working habits Oct 31, 2018

This post is all about sitting! For the majority of offices today sitting-only desks are still the only option despite the ultra-popularity of standing desks. This could be because of tight budgets… Or maybe there’s a fear that if one person in the office gets a standing desk everyone else would want them too, creating a tidal wave of desire. Does that sound familiar to you? It can be both difficult and expensive to accommodate everyone’s wishes. But, here’s the thing: if we’re so heavily focused on the idea of standing desks have we neglected those who sit all day? There are still a TON of people who must sit all day in their office jobs so there is still a HUGE opportunity to make sitting great again! And, what I mean by this is making it comfortable, pain-free, and just really awesome.

For many, just adjusting the sitting desk may be exactly what they needed in the first place. I think to make sitting great again we’ll need to focus on adjusting their overall workstation to fit them like a glove, put in place a really well thought-out break schedule (to limit prolonged sitting risks), and lastly get hot standing-desks as an option for good measure for those who would like to stand every so often. Check out the full post below to get all the details of how to do it.



STEP 1: Making The Workstation Fit Like A Glove…

If you are new to ergonomics, here’s a good analogy of what an optimized desk set-up feels like: it’s kind of like sliding your hand into a really really nice glove. Just like the glove, when you slide into your workstation everything is adjusted and arranged to fit you perfectly. Working is effortless and things like your monitor, keyboard position, and chair adjustments are exactly where they need to be. During work you can easily focus on what work needs to be done instead questioning what may need to be adjusted and/or if you are exposing yourself to any ergonomic risk.

To make sure everyone’s set-up fits them like a glove, here are some things to keep in mind. Firstly, there will be a lot of very minor adjustments required to fine tune each workstation to its user. I’ll outline some tips in this section. Another key aspect is adjusting the chair and here’s a couple of things to consider. Adjusting chairs can seem a little overwhelming at first but it’s not too difficult once you know what you are doing. The thing is that there’s just too much information that I could put into this post. 

The KEY Things To Setup A Sitting Desk To Fit You Like A Glove Are…

Resting Eye Height: There needs to be relaxed neck muscles when the person is looking at their computer screen. To do this the top of the screen needs to be slightly lower than the seated eye height (when comfortably seated in their adjusted chair). Here’s another pro-tip that I think is simple but super value-added: the monitor should be tilted upwards at about 15 degrees for extra comfort when viewing the monitor.

Resting Elbow Height: The neutral elbow height needs to be slightly higher than the work surface height; meaning the keyboard, mouse, and desk height all need to be slightly lower than the resting (and most comfortable) elbow position. With a comfortable elbow position, the person shouldn’t feel any discomfort in their shoulder area too. This may mean that the chair needs to be raised or lowered, depending on the workstation set-up.

Back Comfortably Resting In the Backrest: The user’s back should always be comfortably resting on the backrest of the chair with special attention to the fit between their lower back (aka lumbar area) and the chair’s lumbar support (convex shaped) area. To get a good fit you may need to raise or lower the backrest and adjust the pressure in the lumbar support (if the chair has this). Additionally the backrest angle is important for long-term comfort.

Feet On The Floor: The feet should be flat on the floor. To do this, the chair height can’t be too high or too low relative to the workstation and the stature of the person. Here’s another pro-tip, this is where using a footrest comes in handy if there is a gap between the floor and the feet.

STEP 2: Limiting Long-Term Sitting…

As mentioned above, addressing prolonged sitting is one of the steps to make sitting great again! If you have ever heard of the ‘sitting is the new smoking’ slogan, this step addresses it. It’s important to note that even with the best ever ergonomic set-up, if that work position is held for a long time, you would be putting that person at risk in developing back pain or other negative and chronic health consequences.

Before jumping into detailed guidelines and schedules let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture as to why this Step is so important (and all workplaces should be doing this). According to most occupational health and safety legislations around the world both employers and workers have a duty to either eliminate or minimize occupational risks as long as it is reasonable. There are some practical guidelines that I’ll share with you below that limit the risks related to prolonged sitting. These general tips all have to do with reducing the overall sitting time by regularly interrupting sitting with other activities like standing and walking, etc.

As an Employer here is what you NEED to do:

  • Provide information and training to workers to help protect them from the risks associated with excessive sitting.
  • Monitor workers and the workplace to help prevent harm from excessive sitting.

For Workers, this is what you NEED to be aware of:

  • Be aware of sitting and its potential harm.
  • Take care to not adversely affect sitting or that of other people in the workplace.
  • Cooperate with organizational policies and instructions to minimize excessive sitting at work.

General Tips of How To ACTUALLY Reduce Prolonged Sitting. 

The tips below are kind of like a playbook of what your daily tactics can be to limit prolonged sitting:

  • Design the workday to ensure that there is alternation between sitting, standing and walking.
  • Break up long periods of sitting as often as possible.
  • Organize walking meetings!
  • Ensure a standing-friendly culture is promoted and supported and encourage colleagues to stand during meetings.
  • All staff should be encouraged to stand up and move around whenever possible. There may be some operational flexibility required and encouraged.
  • Walk over and talk to colleagues instead of emailing or calling them.
  • Step outside for fresh air.
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Use an active way of commuting to work (walk or ride a bike, stand up in the train, or stand up to wait for your train/bus). Here is something interesting to think of: even if you do more than the recommended amount of physical activity every week, you will still benefit from minimizing time spent sitting each day.


Research suggests that although excessive sitting is generally believed to be harmful, a difference in risk may exist when a certain amount of sitting time is accumulated continuously in a single long bout as compared to intermittently in short interrupted periods. Here are just a few general schedules that you can use to limit prolonged sitting (and the negative health affects!).

  • Shorter breaks if taken more frequently and longer breaks if taken less frequently: “two to three minutes in each 15-20 min’, ‘five minutes in each 30 min’ or ‘10 min in each hour’ or timed to match a natural break or change in the work’
  • Specific targets for accumulating at least 2 h per day of standing and light activity and that this should eventually be progressed to a total accumulation of 4 h per day.

STEP 3: Hot Desks As An Option!

Standing workstations can be expensive, especially when thinking of purchasing one for every employee in the office. Hot desks are a way to introduce standing desks and give staff an option to limit prolonged sitting especially if your workplace is on a budget! Using hot desks is a reasonable compromise that gives employees a standing option while not affecting their productivity. 

These desks should be:

  1. Located in an easy-to-access area.
  2. Be fully equipped so staff would only be required to sign-in to the terminal or dock their laptops.

Here’s another thing to keep in mind when discussing standing hot-desks: we need to limit prolonged standingIs there a ‘cut-off’ for a safe standing duration? This is a very common question that I get asked so I decided to share my solution here. I think the best strategy on the market today for recommending optimal standing durations is with the Prolonged Standing Strain Index. It classifies exposure into one of three zones:

  • The ‘Safe’ Category (lowest ergonomic risk): Standing continuously for less than 1 hour AND for a maximum of 4 hours total throughout their shift.
  • The ‘Slightly Unsafe’ Category (moderate ergonomic risk): Standing continuously for more than 1 hour OR more than 4 hours total throughout their shift.
  • The ‘Unsafe’ Category (highest ergonomic risk): Standing continuously for more than 1 hour AND more than 4 hours total throughout their shift.

Like this article? Please share!

Note: This post was influenced with this article.


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