Don’t sacrifice ergonomics, just because you’re working from home

I hear a lot of people say that they could never manage working out of their house—they say they’d never get anything done, too many distractions. For me, the opposite is true. During the day, I have the house to myself, which makes my current “office” the most spacious and luxurious I have ever had. Plus, I have much less distraction from others.

Whereas working in a more traditional office environment with fellow coworkers, I felt constantly distracted. I have a terrible time with background noise. Any time someone would have a conversation near my office (whether on the phone or in person) or any time someone decided to crank their Broadway show tunes (don’t ask), I could not tune it out. Eventually, I resorted to purchasing some rather expensive noise-cancelling headphones.

Poor Ergonomics = Less Productive Work

Years ago, when my son and oldest daughter were really young, we had a 3 bedroom house. One of the bedrooms was an office for me and I had the luxury of having a very cushy and “executive” looking office chair. I loved it.

Unfortunately, our cat loved it too. Within a couple months, the upholstery was shredded. So were my hopes and dreams of having a really nice office chair.

In setting up my office space at our current house, I opted for an inexpensive chair from IKEA with a hard plastic seat. I try to get up and move every hour or less, but still, I can’t handle more than about 4 hours a day working in that chair. The few times I have tried to put in longer days, my back hurts for days.

The other limitation that I have dealt with has to do with my computer itself. I love my MacBook Air that is now pushing two years old. With 8 GB of RAM and a super speedy 256 GB SSD, it has proven more than enough to handle my computing needs. The sacrifice in having such a small and light computer is that the screen is so small.

To make up for the small screen, I purchased a really nice 24-inch LED monitor. At 1920 by 1080 pixels, it is a full HD display. Unfortunately, by itself, the monitor just doesn’t have enough screen real estate for the heavy photo analysis, document review and research that I do on a regular basis. To address this issue, I set my MacBook Air on a stand next to the big monitor, and have made somewhat effective use of both screens for quite a while.

More is sometimes more…

I got a message from my family last week that my sister’s boyfriend was tired of stubbing his toe every day on a monitor he had laying around. As a product manager for a US-based technology firm, his job is to find cool hardware, and find manufacturers overseas that can reproduce the quality and functionality, at a significantly reduced price. Here is what he was stubbing his toe on:


That is a 30-inch monitor. Although it doesn’t sound like 30-inches is much bigger than 24-inches, it is like night and day when you actually sit behind such a large screen.

To put it into perspective, I ran some calculations and here is what I came up with:

  • My 24-inch monitor at 1920 by 1080 pixels has a total viewing area of 2,073,600 pixels
  • My MacBook Air screen at 1440 by 900 pixels has a total viewing area of 1,296,000 pixels
  • Together, when side-by-side in extended desktop mode, that’s a total of 3,369,600
  • The 30-inch monitor at 2560 by 1600 pixels has a total viewing area of 4,096,000 pixels
  • Therefore, the 30-inch monitor has nearly double the viewing area of my 24-inch monitor
  • More surprisingly, the 30-inch monitor has 20% more pixels than both the 24-inch monitor and the MacBook Air combined

For the first time in my life, I’m able to make use of a single monitor, without feeling that I am lacking for screen real estate. I can work on full HD Keynote presentations or edit HD video at 100% zoom and still have room left over on the screen.

Truly life-changing.

Better ergonomics: Staples made it “easy”

To cap it all off, on Friday I found an incredible deal on a nice office chair at Staples. This is what they call the Hyken model and besides being fully adjustable, it utilizes a wannabe Aeron mesh fabric. While that fabric is intended increase air circulation or something, the reason I chose it is that our cats are much less likely to use it as a scratching post when I’m not around.

The best part of buying the chair was the price. Through the end of March, Staples has a deal where the chair is only $129. Retail price is usually $199.

What’s the Point?

Bad ergonomics can lead to serious problems. I have been lucky to avoid serious damage from repetitive stress injuries by making smart choices about the equipment I use. I haven’t been able to avoid exacerbating back problems, because I was too cheap to buy a decent chair.

The net result of better ergonomics is that I can get more done, in less time, and without feeling serious discomfort. If you work in an office environment, your employer has an obligation to make sure that doing your job doesn’t result in unnecessary injury. When you work from home, you have an obligation to yourself to make sure that you aren’t causing yourself unnecessary risk of injury.

Plus, it just feels nice to work in a more comfortable environment.