her wrists and forearms a rest from prolonged use.

Lorenzo: Data Expert, View Scouter 

Makeshift standing desk in front of view of San Francisco.
Lorenzo stares at San Francisco while he works from his standing desk.
Evaluation:
Pros:Cons:
– His standing desk is adjusted to a decent height for typing thanks to the additional boost he hacked together.
– The angle of the desk removes the pressure points from underneath Lorenzo’s forearms and places his computer screen at a slightly better viewing angle.
– The screen is too low
– He has slight shoulder elevation: he needs to compromise here between his neck and head angle and shoulder/elbow positioning
– This standing desk is great, but just like sitting, standing all day long without changing position isn’t recommended.
Solution:
  • He can stand for up to one hour, then switch his position to sitting for up to one hour, or sit in bed with his back up against a wall and a pillow supporting the laptop.  Everything in moderation!
  • While standing, Lorenzo can use the booster as a footrest.

Christian Nuss, Lead Engineer

Working while lying on stomach in prone position.
Christian is in a prone position while working on his laptop.
Evaluation:
Pros:Cons:
-This can be a good short term working position, but may not be for everyone.
– Hip flexors are getting a slight stretch.
– Upper back is in an extended position when it’s often flexed (forward-rounded).
– Computer too low compared to the neck.
– Potential for neck, lower back, and shoulder strain.
Solution:
  • Spend short periods of time in this position, ideally less than 20 minutes at a time.
  • Sitting up in a supportive chair with a monitor would be a great position to refresh. Essentially he should go for the opposite of what he was doing when he switches positions.

Are you having aches/pains you think are related to your home office set-up? Schedule a call for an assessment with one of our movement experts! Or download our workday stretch program in the ROMBOT App at Get.rombot.com.

Annie Kaferle, DPT,  previously worked with Facebook to create ergonomic standards, guidelines, and strategies via in-person and virtual ergonomic evaluations. She assessed in-office and at-home workspaces, providing employees with recommendations and strategies for injury prevention and mitigation.  

References:

Ellis, Ralph. (December 16, 2019). Blue light glasses- helpful or just hype. WebMD.  Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/eye-health/news/20191216/do-blue-light-glasses-work

Heiting, G. (February 2017). Computer ergonomics and healthy vision. All about Vision. Retrieved from https://www.allaboutvision.com/cvs/ergonomics.htm

Morley, D. (2015). Understanding Computers in a Changing Society. Cengage Learning. USA.

Leave a Reply