This is the final part of our in-depth series on how to set-up a laptop.
In Part 1 I looked on how to identify an ideal ergonomic set-up to lay the foundation of what a 'gold standard' set-up looks like.
In Part 2 I dug into the specific ergonomic risks involved with long-term laptop use (did these sound familiar to anyone?).
And, in this last post I will be sharing some solutions on how to look at the ergonomics of your set-up with the perspective of reducing the ergonomic risk. Interested? Scroll down for more!
The Office Ergonomics Gold Standard for just the laptop set-up is:
The main ergonomic risks associated with using a laptop for extended periods of time are:
This post is based off of a standard laptop set-up, where a laptop is placed on top of a desk. There are no 'extras', just the laptop... and maybe a cup of coffee. Based on this set-up the areas that we need to optimize ergonomically are:
If you use a laptop for prolonged periods of time or if the laptop is your main input source you'd definitely want to consider these.
Note: You don't necessarily need to buy all fancy equipment to improve your laptop set-up, but you may need to buy some. We'll walk you through different options and combinations, especially related to how you can save some cash.
If you use your laptop for prolonged periods of time then the screen needs to be at an ergonomic level, which is noted at the beginning of this post. There are a number of ways that you can do this:
Obviously this all depends on where you are working; working at a coffee shop will mean different solutions than working at an office. The key in whatever solution that you choose to go with is that the top of the screen (laptop or external monitor) must be positioned slightly lower than your seated eye height. Another word of caution here, if you end up choosing to go with a laptop stand or the make-shift option, since the entire laptop will now be positioned at a much higher level you will need to use an external keyboard and mouse. For ease of traveling, I tend to recommend wireless compact keyboards and mice. More on this in the next section.
Using a laptop's keyboard and mouse tends to result awkward postures that may not be appropriate for all users in addition to the longer reach distance to type. User preferences and the overall workstation set-up (see the above section) will also play a role in what input method work best for you. There are a number of options that are available and from an ergonomic perspective, if you are a long-term laptop user you should really invest in an appropriate keyboard for your needs and/or any discomfort that you are experiencing. There are many options out there and we have done many ergonomic reviews on keyboards and mice (see below). For instance, if you are someone who is larger than the average, you might find that a keyboard that flares outward really improves your comfort level.
One of the most important yet often overlooked risk factors for long-term laptop use is the hand working height. How many times have you walked into a coffee shop and noticed that every single person using a laptop is leaned forward to type? Probably very often. This puts a large amount of strain in the lower back. There are a couple of ways to improve your hand working height. These are:
Let's talk about the first option. Raising your chair height (if you have a pneumatic chair) to an appropriate level is a simple and straight forward option.
If you don't have access to a pneumatic chair, a make-shift solution is to place another cushion, blankets, etc. on the chair seat (aka seat pan) below your bottom that would raise you a little higher. Of course, this wouldn't be considered an ideal fix but in my opinion it is better than nothing!
The key thing for this approach is that your feet must always be in firm contact with the floor. So, if you end up needing to raise your chair to a higher level you must place something below your feet to reduce the strain on your lower back and improve your overall comfort. A footrest works great. I've worked with clients in the past who used stacks of printer paper (as a temporary solution) until they could order footrests for their staff.
Another, more expensive option is to install a keyboard tray. This would be appropriate for an office or somewhere that you have a vested interest in. With this strategy, you could either purchase a pre-fabricated keyboard tray (would likely cost more than $150) or a more 'make-shift' strategy (would likely cost less than $50). With the make-shift approach, the lowered work surface would be mounted below the desk/table with Keyboard slides. You would then need to get a work surface between the mounts/slides. You really have some flexibility here. It can be a shelf, scrap piece of wood from another project, a piece of wood from Home Depot, etc.
The way that you choose to transport your laptop can also contribute to ergonomic risk, notably in the shoulder area. This study found that 61% of participants reported discomfort with carrying their laptop. Technically speaking, a backpack would be considered the most ergonomic. A backpack evenly distributes the weight of the laptop (and accessories) between the two shoulders and usually has padded straps that helps even more to distribute the weight evenly.
But, realistically how many professionals would choose to carry a backpack with them everywhere they go? I would wager that this would be a very low percentage. A useful alternative would be to purchase a shoulder bag with wide and thick padding combined with a habit of switching between each shoulder whenever you carry it to further reduce the ergonomic risk to just one shoulder.
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