Make Your Workstation Work

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen this headline: Sitting is the new smoking. For years we’ve known that a poorly set up workstation can be bad for our backs and wreak havoc on our posture — but sucking the very life force from us, even if we eat right and exercise regularly?

It’s just not fair. How do we counter all those sedentary hours?

Take a stand. Standing desks have been around since the 18th century, and the press surrounding all those ‘sitting increases mortality’ studies has only helped make them more popular. Nearly all these stories describe several benefits of standing while working over sitting, such as helping to burn calories[1] and even helping us live longer.[2] But, with prices that can easily reach $1,000 or more, a true standing desk can be a pricey purchase. Thankfully, there are many DIY standing desk ideas online. For example, I use a $65 hospital ‘over bed’ table that raises and lowers, meaning I can just pick up my laptop and work there when practical.

Sit down. Sitting might be the new smoking, but many of us still prefer or need to do so for at least part of the day. In fact, several other studies say[3] spending too much time standing can lead to varicose veins and aggravate lower back pain. I like to switch it up (or down) and sit some, stand some.

Invest in quality. A high-quality chair is often a smart investment, and there are several resources to help you find the best one for you.[4] For me, this means a chair I can raise and lower, and has adjustable back support. . Adjustable arm support also helps to keep my arms at just the right level, and a footstool under my desk keeps my legs from dangling and falling asleep.[5]

Evaluate your current work setup. The United States Department of Labor has an online checklist[6] to help you evaluate your current posture, furniture, and computer placement, and offers suggestions to fix any issues that you might find.

Ask your human resources office about accommodation and compliance requirements. Perhaps you have vision impairment and need a large monitor to be most productive. If you were in the office, this may be provided for you if it doesn’t cause significant difficulty or expense for your employer. Your company may be willing to do the same for your home office. Keep in mind that there isn’t much supporting information available about this; most resources discussing reasonable accommodation and working from home describe working from home as itself a reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities.[7]

Get help from the experts. Talk with your facilities manager about the possibility of helping to outfit your home office. Depending on your company (and your facilities manager), it may be quite reasonable for them to have furniture shipped to your home if it is part of a company-wide purchase.

Meet them halfway. If your company won’t completely pay for or reimburse you for ergonomic furniture, ask them if they would consider a comparable allowance. This may only be relevant if you telework full time from home; otherwise they may have already spent that furniture allowance on your onsite office.

While you’re at it, check your deductions. You may be able to claim the purchase of ergonomic furniture. Check with your tax consultant to see if you qualify for direct-expense deductions for your home office (along with a home-office deduction).

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