Productive Healthy Office Work – The Set Up

Man sitting ergonomically in front of computer

Home to Set Up an Ergonomic Office Workstation:

Some people walk away from a day at the office feeling energised and pain free. Others trudge away feeling achey and drained. How you set up your office workstation is a big factor in that. Not sure what you are supposed to do? Check out our free five minute video on office set up.


watch video button ergonomic assessment phw group

Also review the key elements to good ergonomics as outlined below.

Ergonomic Chair Set up

The chair you sit on at work is an important choice. Some chairs allow us to sit comfortably and supported with little strain on our back and neck. Others encourage us into awkward postures – the most common being the forward head posture or “turtle neck” which is a common contributor to back aches, neck pain and head aches.

Ensure your chair has these key features:

  • It allows you to recline slightly back (10-20 degrees)
  • The seat pan fits you (especially shorter people)
  • It has good solid back support (ideally right up to the top of the shoulder blades)
  • Feels solid yet comfortable
  • The wheels move easily on the surface you are on (but not too easily!)
  • Allows the ideal height for your legs
  • You know how to use the levers to set it up well


Are arms on the chair bad?

Not if they don’t get in the way of a comfortable set up. Some old fashionedchairs have large fixed arms which don’t allow you to get close enough to the desk. Chairs with that problem are not ideal.

Why get a comfortable chair when sitting too long is bad for you?

My belief on this is that you can have the best of both worlds. You shouldn’t need to be uncomfortable and unsupported in your chair just so you are getting up regularly to stretch your aching back. You can have a good chair that supports you well and reduces aches and pains, as well as having good habits of movement and posture variation at work. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

Are chairs that move better than fixed chairs?

Chairs that allow some rocking forwards and backwards movement can potentially be helpful in preventing you from being too stationary during the day as they allow a little movement and circulation. The key is to ensure it still supports your spine enough to allow you to rest back in it and stay there. Many of the chairs coming out now are focused so much on the ability to move that they compromise the ability to feel supported. The result can be that you are encouraged to sit forward as sitting back in the chair doesn’t feel safe and secure. Back to the turtle neck issue again.

What seat pan depth is ideal?

Ideally the seat pan supports 90% of your thigh and leaves a small gap between the back of your knee and the front of your chair seat pan. The average seat pan depth is around 46 cm. A seat pan that is slightly too small is not ideal but usually not a big deal. However, a seat pan that is too big can be a significant problem as it may prevent you from sitting back in your chair and supporting your spine. The result can be that without this support gravity then encourages you to slump forward. Back to the turtle neck issue again.

Ergonomic Desk Set up

Having a desk that suits you and the work you do is important. Everyone has an ideal desk height for sitting and standing. The average for sitting is around 70 cm and for standing around 105 – 110cm. It’s increasingly affordable to get sit to stand desks that are electronically controlled, have the whole desk raise and lower and cover a good height range that means you can sit and stand comfortably at your ideal height. These desks vary in design but typically look like this one below.

There are still many people using the types of sit to stand desks that sit on top of a fixed desk. PHW Group are not advocates of these for a number of reasons including:

  • A significant reach is required to move these up and down
  • The spring assistance for the action of lifting and lowering has improved over the years but in our opinion is still not sufficient. Thus, a moderate force is required to use these which is risky for some.
  • Taller people are not usually able to get these high enough for comfortable use
  • Cords can become jammed
  • The design does not allow you enough room for supporting forearms when keyboarding in either the sitting or the standing position

These model types can be very well marketed and may look like a simple solution, but are out dated and awkward to use in our view.

If this type of desk is the only option for you there are some reasonable models shown on our recommended equipment list. These are the same price as the Varidesk but have better designs that are safer and more functional to use. There is always some compromise with these compared to the ease and versatility of a desk that fully raises and lowers.

When looking for an ideal desk look for these key features:

  • Right height for you for both sitting and standing.
  • Able to be set to these heights using memory control
  • Adequate space
  • Sturdy feel

For those who haven’t got access to a sit to stand desk it’s advantageous to at least have the sitting height of the desk set for you. The most common issue with this is people who are sitting at desks that are too high. This can be a contributing factor to hunched shoulders and/or perching on the edge of the chair with the head forward and no back support.

If the desk is significantly too high having it lowered or at the very least getting a good solid footrest is important to help get you sitting back into your chair with support and so helping prevent aches and pains due to poor posture and tension.


Aren’t sit to stand desks that are electronically controlled expensive

Not any more. They start at only a few hundred dollars now, and excellent models with push button control and memory settings start around $600. The same price as the awkward manually lifted types which as mentioned above have several restrictions associated with them.

Ergonomic Screen Set up

The key element of the screen position is that it promotes good posture. Many people work too far away from their screens. This is not recommended as it encourages you to creep forward with your head. Back to the turtle neck issue again.

As shown in the video and the picture below, unless advised otherwise by health professional, the screen/s should not be more than fingertips away

The height of the screen is ideally around eye height to the top of the screen. This has some flexibility though. For example, people with bifocals who look through the lower part of their glasses ideally place the screen a little lower. Others find a screen slightly higher is more comfortable for their head. As long as your head is in a comfortable, neutral position and not angled up or down then you are okay. The key with the is getting the distance right.

Ergonomic sitting posture PHW Group


Isn’t being close to the screen bad for my eyes?

Modern screens are more friendly on the eyes than they used to be. If glare is an issue angle the screen/s and change the background light as you can to eliminate this issue. If the screen feels a bit “in your face” then adjust the brightness level on the screen to make it more comfortable. Also remember to break from looking at the screen periodically to give your eyes a break and a chance to focus at different lengths.

Moving the screen far away from youis generally not a good ergonomic set up. This encourages you to sit forward to set your eyes at the right focal length to the screen (about arms length). Back to the turtle neck issue again. In my experience, this is one of the most common causes of forward head posture leading to tight neck muscles. Bring the screen to you, not you to the screen!

What if I have two screens?

If you have two screens then it’s best to decide if you are going to:

A) Work predominantly off one screen and have the other as a back up
B) Work 50/50 off both screens

If the former, set yourself up to face the main screen and have the other screen right next to it (either side is ok, depends on your preference).

If the latter, set yourself up to face the junction between the two screens which should have no gap between them. Ensure you can easily turn to face either screen.

Other Ergonomic Set up Tips

Keyboard tips

  • Generally have the keyboard as flat as manageable (keeps the wrist at an appropriate angle)
  • Consider a minikeyboard (no number tab on the right side) as this allows you to keep the mouse closer to the keys and helps avoid shoulder strain
  • Favour slim keyboards that can be easily used. Some require a hard force to operate which can cumulate over time and lead to increased arm and neck tension.

Lighting tips

The old standards for lighting are 320-400 LUX for office work. There are free apps that allow you to measure that. Note that this standard range assumes significant use of hard copy documents are being used. Many offices that are primarily computer based are better designed to have lower lighting than that in the desk areas and ensure adequate lighting in the walkways.

Lighting levels in workplaces are best linked to the tasks done. Higher levels are generally associated with areas where fine detail is needed (hospital treatment areas for example).

Mouse tips

The key is that it feels comfortable, is a good size for your hand and is easy to use. Some types of mouse are used to bring this action closer to the midline (trackball, trackpad, roller mouse). Other types aim to make your arm and wrist more comfortable (vertical mouse, 45 degree mouse). There are no absolute rights and wrongs with mouse type/shape and this area of ergonomics in my mind sits well under the key areas outlined above in terms of priority.

One key aspect of using a mouse is that you are not reaching away from your body too far to do it. Prioritise the space for your mouse on your desk and make it as close to the midline as practical to do so.

Working from a laptop

If you use a laptop occasionally then small periods of slumping forward to see the screen will usually be fine. However if you work for extended periods then it is well worth getting an external keyboard and mouse and set yourself up well, using the same guidelines as noted above.

The picture on the right is what I’m working on now. Note the screen is at a nice height for me thanks to a light weight easily folded up stand (the Roost) along with the trackpad and keyboard. All easy to use and easily carried in my bag when I’m working on site or at co-working spaces. Using laptops well can improve your productivity at work both in the office and at home.

For more information on office ergonomics check out our resources tab which has a wealth of resources including:

  • Tips sheets on the best ergonomics for sitting and standing
  • Quick set up guide for hot desk workers
  • Recommended equipment from suppliers we trust
  • A guide on how to build movement into your working day
  • Much more including important codes of practice on manual handling and safety at work
Ergonomic laptop stand and ergonomic keyboard
Ergonomic Laptop Stand PHW Group
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