Office Ergonomics Part One: Setting Up Your Laptop As Your Desktop

This is Part One of a two-part piece about the proper ergonomic use of a laptop. Part One demonstrates how to set up a laptop as a full-fledged desktop computer without the pain and discomfort many people experience. Part Two provides recommendations for the ergonomic use of your laptop away from your desk.  On the road, in the airport or at your hotel there are a few simple things you can do to be a more comfortable and productive road warrior.

Sales of laptops have outpaced desktop computers for the last several years. Once thought essential only for the road warriors, laptops have made their way into the rest of the office.  But convenience can come at an ergonomic price.

While a laptop is very portable, it poses a range of ergonomic difficulties. Most critical is the fact that having the monitor and keyboard so close together makes it impossible to work in the proper posture. Another problem is the small size of the keyboard and mouse, which encourages the use of bad hand and wrist positions.  If you use a laptop as your primary computer and have it sitting on a desk, you need to make several adjustments:

• Attach a separate keyboard and mouse to the laptop, and put them on an external tray system that you can position at the appropriate height (not on your desk).

• Put the laptop itself on a stand, so you can raise the screen to the correct eye level.

• Tilt the screen up or down (or rotate left or right) to avoid glare.

Regardless of what type of monitor you use, you should position it to the correct level and distance. To maintain correct posture and proper head and neck position while seated at a computer, the top of the monitor screen should be at or just below your eye level. In addition, the monitor should be positioned about an arm’s reach from your face.  Note that this is the correct distance for most people.

You should adjust the position of your monitor as needed for comfortable viewing and focus. For instance, if you wear bifocals and look at the screen through your lower lenses, lower your monitor a bit and sit further back. As mentioned earlier, it’s also important to consider how the computer monitor and keyboard are positioned. In most office settings, the monitor should be aligned with the keyboard. Avoid setups in which you have to turn your head or bend your neck repeatedly to look at the monitor. For an external monitor the use of a monitor arm will allow you greater flexibility in positioning. Whatever type of monitor you use be sure to adjust the controls for brightness, contrast, etc. as needed for comfortable viewing.   Applying ergonomic principles in the workplace has two clear benefits:

• Preventing injuries

• Increasing productivity

Making ergonomic improvements will reduce the risks for repetitive stress injuries and eliminate or at least decrease their incidence in the workplace. In addition to safeguarding workers’ health and well-being, making ergonomic improvements will also decrease employee absenteeism and lower insurance and workers’ compensation costs. Even small improvements can bring about significant, measurable results  – as much as a 6 to 1 return on investment, according to some sources. This investment in safety is cost effective and applying ergonomics is good business.


Be sure to check back next week for Part Two: Office Ergonomics Using Your Laptop On The Road

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