Set up an ergonomic home office on a budget

white chair and desk in a well-lit room

Regular subscribers may remember reading about Remote CEO Job’s highly optimized home office a few weeks ago. It’s always nice to have a LEGO Millennium Falcon to keep you company, and personal touches are great for home office mental health.

If you’re more concerned about your physical well-being, though, you may need to make some more practical adjustments to your work environment.

Top-of-the-line chairs and other ergonomic home office luxuries can provide real benefits to their users, but not everyone can afford to drop a few thousand dollars on equipment. Further, many remote workers operate from places other than home (especially remote work nomads). Whether you’re a carefree spirit on the go, a seasoned remote veteran, or a work-from-home newbie, you deserve healthy, sustainable comfort in your work space.

Address these areas to create all the ergonomic advantages your home office needs.

Seating

Nice chairs are nice, but not essential. Chairs under $200 offer plenty of support for people who spend a lot of time sitting down. If that’s still too steep, ask your company to help you with the cost — home office stipends are one of the most-wanted remote work benefits, according to our Global Workforce Revolution Report. Employers should make it a priority to ensure their teams have everything they need to function at a high level.

Those with zero budget can still make their current chairs work, although a good chair remains one of the best investments any remote worker can make. Use a small pillow to create some lumbar support. A rolled-up towel can substitute in a pinch.

Regardless of how you sit, remember to stand up and stretch regularly. Sitting down too long, no matter how comfortable the chair, can lead to significant health problems.

Monitor

You can have a massive screen or a tiny one, but when it comes to your monitor, positioning is more important than any measurements of display quality. I recently said goodbye to a Dell monitor I had been using for 15 years, but because I kept it at a reasonable height and distance, I never suffered from anything other than outdated specs.

Your computer monitor should sit about an arm’s length away from your eyes at a height that does not require you to crane your neck to view the entire screen. That goes for laptops as well. Remote nomads who find themselves working on all sorts of desks and surfaces should make a habit of using books or laptop stands to avoid hunching over to see the screen.

Anyone with an established home office should use two monitors if possible. The extra screen space can make a massive difference in productivity. Keep your primary monitor directly in front of you instead of placing the divide between monitors in the middle of your desk. That way, you can keep your head forward the majority of the time.

Peripherals

Repetitive motion injuries can go from bad to worse if you fail to address the root cause. You spend all day using your mouse and keyboard, so it’s critical to ensure you do not feel any discomfort while using peripheral devices. If you catch yourself regularly popping joints or massaging tender areas, take action quickly to avoid making the problem worse.

Ergonomic keyboards can be expensive, but if you have the budget, it may be worthwhile to spend some cash on a custom setup that works for your hand positions. You should at least invest in wrist cushions for both your keyboard and mouse so that you never have to hinge your hands upward to type or navigate.Try to keep your wrists straight and facing forward as much as possible to avoid problems.

For peripherals that do not involve your hands, listen to your body. I found an enormous difference in comfort by switching from on-ear to over-the-ear headphones, for example.

Desk

Some people use the kitchen table for a remote work desk. Nomads often use sofa cushions, coffee tables, restaurant booths, and whatever else happens to be available. Your choice of desk is important, especially if you work at the same workstation every day. 

Select a desk that makes it easy to keep your chair, monitor, and peripherals at the proper heights and distances. Don’t skimp on legroom, either. A desk with a closed back may force you to squeeze your legs inward, which can cause circulation problems over time.

Remember your feet as well. If you can’t keep your feet flat on the floor beneath your desk, use a footrest or other tool. I keep a foam roller beneath my desk, which not only helps me alleviate tightness in my lower legs after runs but also helps me maintain good posture.

Standing desks can be helpful tools, but don’t be fooled by clever marketing. Standing all day is not better than sitting down all day — ask anyone who has worked in retail or food service. If you do use a standing desk, switch from sitting to standing every half hour or so to keep circulation flowing while providing your body with the rest it needs. Switch any time your muscles or joints feel tired or tight.

Field of view

You may consider the view while working from home to be a luxury, but in truth, providing yourself more visual stimulation carries physical as well as psychological benefits.

Think about how the lighting in your space affects the way you view the screen. You may be an advocate for dark mode, but if you have a bright window behind your desk, the contrast could cause unnecessary eye strain. Adjust your brightness and settings accordingly. You can always add a cheap lamp to your space to provide some extra illumination.

Keep the 20-20-20 rule in mind as well. Every 20 minutes, focus your vision on something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This practice can help you avoid vision problems and headaches that result from staring too closely at a screen for too long. Plus, it’s a great excuse to set up your workstation next to a window or another spot with a view of the outdoors.

Exercise and movement equipment

You don’t have to be an athlete to move your body. Whether you’re in great shape or you haven’t exercised seriously since high school, get something in your office that encourages you to move around once in a while. Taking regular breaks from your desk to move your body in new ways leads to a variety of health benefits.

Many people who work at Remote have exercise bikes in their homes for this reason. At least one of us uses a rowing machine. I keep a pull-up bar over the closet door, which I try to use a few times a day. Even when I don’t feel like doing pull-ups, hanging from the bar for a few seconds is a great way to relieve pressure on the spine after sitting down for too long.

The best exercise equipment is the equipment you like. Don’t get caught up in debates of stair climbers versus treadmills versus standing bikes versus yoga mats. Pick something that helps you participate in an activity you enjoy, listen to your body, and make it easy for yourself to move when you want to.

Beyond the office

People spend a lot of time looking at screens, both at work and at leisure. Carry these ergonomic lessons into other areas to protect your body and mind from the wear and tear that comes with everyday living. Think about how you hold your phone, where you position your television, and the posture you use while reading. A few small adjustments to your daily habits can provide lifelong benefits.

Low-budget ergonomics are far more about practices than products. You can be kind to your body in even the cheapest chair and with the most basic levels of equipment, and people who practice bad habits with expensive equipment suffer the consequences all the same. Remote workers must take their ergonomic wellness into their own hands, so take the initiative to create a better space for yourself and don’t be shy about asking your company for a little help.

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