What is Workplace Ergonomics?

Workplace ergonomics is the study of people in their working environment (UNC, 2021). The purpose of workplace ergonomics is to optimise the functioning of a system by adapting it to human capacity and needs (Grandjean, 1988). More specifically, ergonomics is studying and modifying aspects of the work environment to fit the worker. This allows a worker to feel safe and comfortable at their workstation while minimising the risk of injury (UNC, 2021).

Due to COVID-19, many people quickly transitioned from working at the office to working at home. This quick transition meant that people’s homes weren’t adequately set up to allow for efficient ergonomics while working at a desk or table. The two main issues people have when organising their home office set-up are distractions caused by working from home, and desk chairs that offer inadequate support (Summers, 2020). 

When using a desk chair in your home office, if your chair does not offer adequate support, pain may arise. This may potentially lead to a musculoskeletal injury, lack of productivity, and fatigue and frustration for people working from home. Having a space that is suitably designed for you may lower injury rates and increase work productivity (Summers, 2020).

When selecting a chair to use in the home office, there are a few things to look for;

Height: The chair you select should be height adjustable. The proper seat height will ensure that you’re able to keep your feet flat on the ground. Preferably, your knees should be bent at a ninety-degree angle when sitting normally. 

Seat Cushion: Because you will likely be sitting in a chair for the majority of your workday, the seat cushion must be comfortable and supportive. Low-quality foam does not last long, so a chair with supportive padding should be chosen. Memory foam is the ideal pick when it comes to opting for a seat cushion. 

Seat Depth: An important but often overlooked characteristic of a supportive office chair is seat depth. If the seat is too short, your legs will become strained as they will not have enough support. If the seat is too long, you may be inclined to prop yourself forward, and this may have a negative impact on your lower back and may increase shoulder tension. To find the best seat depth when choosing an office chair, place two to four fingers between your knee and the edge of the seat. If you can fit your fingers in this space, this is an appropriate seat depth for your chair (UNC, 2021).       

Ideally, when working from home, there are also a few things to take into consideration when seated at a desk: 

  • Hands, wrists, and forearms are straight, in-line and roughly parallel to the floor.
  • Head is level, forward-facing, and balanced. Generally, it is in line with the torso.
  • Shoulders are relaxed and upper arms hang normally at the side of the body.
  • Elbows stay close to the body and are bent between 90 and 120 degrees.
  • Feet are fully supported by the floor, or a footrest may be used if the desk height is not adjustable.
  • Back is fully supported with lumbar support when sitting vertical or leaning back slightly.
  • Thighs and hips are supported and generally parallel to the floor.
  • Knees are about the same height as the hips, with the feet slightly forward.

To limit distractions when working from home, here are a few tips to consider;

Location: It’s important to not work in a central location. Try picking a spot that is a dedicated workspace, such as an office or an unused room. This way, when you log off from work at the end of the day, you can return to family life without having work still in sight. 

Bedroom: Avoid working from your bedroom. Working from your bed may decrease sleep quality, which may decrease work productivity, energy levels, and quality of life. People who work from their bed may find it hard to switch off at the end of the day, which may disrupt the peace of your most personal space, your bed. 

Multitasking: Avoid household chores during the workday. It may be tempting sometimes to get a head start on some tasks during the day. However, doing things like folding the washing while taking a conference call may lead to a decrease in productivity and focus. This is because your brain takes extra time to switch mental gears between tasks. 

Working from home may become a long-term option for many people, and some may find that they prefer it. The tips and tricks mentioned above should ultimately help people who are working from home to reduce potential musculoskeletal discomfort and increase workplace productivity. Remember, the benefits of ergonomics when applied in your workplace through using the right desk, chair, and sitting position, may improve your productivity, quality, and workday.


Grandjean, E. (1988). Fitting The Task To The Man (4th ed.) Taylor & Francis

Summers, K. (2020). Ergonomics 101: Working from home during Coronavirus. University of Nevada, Las Vegas: https://www.unlv.edu/news/release/ergonomics-101-working-home-during-coronavirus

University of North Carolina. (2021). Ergonomics. University of North Carolina: https://ehs.unc.edu/workplace-safety/ergonomics/

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