Thursday, January 18, 2007

Office Ergonomics - Part I

Recently I've done some research on office ergonomics and noticed there's quite a good deal of working habits that one should be aware of at work. I was quite surprised that I've been ignoring most of them in the past. Let me share some of them here and hope that they'll make your work life happier :)

(Disclaimer: I'm not an ergonomics expert so you're advised to seek opinions from the professionals if you're serious about it. In general, however, I believe my advice should be pretty useful :P)

Eyes, Neck
  • Your eye level should be aligned with or a little bit above the top of your monitor. As a result of that, your eyes gaze should be a little bit downward when you look at the screen.
  • The monitor should be an arm-length or a little more away from you. In other words, you should be able to just barely touch the screen when you stretch your whole arm.
  • You should tilt the monitor so that the screen doesn't have any glare coming from the light in your room. To better avoid the glare, the monitor should have a flat screen.
  • Blink more. People fail to do that when they're too concentrated on their work, but it'll dry your eyes and make them tired.
  • Your neck should be straight up but relaxed. If your chair has a neck rest you may lie against it when you're taking a rest. When you're working, however, you should be away from it.
  • If you need to type while you talk on the phone (like a technical support person), you should never cuddle the phone between your face and your shoulder. Instead, use a headset. Use a wireless one if you need to walk around to get stuff to answer your customer's questions.
Hands, Arms, Shoulders
  • Your shoulders should be relaxed. Your arms should be touching the sides of your body when you're typing. No, you shouldn't be resting your arms on the armrest of your chair when you're typing. You may use it as a pivot when you use your mouse though.
  • To make it possible for the armrest to be a pivot when you use your mouse, the armrest should be adjustable in width and height.
  • Your forearms should be around 100 degrees from your upper arms. That means they're a little bit below sea level.
  • Your fingers, wrists and forearms should be all aligned in a straight line. If you're bending your wrists upward it's not a correct posture.
  • The make the above statement possible, you will need a keyboard tray with an adjustable arm attached to the bottom of your desk like this one. Those horizontal sliding keyboard trays won't do the job.
  • Wrist rest is good for, as its name says, resting. When you're typing, your wrists shouldn't be touching the wrist rest. This will make you type faster and more accurate. (My personal experience!)
  • Your keyboard should be right in front of you. The letters "G" and "H" should be aligned with the middle of your chest.
  • This one is kind of obvious but quite some people can't do that: touch-type. If you can't do that I recommend a game called Typing of the Dead. This game greatly improved my typing posture, speed and accuracy :)
  • Learn more keyboard shortcuts to minimize the use of your mouse.
  • Your mouse should be as close to you as possible. You shouldn't need to stretch your arm to reach it. A good keyboard tray should have a turnable mousebridge that covers the ten-key pad (which you don't really use that often) and minimizes the distance between you and the mouse.
  • Move your whole arm when you move your mouse, don't twist your wrist. Your forearm and wrist should stay on a straight line. Bend your elbow if needed.
  • What if you need to use the ten-key pad all the time? If you can touch type, you can actually use the numbers in the first row of the keyboard instead of the ten-key pad. Experience tells me that using those numbers are just slightly slower than using the ten-key pad, especially if you need to type combinations of letters and numbers, in which case your right hand will need to move right and left if you use the ten-key pad.
Back, Hips, Feet
  • Your chair should have a comfortable lumbar support. (The thing that support your lower waist) Ideally, the lumbar support should be adjustable in height since the the position of the lower waist differ from one person to another.
  • You should be able to tilt the chair backrest and lock it at a certain angle. The angle between the chair backrest and the seat should be approximately 100 degrees so that you are leaning a little bit to the back.
  • The seat should be horizontal. The depth of the seat is good if there a one to two inches distance between the back of your knees and the edge of the seat.
  • Of course, the seat should be adjustable in height. The height of the seat is ideal if you can rest your feet horizontally on the ground.
Taking Breaks
  • Remember to take breaks. You should at least take a 30-second break every 30 minutes. Every hour you should stand up and walk around. Go use the restroom or get yourself some water. Do some stretching exercises, focus on those that move your body joints.
  • If you're very concentrated on your work, you will forget about time and taking breaks. So, there's software written for this purpose. Scirocco Take a Break is a very good and free software designed for this purpose.
Wow, that's such a big list there. I know you may say that I'm being unrealistic; why would there be any boss willing to spend all those money on providing such a perfect work environment to the employees? Well there is, my supervisor at UCLA is one example. I'll talk more about that in my next post, stay tuned :)