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Work-from-home ergonomic workstation setup guide

Working from home is a great opportunity to take control of your working environment. As most have discovered by now, a hasty home office setup isn’t ideal. Working full-time at a kitchen table will render you disconnected, unhealthy and distracted. Luckily, 2020 brings clear workstation setup parameters for most adult sizes. Simple steps can improve health, vitality, and productivity. Do better work in less time, with plenty of energy left over for leisure pursuits.

Work from home workstation setup guide
A proper home setup can put you into Brainiac mode by boosting health, wellness and focus.

Making the switch to working from home can crush your productivity or supercharge it. In America, studies show that the majority of office workers suffer health issues caused by long periods of sitting. Common problems include chronic pain, lethargy, obesity, and a variety of musculoskeletal disorders.

Poor work-from-home setup consequences
A poor work-from-home setup can cripple productivity while intensifying health issues.

In a traditional office setting, workers sit in cheap office chairs supplied by their bosses. When working from home, workers are free to ditch generic furniture for a custom setup that meets both needs and design preferences.

Office workers forced to use cheap furniture
Working from home frees employees from having to use cheap, generic, company-supplied furniture.

That provides the opportunity to circumvent the pitfalls of a cheap company setup. Instead of stiffness and lethargy, a good home workstation can help you feel relaxed, alert, and consistently prepared to perform at your best. Keep reading to make the most of this amazing opportunity.

Ergonomic workstation realities

The multi-billion-dollar office chair industry has been making easy money since the 1950s. In the corporate world, user-centered furniture has never been a factor.

Sitting demands in modern times
Cheap, mass-produced furniture forces users into static, unhealthy sitting positions.

Instead, facility buyers focus on price and conformity when buying bulk furniture. That is why most schools and offices are furnished with cheap, one-size-fits-all furniture.

Chronic fatigue in America

In American workplaces, chronic fatigue is so common that many accept it as normal. In 2018, the NSC surveyed 160 million American workers. They found 107 million of them suffering from occupational fatigue. That term describes chronic feelings of lethargy and tiredness while at work. They also found poor sleep patterns and monotonous tasks as two of the main causes.

Negative effects of poor sitting habits
An inadequate PC workstation can drain energy and degrade mental performance.

This study supports those claims, asserting two main drivers of occupational fatigue. Sleep deprivation and a distracting work environment are the main culprits. In the workplace, imbalanced noise, vibrations, and temperatures all have a draining effect.

In the short-term, chronic fatigue causes cognitive and physical degradation. Some people refer to this as “brain fog”. Over the long term, chronic fatigue consequences include physical breakdown, illness, and depression.

Working from home problems
Bringing sloppy habits into your home office routine can sap your energy and reduce motivation.

Think about your workstation in the office. Is it clean, or cluttered? How often do you clean your mouse and keyboard? Do you sit with good posture or a slouch? Whatever bad habits you developed in the office, leave them there.

Switching to working from home presents the opportunity to revamp your workspace – and your habits.

Using ergonomics to boost energy levels

Ergonomics is the science of fitting a workplace to the user’s needs. The point is to reduce discomfort, thereby increasing efficiency and productivity.

Healthy working from home habits
Use the opportunity of working from home to improve your computing habits.

At the center of an ergonomic computing workstation is an ergonomic chair. A good ergonomic chair provides three essential adjustments: armrests, backrest recline, and lumbar support. All three components adjusted to your body ensure a healthy sitting posture.

Next comes the desk. Most desks have a work surface between 28-30 inches high. This range suits average sizes between 5’10” and 6’0″ (177-182 cm). Users taller or shorter than the average should compensate for best results.

Finally, even if the chair and desk are perfectly adjusted to your body, monitor screens set at the wrong height can ruin everything.

Gaming chair vs cheap study chair for students
An ergonomic workstation will help you maintain a healthy sitting posture.

That’s the optimal formula: ergonomic chair, desk, and monitor screens all set at the right height for your size. This configuration supports an ideal sitting posture without straining the back or upper body muscles. It keeps your eyes centered on the screen. With your arms rested, your hands need little energy to control the mouse and keyboard.

Neutral sitting position
Supported ergonomic sitting promotes wellness, improved energy levels, and enhanced cognitive performance.

So instead of your muscles holding your body up against gravity, the workstation does the work for you. As a result, enjoy a floating sensation with perfect positioning for powerful productivity.

How do comfortable people perform when sat at a computer with lots of energy? Most often, they increase production with greater efficiency and enthusiasm.

Gaming chair health and productivity benefits

Home office setup guide

This guide walks through the steps of building a simple ergonomic home office setup. If you’re looking for a designer home office setup to showcase in a magazine, hire a designer. If you want a simple home office to support your productivity, follow these steps.

Pick a dedicated working spot

Framing is a mental structure built upon personal beliefs. It explains why people react to the context of a stimulus, more than the thing itself. Humans use framing to adapt their behaviors to suit social settings.

Working form home versus working in an office
Working from home will put you in a different frame of mind than working in an office.

For example, a person raised in a religious household will show reverence when in a place of worship. In contrast, somebody raised in an atheist household might only perceive a building.

Framing also happens in the workplace. When you walk into your office, you dress and act a certain way. You put your game face on and focus on the job.

Home office desk setup
Set aside a dedicated space in your home for your workstation.

Take advantage of this when working from home. Instead of floating from couch to kitchen table to your bed, pick a dedicated spot to work. Use that only as your working space. After a few days of practice, once you step behind the desk, your “work mode” framing will activate.

Choose an office layout using feng shui

“Feng shui” are the Chinese words for “wind” and “water”. In interior design, feng shui principles help to maximize the energy flows in a space. In an office, the goal is to make use of a room’s natural flow of energy.

Geng shui elements balancing
Good workspace feng shui includes a healthy balance of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water elements.

Feng shui design began in China over 3,000 years ago. People used the art to determine the best places for gravesites.

Feng shui home office example
Feng shui home office setup by impresiveinteriordesign.com.

Today, feng shui design is common in the Asia-Pacific region. People practice feng shui design in Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. For a full explanation of feng shui design basics, check this report on our supplementary site.

Positioning fundamentals

After choosing a dedicated workspace area, it’s important to position your equipment in sync with the room’s energies.

Feng shui principles for a home office layout
Feng shui basics: desk facing the entrance; windows to the sides; earth and wood elements.

There are two basic considerations:

  1. Desk faces door: facing the entrance is a room’s power position. Sitting in the power position stimulates success energies. In contrast, sitting with your back to the door generates anxious, vulnerable energies.
  2. Windows to the sides: a window in front of your desk flows your energy past the desk and out the window. A window behind your desk lets chi (life enrgy) escape. That raises feelings of vulnerability.

Ambiance fundemantals

A workstation’s “ambiance” refers to its quality, mood, and atmposheric conditions. Apply feng shui principles to optimize your room’s qualities in these ways:

  • Clutter-free environment: at a desk, happiness starts with cleanliness. Every day before work, make sure your workstation floor is clean. Then de-clutter your desk. Wipe down the desktop, chair, and computer gear. Repeat at the start of each workday.
  • Color schemes: the ideal color of a room depends on the type of work you are doing. Accountants should choose plain, soothing colors (like off-white) to promote concentration. Pastels inspire creativity, making those a great match for designers and content creators. Green represents growth. Purple enhances mental clarity. Earth tones help to reduce stress.
  • Fresh air: fresh air and natural light inspire creative productivity in a workspace. In contrast, stale air makes people feel listless and unmotivated.
  • Sound management: sound energy vibrates through air, water, and matter. These vibrations can affect the energies in your working space, mind, and body. A quiet room with soft, pleasant sounds can feel more harmonious. As a result, chi energy flows more easily. In contrast, noise pollution can rattle your nerves and shatter your concentration. If your workspace gets disturbed by loud neighbors, traffic sounds, or construction, look for solutions. For instance, invest in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones. Another option is to drown out unpleasant sounds with nature sounds.

To learn more, check out our detailed Feng Shui Fundamentals report on WorkstationFX.com. That is a supplementary site where our team explores non-chair workstation topics.

Follow sizing fundamentals

For the best ergonomic results, it’s important to choose the right sized chair and desk.

Chair sizing

Across all ergonomic chair types, there are small, medium, and large-sized chairs. Most chairs are in the medium range. Unless a chair specifically states it is for small or extra-large users, assume it to be a medium fit. That is generally between 5’6″ and 6’0″ with slim proportions.

Gaming chair size options
Ergonomic gaming chairs come in small, medium, and large-sized variants.

If you are shorter, look for a specialty small-sized chair. If you have thick legs or wide hips, look at big and tall ergonomic chairs instead.

Using a gaming chair that is too small
Thick bodies in medium-sized gaming chairs will suffer a very uncomfortable fit.

For small users, buying a chair too large will negate the ergonomic benefits. For large users, buying a chair too small will result in a tight, uncomfortable fit. To learn more, check this feature:

The Ultimate Gaming Chair Sizing Guide

Desk sizing

An ergonomic chair needs adjustable armrests that can sync with the level of the desk. That ensures arm, elbow, and wrist support as the hands use a mouse and keyboard.

Pro esports player using gaming chair armrests
With a desk at the right height, the armrests and desk combine to provide arm, wrist, and elbow support.

If the desk is too high, it will put extra pressure on the neck and shoulders. A desk set too low forces slouching, which puts excessive pressure on the lower back. In both instances, the pressure eventually spreads to all parts of the body.

Desk set too high or too low
An ill-fitting desk will negate the ergonomic benefits of your chair.

There’s no universal desk height standard. Instead, most mass producers design desks to fit the widest range of average-sized users. As a result, most adult desks are between 28-30 inches tall. That range suits average sizes between 5’8″ and 5’10” (172-177cm). People shorter or taller should adjust their desk height for best results.

Check out these sizing guidelines from blitzresults.com. “Chair height” refers to the distance from the floor to the seat. “Armrest height” measures the distance from the seat to the armrests.

User heightDesk heightChair heightArmrest height
5'2" (157 cm)25" (63.5 cm)16.7" (42.4 cm)9.2" (23.2 cm)
5'5" (165 cm)26.2" (66.5 cm)17.5" (44.45 cm)9.6" (24.3 cm)
5'7" (170 cm)27" (68.5 cm)18" (45.7 cm)9.9" (25 cm)
5'9" (175 cm)27.8" (70.6 cm)18.5" (47 cm)10.2" (25.9 cm)
6'1" (185 cm)29.4" (74.6 cm)19.6" (49.7 cm)10.8" (27.4 cm)
6'3" (190 cm)30.2" (76.7 cm)20.2" (51.3 cm)11.1" (28 cm)
6'5" (195 cm)31" (78.7 cm)20.7" (52.5 cm)11.4" (29 cm)

A well-fitting desk lets you bend your elbows at a 90° angle, with your forearms parallel to the floor. At the same time, your feet should plant firmly on the ground under the desk. Feet planted is essential to support upper body weight. That spares the spine from having to bear the load.

Standing desk height guidelines
Both sitting and standing desk heights should support the elbows bent at a 90° angle. (Images: UBC)

The bottom line is that a well-fitting desk will help you to maintain a neutral sitting position while computing.

Unhealthy versus healthy sitting habits
An unhealthy sitting position versus a neutral sitting posture.

Neutral sitting posture definition:

  1. Feet planted on the floor, spread shoulder-width apart at most.
  2. Knees bent at around a 90° angle.
  3. Hips slightly higher than the knees; thighs almost parallel to the floor.
  4. Back straight, with pronounced support in the lumbar curve.
  5. Elbows bent at 90° with forearms parallel to the floor.

Choose a desk

In 2020, there are three types of desks to consider. The cheapest and most accessible type is a cheap generic desk. There are dozens of cheap desks on this Amazon list of best-selling home office desks.

Cheap computer desk
The CubiCubi desk is one of the best-selling desks on Amazon.

One of the most popular desks on Amazon is the CubiCubi 32-inch Computer Desk, priced at $69.99 on Amazon. It’s made out of particle board has small dimensions suitable for a very basic laptop or single-monitor setup.

Below is a summary of two more robust desk options:

Height-adjustable sit-stand desk

Sit-stand desks have motorized legs that lift or lower at the push of a button. The point is to let users switch between sitting or standing throughout a workday.

MotionGrey sit-stand desks
Sit-stand desks are height adjustable: you can raise or lower with a huge adjustment range.

The problem with that concept is that there aren’t any proven benefits gained by switching from sitting to standing while working. For instance, users only burn around a carrot’s worth of extra calories when standing all day instead of sitting. Even so, the big advantage of sit-stand desks is height-adjustability.

For example, the MotionGrey desk has a height range 23.6″ to 49.2″. It’s lowest setting provides a perfect desk height for kids between 6-12 years old.

MotionGrey desk for kids
The MotionGrey desk can lower enough to fit desk working six-year-olds.

Users under 5’7″ or over 6’1″ would gain the most from a sit-stand desk, even if they never use the standing function. Smaller users can lower the height; taller users can raise it. To lean more, check out this sit-stand desk report:

Best height-adjustable sit-stand desks

Gaming desks

Gaming desks never caught on the way gaming chairs have. Most models are flashy and colorful, and more expensive than normal desks.

Arozzi gaming desk
The top-rated Arozzi Arena offers height-adjustability, a massive workspace, many color options, and more. .

After lots of digging, we ended up finding five models that provide interesting features with decent value for money.

  1. Arozzi Arena desk: massive size, sturdy build, height adjustability.
  2. VIVO Black LED: motorized sit-stand desk with blue RGB lighting.
  3. Eureka Tempered Glass RGB Desk: stunning tabletop LED effects under a thick sheet of scratch-resistant tempered glass.
  4. GTRacing T07 RGB desk: comes with a spacious desktop, 7-color RGB lighting, and clever extras at an affordable price.
  5. Desino Gaming Desk: Amazon’s top-selling gaming desk is large, solidly built, and cheap.
  6. Learn more about gaming desks and read reviews of each recommended model:

    Best gaming desks with luxury features

Decide on a monitor configuration

Inexperienced users tend to make two fundamental mistakes when setting up workstation computer screens. Check out our Ergonomic Computer Screen Setup Guide for a detailed explanation. Here is a summary:

Setting screens too low

Setting computer screens too low forces users to bend the neck and upper back to get a clear view of the screen. Even if you spend $2000 on a high-end desk and chair, monitors set too low will ruin your ergonomics and cripple your productivity.

Setting a computer monitor too low
Setting a computer screen too low can ruin the ergonomic benefits of your workstation.

Setting a screen too high will also cause damage. Doing so forces a constant craning of the neck to see the top of the screen. That stresses the neck and shoulders, leading to pain and stiffness in those areas. Over time, that misalignment spreads to other areas, sending crippling pain all over the body.

The solution is simple: align the top of the monitor with your eye level. That lets you sit with a straight back without the need to bending neck forward. Eyes aligned with the top of the screen gives the best peripheral view of the whole screen.

Eye level computing using a gaming chair.
A Pro esports gamer using a monitor set at the optimal height.

To zero in one part of the screen, you don’t need to move your head. Instead, shift your eyes. That keeps your muscles at rest without constant head and neck movement.

Only using a single screen

In the work-from-home era, computing on a single screen is like looking at the sky through a pipe. In contrast, a multi-monitor setup enables next-level multitasking. That results in a massive productivity boost.

Workstation with multi-screen setup
Working across multiple screens allows for pro-level multitasking.

Most modern laptops come with an HDMI cable port. Using that, connect an HDMI cable from your laptop to your monitor and turn. Switch on the monitor on and you now have two screens to work with. It’s that easy to turn your laptop into a desktop PC. However, adding screens also adds clutter:

Cluttered versus clean workspace
A cluttered workspace is depressing and distracting.

As a multi-monitor setup boosts productivity, a desk-mounted implementation adds clean aesthetics. Most conventional monitor stands are set too low. Monitor stands also clutter up a desk. In contrast, a desk-mounted solution replaces the stand with a flexible steel arm. The arm lets you adjust your screen in a floating position over your desk. You can adjust the height or screen angles; turn vertical; rotate 360 degrees.

Clean computing with desk mounts
A desk-mounted monitor mount takes workstation ergonomics and aesthetics to a higher level.

Any monitor with four screw holes arranged on the back in a square is compatible. Those are VESA holes, a universal standard for mount attachments. If your monitor is VESA compatible, adding a desk-mounted monitor stand is a no-brainer. All top models cost less than $100.

VESA-compatible computer monitors
VESA-compatible monitors have four screws on the back that can mount onto brackets.

To learn more, check out our detailed ergonomic monitor configuration advice:

Ergonomic computer screen setup guide

Test and refine with accessories

At this point, you should have a dedicated workspace, an ergonomic chair and possibly a dual-screen monitor setup. When you start using the new configuration, prepare for an adjustment period.

If you added a second monitor, getting used to working in a dual-screen configuration should take a few days. Most ergonomic chairs take a week or two to break in. It also takes around that long to learn how to use one.

Best accessories to go with your gaming chair
There are several accessories to enhance the quality of your seated computing experience.

Broadly, give your new setup around two to four weeks to settle. After that, if anything feels lacking, browse our top workstation accessories to fill the gaps.

Best ergonomic workstation accessories

Best home office chairs

In 2020, healthy sitting standards are well-defined. The gist is that humans are not designed to sit for long periods.

Sitting versus standing mechanics
Sitting without support flattens the lumbar curve while tilting the hips forward.

Setting up a workstation without a good ergonomic chair causes serious health issues. For example, some studies estimate that 85% of American men and 75% of women suffer from anterior pelvic tilt. This happens when sloppy sitting habits misalign muscle pairs to work against each other. As a result, the standing pelvis shifts from a neutral (healthy) position to a tilted one.

Anterior pelvic tilt
Poor sitting habits often lead to a chronic case of severe anterior pelvic tilt.

Ergonomic chairs counteract health problems with some essential ergonomic features. All chairs that qualify as “ergonomic” have these essentials:

  1. Adjustable lumbar support: a supported lumbar curve is the foundation of healthy sitting. Chairs need an adjustable lumbar to provide support where the user needs it.
  2. Adjustable armrests: instead of the spine bearing arm weight, armrests can do the work. They need to be adjustable to sync with the user’s body and desk.
  3. Variable-tilt locking backrest: sitting in static positions is unhealthy. A backrest that tilts and locks in various positions enables movement while sitting.

Below is a summary of chairs and chair collections ideal for work-from-home (WFH) users.

Best work-from-home chair collections

ChairsFX has a series of buying guides containing reviews and comparisons of different chair collections. For WFH power users of average size, we recommend choosing between two high-end collections:

Synchro-tilt task chairs

Price range: $600-$1500

Steelcase, Herman Miller, and other high-end brands make the world’s best ergonomic chairs. These models all come with a powerful feature called “synchro-tilt”. When activated, the seat moves in sync with the backrest.

Herman Miller Aeron synchro-tilt
Synchro-tilt functionality on the Herman Miller Aeron chair.

When the user reclines, the seat tilts up. In some models like the Herman Miller Aeron, it also works in the opposite direction. When the user leans forward in the chair, the seat slopes downward.

Best synchro-tilt ergonomic task chairs
These are some of the world’s best ergonomic chairs with synchro-tilt functionality.

Beyond synchro-tilt, the best chairs in this range have plenty of ergonomic extras. Those include adaptive backrests, adjustable lumbar support, adjustable armrests and (in some cases) 12-year warranties.

Best synchro-tilt task chairs ($600-$1500)

Pro esports gaming chairs

Price range: $350-$550

In recent years, no other ergonomic chairs have undergone as much rigorous testing. These are the models that pro esports players have been relying on for over a decade.

Using pro esports chairs for gaming or computer work
Secretlab chairs provide superb support for both pro esports players and home office workers.

Pro esports gaming chairs come with some standard features. Those include ultra-resilient cold-foam padding, 4D armrests, a multifunction tilt-lock, and a reclining backrest.

Official branded video game gaming chairs
High-end gaming chairs with licensed designs depicting popular video games.

The best models add extras like longer warranties, integrated lumbar support, and impressive designs. For example, the best video game-themed chairs have stunning designs inspired by Cyberpunk 2077, World of Warcraft, League of Legends, and plenty more.

Best pro esports gaming chairs
Check out our review of the best pro esports gaming chairs.

Traditional top brands for pro esports clubs include Secretlab, Maxnomic, AKRacing, and DXRacer. For the best models circa 2020, check out our detailed pro esports chair review:

Best pro esports gaming chairs ($350-$550)

Best WFH chairs for power users

Among the collections of high-end synch-tilt and pro esports chairs are excellent models for working from home. Here are five of our favorites in no particular order. All are among the best in the industry:

  • Herman Miller Aeron: an iconic chair with adaptive mesh backrest and the most robust synchro-tilt in the industry. Comes with a 12-year warranty. ($1295)
  • Secretlab Titan: the world’s most popular pro esports chair comes in 35 different fabric or leather designs. Features go beyond those of other pro esports chairs and come with a 5-year warranty. ($459-$489)
  • Steelcase Gesture: a high-end ergonomic chair with synchro-tilt, a dynamic backrest, and 4D armrests with a massive adjustment range. Choose with or without a headrest in dozens of fabric and leather color options. Comes with a 12-year warranty. ($1281 with headrest)
  • AKRacing Onyx: an office-style gaming chair with pro esports features, a conservative executive design, and a 5-year warranty. ($599)
  • Sidiz T80: a high-end ergonomic chair made by an innovative company in Seoul, South Korea. Half the price of the Aeron, this model comes with sync-tilt, a downward sloping seat, adjustable lumbar, armrests, and recline. ($690+)

Workstation wellness checklist

Smart home office design is a valuable business investment. To finish off your home office setup, refer to the WELL Building Standard.

That is an international standard for creating productive and comfortable working environments. At the core of these standards are seven principles that you can apply to your own home office setup.

  1. Air: this study found an 11% increase in workspaces with clean, fresh air. In your home office, work to reduce pollutants and increase fresh air.
  2. Water: our brains are 73% water. Keep a water flask at your desk to stay hydrated throughout the day. Try to limit (or abstain from) coffee, energy drinks, and sugary sodas.
  3. Nourishment: avoid junk food and alcohol. Eat clean food.
  4. Light: a Cornell study found that sitting within 10 feet of a window has a positive effect. The study found an 84% reduction in eyestrain, headaches, and blurred vision symptoms.
  5. Fitness: esports players sit full-time for 10-12 hours every day. But they also compete for millions in prizes at global esports tournaments. They need to stay sharp. Take inspiration from pro esports players. Give yourself an edge with regular exercise.
  6. Comfort: your office space should be a comfort zone. Using the right chair is the key. That will reduce muscle fatigue and increase productivity.
  7. Nature: this study found that adding nature to a workspace caused a 15% wellness boost. Add some houseplants or a small fish tank to get your groove on.

Conclusion

This article shows how optimizing your home office setup can yield many benefits. With simple prep, working from home can influence your health, wellbeing, and performance. To start, choose a dedicated working spot with a good layout by feng shui standards.

Feng shui principles for a home office layout
Feng shui 101: desk faces the entrance; windows to the sides; earth and wood elements in the room.

After that, assemble the pieces for your workstation. Beyond the computer, you’ll need a good chair, desk, and monitor configuration plan.

Ergonomic workstation essential parts
Essential components in a well-designed ergonomic workstation for home users.

In summary:

  1. Choose a dedicated space in your home for working.
  2. Add a desk.
  3. Buy an ergonomic chair.
  4. Make sure everything aligns to the right height for your body size.
  5. Test for a few weeks. Add accessories if anything is lacking.

Once your workplace is set up, switch focus to the WELL building standards. Use those to optimize the environment around your workstation.

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