Recently, I met with Erinn Dailey of Humanscale, a company that manufactures office essentials built to keep the body in healthy alignment. Dailey had just set up a client of mine with an ergonomically-correct computer station complete with a buttery faux leather chair and a massaging foot rest. I never knew ergonomics could look so good.
Angela Hoxsey: OK, here’s my desk. Where do you start?
Erinn Dailey: First we measure the desk. The standard desk is 29 inches high, which is perfect if you are 6 foot 3 inches. Humanscale products make the standard desk work for everyone else. The chair is crucial, then we add a keyboard tray, adjust the monitor height and add some amazing task lighting.
AH: What kinds of things should we look for in a desk chair?
ED: Start by making sure your feet are firmly on the floor. Don’t raise your chair to solve a high desk problem, you’ll end up on your tip toes or crossing your legs, both of which impede blood flow.
AH: Is the famously ugly Aeron Chair a good one?
ED: Not from our perspective, since it lacks a seat pan depth control, an adjustable backrest height, and uses high stretch mesh, which provides less support than foam backrests or alternative mesh designs. It’s also quite complicated to adjust and use, so it’s rarely adjusted properly for most users. The Aeron chair has become a status symbol however, and some people continue to love the look.
AH: A lot of people are sitting on those big exercise balls. Are those ergonomically correct?
ED: Absolutely not. The claim is that you’ll strengthen your core musculature throughout the day with the constant effort to stay seated on the ball. Over the course of an eight-hour work day it’s really tough on the body to sit that way. Stability balls are best left at the gym and used as part of an exercise regimen, not as a replacement for an adjustable task chair.
AH: What is the most common mistake people make when setting up their desk?
ED: Monitor placement. People place their monitors too high, too low, too far, too close. It’s an easy fix. They should be positioned about an arm’s length away from the user with the top of the monitor at or just below eye level.
Keyboard placement is another common mistake. With the keyboard positioned on top of the desk, you’re forced to lean forward to type, which puts you into a ‘computer hunch’ and takes you away from any benefit you’ll get from your chair’s backrest. So, having an articulating keyboard support is critical. It allows the keyboard to hover just above your lap, so you can lean back in your chair while you type.
AH: I noticed my forearms and hands tingle if I write at my computer for very long.
ED: Exactly, that is from the contact stress of resting your forearms on the edge of your desk while you type — you’re putting pressure on the ulnar nerve, which is in the crease of the elbow.
AH: How long do you have to sit at a poorly set-up desk before you start feeling the ill effects?
ED: Discomfort can set in for some people after just an hour of computer use. Injury rates among intensive computer users tend to be quite low, less than two percent, whereas discomfort tends to be quite high, more than 50 percent. Of course, you want to be proactive and take care of the discomfort before it becomes chronic pain.
AH: What is the worst set-up you’ve ever come across?
ED: Well, we’ve seen it all, as I’m sure you have as an organizer. I’d say the worst case was someone working from a beanbag chair on the floor with the keyboard in her lap and the monitor up on a 30” desk. Talk about neck strain!
AH: Is there a tool you offer that people wouldn’t usually think of in terms of ergonomics?
ED: A lot of times people don’t consider the lighting at their desk to be that important, since the computer monitor is lit. Lighting also needs to be tailored to the individual — we need a lot more light at age 50 than we do at 25. Also, you need to be able to easily adjust the position of the light for various tasks. It makes a huge difference in a work area’s ergonomics — all of a sudden eyestrain and headaches are a thing of the past.
AH: How much does it cost, on average, for someone to get their desk ergonomically correct?
ED: The chair is the most expensive piece of the puzzle, but the other elements are quite affordable. It is definitely an investment—your readers can check out our website, www.humanscale.com, for more information.
Lots of changes for the better can be made for free — stop crossing your legs at your desk, find a chair that allows you to plant your feet firmly on the floor or get a little foot rest, and get your monitor up to eye level and at a comfortable distance.
AH: Erinn, thanks for all this great info and for letting me test the gorgeous aubergine faux suede Freedom chair. It just went to the top of my Christmas wish list!