Creating an Ergonomic Workspace at Home During COVID-19

Desk with a computer and lamp in a home office.

Many people are working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic and may be missing the ergonomic workspace they had in their office.


“Not all of us have a dedicated home office that is set up with the same ergonomic tools as our office at work,” says Lisa Golden, a Scripps physical therapist who specializes in ergonomics. “If you don’t have a desk at home, try to find a dedicated workspace. A card table and dining chair can even work if set up right.”


You will want to design a home workspace that promotes good posture and movement to help you prevent neck and back pain as well as eye strain if you work in front of a computer screen for extended periods of time.


You will need a few basic things, but many can be improvised as needed to create an ergonomic workspace at home. "The goal is to be in a neutral posture with good support for most of your workday," Golden says.


Follow our ergonomic tips to help make working from home as comfortable and productive as possible for you.

Ergonomic seating

The backrest of the chair should firmly support you in an upright position. The lumbar support should be in the small of your back, with the backrest positioned to allow your hips to be at a 90- to 110-degree angle. Sit to the back of the chair for best support and avoid flexing your low back or slouching.


The seat of your chair should comfortably support your thigh, while allowing you to place two-to-three fingers between the edge of the chair and your calf.


Your feet should be firmly supported on the floor or a footrest to provide you with a good base of support for your whole body, including your arms.


If your workspace doesn’t feel like it’s doing all the above, don’t worry – here are a few ways to improvise your situation to help get the best position possible.


How to improvise:


  • Use an additional backrest for improved support and/or to shorten the functional depth of the chair.
  • Use firm pillows behind your back for support, or a pillow with a small rolled towel placed in the pillowcase for the small of your back.
  • Use a solid box, kids step stool, or turned over storage container to support feet.

Desktop ergonomics

Your shoulders should be relaxed with elbows near the side of your body. It is fatiguing to the arms to hold them in a forward position and requires more work from your back to support them. If you use armrests, they should lightly support your arms and be positioned near the same level as the keyboard and mouse.


The keyboard should be placed at approximately elbow height. The elbow should be at a 90- to 110-degree angle. Raise chair so elbows are near keyboard height.


How to improvise:


  • Use a seat cushion(s) to elevate you so your elbows are near desktop height.

Wrist positioning

Your wrists should be in a neutral position while typing and using the mouse. A wrist rest can be used to help you position properly but should not be used to plant your wrists while you are typing. “Planting your wrist on any surface increases the pressure inside of your wrist and increases muscle tension in the forearm,” Golden says.


The mouse should be placed next to the keyboard within a comfortable reach. Be sure not to extend your arm to reach the mouse. Your shoulder and elbow angles should remain the same as when you are typing. If you have a standard mouse, allow your hand to relax over the mouse and use your whole arm to move the mouse, not just your wrist.


How to improvise:


  • A rolled washcloth or small hand towel can work as a wrist positioner. Just place it above the wrist crease to ensure your wrists are neutral.

Computer monitor ergonomics

The top quarter of the monitor should be at eye level and at least arm’s length distance away. “The natural position for the eyes looking forward is slightly down, so this monitor positioning will allow for your comfortable vision to be in the ‘working area’ of the screen,” Golden says. 


If you wear bifocals or progressive lenses, you may need the monitor to be lower. You should not have to tilt your head back to read the screen. If you use two monitors equally, place them in an “open book” position as far away as is comfortable so your neck remains neutral.


Ideally the monitor should be at a 90 degrees angle to any large window. If not possible, adjust your blinds as needed to control outside light.


How to improvise:


  • Place monitor on a stand or other options, such as bound reams of paper or hardcover books. Do this also for notebooks or laptops.

Notebooks

Notebooks or laptops are meant for portability and are not ideal for long-term use as you can’t separate the keyboard from the screen.


How to improvise:


  • Use a separate standard sized keyboard and mouse for best upper extremity positioning.

Importance of standing and stretching

If you wish to alternate sitting with standing while working, the above recommendations for desktop, wrist positioning and monitor remain. You can set up at a kitchen counter or other higher counter in your home environment and modify with boxes or turned over storage containers. This should be an alternate to sitting, and not for all day.


“The body is not designed to sit all day,” says Golden. “Make sure to take stretch and eye rest breaks regularly throughout the day. Do stretches slowly and in a comfortable range of motion. Get up and move around when you can, walk or exercise to rest your body and your mind.”