When working from home, are you guilty of logging onto your computer from the dining table? Or worse still, your lounge or the floor? As we head back to work for another year, getting your office ergonomic set-up right is crucial in ensuring overall good body health. From your posture to vision and beyond, having a workspace that’s comfortable, supportive and expert-approved is the smart choice when it comes to your wellbeing.

Many workplaces and employees are now settled into flexible working models, allowing for working-from-home set-ups. In fact, hybrid working is so highly valued that almost all workers (94 per cent in a June 2023 Taking The Pulse of the Nation survey) would like to work at least part of their work hours at home, and 64 per cent would like an arrangement where they work both at home and the office. Which means a good work-from-home set-up is essential to not only producing your best work, but keeping bad backs, stiff joints and strained eyes at bay. And that’s where office ergonomics come in.

Ergonomics is broader than hydraulic desks or desk chairs that resemble pretzels. In fact, the field of ergonomics is a combination of various disciplines, including psychology, physiology and design, and, according to the International Ergonomics Association, its raison d'être is “to optimise human wellbeing and overall system performance”. Essentially, it’s to ensure the best physical and mental outcomes for humans in the workplace. This is what you should look for in a home-office set-up, from chairs and desks to natural light and fresh air. 

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Choosing a Desk

A person standing up uses a laptop and keyboard on a sit-stand desk to highlight the importance of office ergonomics. 

These days, desks range from simple structures – four legs and a flat top – to complex electronic contraptions that move up and down (aka sit-stand desks), allowing the user to sit or stand at will. Make sure your legs fit easily under the desk without knees, thighs or feet hitting anything. If it’s too high and can’t be adjusted, raise your chair and add a footrest.

Stephen Hehir, from the Human Factors & Ergonomics Society of Australia, notes that it hasn’t been proven that standing for long periods is any more beneficial than sitting, so a combination of the two may be the best option. “Substituting all sitting for standing brings its own health risks,” he says. “Don’t swap one for the other, but try to go from sitting to standing regularly.”

Monique Tanner, a physiotherapist from Movement 101 in Sydney, agrees. “The good thing about standing desks is that most are adjustable, so you can swap between sitting and standing regularly throughout the day,” she says. “I usually recommend one hour standing and one hour sitting and alternating throughout the work day.”

This sleek high-tech Matrix desk lifts and sinks electronically to easily take you from sitting to standing, and is programmable so you can maintain the same sit and stand heights. 

What to Try

Choosing a Chair

Stephen says the most important thing to look for in a work chair is adjustability. A key element of ergonomics is the idea that one size does not fit all. You’ll need a chair with variable seat height, armrest height, seat tilt and back tilt, so you can adjust it according to your own comfort. The curve of the spine should be supported, with both feet able to rest flat on the floor (or on a footrest). 

Stephen explains the seat should be tilted slightly – about 105 degrees – to help take pressure off the lower back. A high, supportive seat-back can help with this, too. “Rough enough is good enough,” he says. “It’s not an exact science, it’s about having a chair that enables a range of movement so that you feel comfortable.”

Slippery floors at home? There’s a solution for that. “If you have a hardwood floor, consider braked rollers on the chair so that it doesn’t roll away when you stand up – and you don’t end up on the floor,” suggests Stephen, who also recommends looking for a chair with Australasian Furnishing Research and Development Institute (AFRDI) approval.

“Chairs rated by the AFRDI will have a robustness about them,” he says. “The AFRDI does rigorous testing to make sure they’re not going to break, and that they meet certain anthropometric standards.” Stephen adds that an AFRDI Level Six rating is ideal for offices where the chair may be used by many different people, but for home use a Level Four is fine and should be appropriate for individuals up to 110 kilograms. 

What to Try

Hot Tip: Check out Officeworks’ ergonomic furniture selection to help find the right chair and other products, including ergonomic accessories, such as backrests and footrests, plus other equipment, such as mouse pads, keyboards and wrist rests – for your needs.

SEE ALSO: How to Assess Your Home Office Ergonomics

Choosing the Right Keyboard and Mouse

Close-up of a hand holding an upright ergonomic mouse. 

According to Safe Work Australia, the ideal position for the top of your computer monitor is at or below eye height. “For anything other than occasional laptop use, always use a laptop stand and an external keyboard and mouse,” says Stephen. “And if you’re doing a lot of detailed spreadsheet work, get a larger external monitor.

“For sore shoulders from mouse-work – prolonged reaching to use the mouse – try using a short keyboard (no numeric keypad) and move the mouse nearer to you with the upper arm closer to the body.”

What to Try

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Where to Position Your Equipment

There’s more to consider than desks and chairs when setting up an ergonomic home office space. Consider the equipment you use: desktop, tablet, laptop? Do you look at papers or books frequently? What kind of work do you do: largely typing, or more time using a mouse or stylus

Work out what you’ll be doing most in the space and customise your set-up accordingly. Consider the position of everything and make sure items used regularly are in easy reach. Stand up to reach any items that may be farther away instead of staying seated and awkwardly stretching. 

Place your desk near a window if possible, for natural light and air, but don’t have the desk directly in front of the window. “Sitting side-on to a window is a better option,” says Stephen, explaining that it reduces glare and eye-strain. “You want the light to wash in from the side rather than front-on, and every now and then you can stop and look out the window.”

Likewise, desk lamps that diffuse the brightness to wash light from one side to another will better prevent eye-strain than harsh overhead lights, advises Stephen.

Moving Your Body

A woman stretches her leg on a table to demonstrate moving at regular intervals throughout the working day

“Sitting is fine,” says Stephen. “Prolonged sitting is not.” The only sure-fire way to avoid sitting-related injuries? Get up and move around, regularly. If you have pain associated with sitting, it’s not necessarily the way you’re sitting but the fact you’re sitting for long periods. So while sitting in a supportive chair and standing intermittently to work are both good, nothing will make up for getting up and moving during your work day. 

“I usually recommend that every 20 to 30 minutes you should be up and moving,” says Monique. “Getting up to use the bathroom, make a cup of tea, go for a short walk or to complete a couple of stretches – it all counts.”

She also recommends incorporating a few easy yoga- and- pilates-based exercises such as cat-cows or book openings into your day. “However, simple, regular movement will suffice, whether it’s just standing up or moving the neck from side to side and up and down.”

SEE ALSO: The Importance of Ergonomics for Wellbeing

This article was originally published in 2020 and has been updated.