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Ryan E. Day

Health Care

Ergonomics and the Remote Worker, Part 2

To hunch over is human, to improve one’s work space is almost divine

Published: Thursday, April 26, 2018 - 12:03

So, the Quality Digest team is considering a transition to working remotely for the most part. I and two other associates already do. In part one of this series, I outlined my ad-hoc attempt at creating a computer work space at home. The result was not very pretty.

As I said in part one, my home office planning began with a Google search, but as Jennie Dustin managing consultant at Humantech Inc. says, “You can’t Google your way out of everything.”

Jennie may have a valid point, because even though I’ve had the freedom to set up my office work station, and now my home office, work related aches and pains continued. Again, Jennie sums it up succinctly;
“If people don’t know what good looks like, they may set up the way they like it, but that doesn’t mean it’s correct.”

Now, in Part 2, I’d like to share my adventures in rectifying the shortcomings of my area of operation (AO) with the help of Humantech’s office ergonomics self-assessment program called Ergopoint. Ergopoint tells me it’s all about relationships.

Ergopoint, “a web-based solution for managing ergonomics in non-industrial environments” generates a workspace improvement action plan based on answers to a workstation survey. The improvement plan is presented in a 1–4, top-to-bottom layout as seen below:
1. Head to source
2. Hands to devices
3. Body to chair
4. Feet to floor

“Typically, we have two approaches we can take,” explains Dustin. “We can either go at it starting with the feet and working our way up, or starting with the hands and working our way down. It really does depend, person to person what the tweaks are going to be to make sure their work space fits them properly.”

I’m not sure if the layout indicates a hierarchal order of priority, but I chose to begin my action plan with feet to floor because the desk I was using had a drawer right where my knees should be.

So, I figured to begin with a desk that was the proper height. Oddly enough, finding a desk short enough for me turned out to be a tall order.

Feet to floor
My quest for the perfect desk began, as usual, online. It seems that desk height is somewhat standard at 29–31 inches. My desk is on the short side at 29½ in. tall, but when I raise my chair to position my arms in a “neutral” position, my feet dangle and I would like them to rest on the floor rather than an old shoebox-cum-foot rest.

So, my search led to adjustable height desks, which is akin to falling into Alice’s rabbit hole. Adjustable sitting desks, sit-to-stand desks, tabletop sit-to-stand apparati, prices ranging from $239 to $1,000. Then there are external monitors and keyboards (because I’m working with a laptop), monitor risers and adjustable arms, laptop risers and arms, and, of course, foot stools because all the desks are too darn tall! In all fairness, I suppose using a keyboard tray would probably solve my hand-to-device issue, but I detest the rickety little work-around that has become the norm just because desk manufacturers can’t figure out that their desks are just too darn tall for most people.

I found that I had to first decide which avenue of improvement I would take to my home office makeover:
1. Sit desk with desk top stand-up apparatus (for standing)
2. Stand-up desk with tall chair (for sitting)
3. Sit-stand desk (for both)

After days of searching online, mind swimming with endless options and cost variables, I felt like finding a unicorn at a secondhand store might be more doable. So, on the way home from the office, I swung into one of our local new-to-me establishments and Eureka! I found a beat-up desk that is either a junior size or someone cut it down. Either way, it’s perfect as a test mule. Sooo… I brought it home.

Hands to devices
As it turns out, a short desk (without keyboard tray) and a standard adjustable computer chair solve both the feet-to-floor and hands-to-device issues. I scored a two-fer.

Head to source
There was also the issue of head to source to consider. If I raised my laptop screen to proper height, the keyboard was obviously out of proper alignment. I decided that my laptop screen was too small anyway. Sooo… I opted for an external monitor.

The new screen is almost too big, but for me, it’s a vast improvement. I will probably have to remove the top shelf because I would like the monitor to sit a few inches higher.

Although I’ve addressed my foot-to-floor, eye-to-source, and hands-to-devices issues, I have yet to address the sitting-only concern. Humantech weighs in on the side of sit-stand desks.

“We do recommend them if it is an option,” says Dustin. “However, that comes with a caveat. It’s important to have variety, to alternate between sitting and standing, because research shows that although it is hard on our body to sit all day, it’s also hard on us to stand without moving all day. Our recommendation is to have—and use—the option to sit or stand.”

As of this writing, I’m still chained to my chair while working. I’d like to insert an image of my brand-new sit-to-stand desk here, but I have yet to spring for that solution. In the meantime, standing and stretching often seem to be working out okay.

Bottom line
In ergonomics, whether at a computer station or on the shop floor, the bottom line is preventing injury, proper set-up of your personal work space, and good habits.

“One thing remote workers have to be careful of is that it’s very easy for us to get into bad habits,” warns Dustin. “By that I mean, sitting on the couch or sitting at the kitchen table or working with the laptop actually on your lap. As long as it’s for short periods of time, that’s fine. However, it’s too easy if your article is flowing and you get lost in the zone, and then suddenly two hours have gone by.”

It has also been my personal experience that certain exercises or movements can be invaluable aids in preventing musculoskeletal injuries. My preference is yoga movements that involve arched back and raised arms; think Warrior Pose and Downward Dog.

The cost of my little den of journalism so far?
• Vista 27-in. monitor: $139.41
• New laptop: $570
• Secondhand test-mule desk: $20
• Sharing a Downward Dog with Shadow Cat: priceless


About The Author

Ryan E. Day’s picture

Ryan E. Day

Ryan E. Day is Quality Digest’s project manager and senior editor for solution-based reporting, which brings together those seeking business improvement solutions and solution providers. Day has spent the last decade researching and interviewing top business leaders and continuous improvement experts at companies like Sakor, Ford, Merchandize Liquidators, Olympus, 3D Systems, Hexagon, Intertek, InfinityQS, Johnson Controls, FARO, and Eckel Industries. Most of his reporting is done with the help of his 20 lb tabby cat at his side.



Principle or principal ? Found in Author's credentials.

Nice catch

Thanks for catching that.