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7 ergonomic work-from-home gear options

by Lorri Stonge (2020-08-05)

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With millions of us now working from home, with all the wonders of all-day pajamas and meetings without pants, it's easy to assume comfy couches and checking email in bed mean there's no chance of carpal tunnel and other work-related repetitive strain injuries.

While there are elaborate guidelines for workplaces set by the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, you might be surprised to know they have guidelines for home offices as well. So even though your home might seem more comfortable than your office (and honestly, I hope it is) there are still important considerations to make sure you don't cause yourself an otherwise avoidable injury.

With the prospect of several more weeks -- or possibly months -- of working from home, you should take a careful look at your home office space for warning signs of future and painful issues. Here are seven options to help reduce the possibility of strain and undue fatigue.

Ergonomic keyboard

Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard

Microsoft These keyboards look weird and the first time you use one, you're probably not going to like it. There will be a learning period to get back up to your normal typing speed. However, it can greatly reduce the potential for certain wrist issues. Their odd design positions your hands in a more natural straight line, instead of being bent like when using a traditional keyboard.

According to OSHA: "Alternative keyboards help maintain neutral wrist postures, but available research does not provide conclusive evidence that using these keyboards prevents discomfort and injury."

Which is to say, not everyone is going to need one, nor will they solve potential issues for everyone. However, those of us who love them, love them. If your wrists hurt after a long day, one of these could help. I switched to a predecessor of the Microsoft Ergonomic after months of wrist issues. It relieved my wrist pain and I've used it ever since.

It's also a good idea to check out OSHA's overall advice for keyboard placement.

$60 at Best Buy

Ergonomic (or correct-sized) mouse

VicTsing Vertical Ergonomic Wireless Mouse

VicTsing Along the same lines as the keyboard, the claw-shape your hand makes grasping a mouse is not very ergonomic, or as OSHA describes: "Inappropriate size and shape of pointers can increase stress, cause awkward postures, and lead to overexertion." Getting a mouse that fits your hand shape can help to alleviate pain from the tendons in the palm of your hand.

Mice come in all shapes and sizes, sort of like the hands that will be using them. Finding one that fits you best might take some looking, but it's almost certainly not the one that came for free with your computer.

The ergonomic option listed here will work great for some people, but less great for others, as we found in our review of a similar Logitech. (Amazon reviewers disagreed with us, giving the MX Vertical high marks -- but it runs close to $100.) For more options, check our picks for the best wireless mouse for working from home.

OSHA has some overall advice for mice as well, which it calls "pointers."

$17 at Amazon

A better chair

Container Store Bungee

Container Store Rigid chairs for kitchen and dining room tables are not ideal for 8-plus hour work sessions. At this point, you've probably figured that out yourself. But if not, here's what OSHA has to say: "A chair that's well-designed and appropriately adjusted is an essential element of a safe and productive computer workstation. A good chair provides necessary support to the back, legs, buttocks and arms, while reducing exposures to awkward postures, contact stress and forceful exertions."

When considering an office chair, one that's highly adjustable is key. We're all built a little different, so when it comes to ergonomics, one size most definitely doesn't fit all. At the top of the list of course is the legendary (infamous?) Herman Miller Aeron, which I've seen in just about every recording studio and editing bay I've ever toured. They're ridiculously comfortable, but expensive.

Our sister site, ZDNet, took a look at the best office chairs, and one of the cheaper options they liked is the HON Exposure. It's highly adjustable, which is key, including adjustable armrests, which most inexpensive chairs lack. Making sure your shoulders aren't hunched or drooping is key.

Unfortunately, that one seems widely out of stock and costs upwards of $300. That's why you might want to instead try this "bungee chair" from the Container Store. Available for under $200, this chair recently found a place in the home office of CNET's John Falcone after a recommendation from a friend. He says it's incredibly comfortable -- and height-adjustable, too. (The no-arm version is even more affordable.) Just note that the casters are so smooth that anyone with a hardwood floor may find a shaggy area rug is needed to prevent unintended rollaways.

If you're looking for something a bit more flashy, we have a list of the best gaming chairs.  

$170 at Container Store

Laptop stand

AmazonBasics Ventilated Adjustable Laptop Computer Holder

Photo by Rick Broida/CNET By its very nature, your laptop's screen is going to be far lower than a traditional monitor. According to OSHA, "A display screen that is too high or low will cause you to work with your head, neck, shoulders and even your back in awkward postures. When the monitor is too high, for example, you have to work with your head and neck tilted back. Working in these awkward postures for a prolonged period fatigues the muscles that support the head."

If you don't want to buy a full-sized monitor to connect, consider a laptop stand. We like the inexpensive AmazonBasics model. It should get the top of the screen to roughly eye level, which is where OSHA recommends. The mesh design should also help prevent your laptop getting too hot.

$21 at Amazon

In-ear NC headphones (instead of over-ear)

Sony WF-1000XM3

Juan Garzon / CNET Headphones are great in general and certainly a way to keep your work-from-home office separate from your spouse's adjacent work-from-home space. However, heavy over-ear headphones can lead to neck strain. Personally, I can't wear over-ear headphones for more than a few hours without them becoming a literal pain in the neck. Lightweight in-ear options should help minimize or eliminate this particular issue.

I travel with the Bose QuietComfort 20s and their battery will last even through a long workday. The Sony WF-1000XM3 are even smaller and lighter, though you'll need to recharge them at some point during the day, as their battery life is around 6 hours with the noise canceling on.

For other options, check out our list of the best noise-canceling true wireless earbuds.

$198 at Amazon

Blue-blocking glasses

ElementsActive Fitover Anti-Blue Blocking Computer Glasses

Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET These look ridiculous and I won't lie, you'll look ridiculous wearing them. Good thing you're at home. The idea here is to reduce the amount of blue light that reaches your eyes from your monitor. There are some studies that show excessive amounts of blue light (like from a computer/laptop screen) is more likely to cause eye fatigue and might affect sleep. We looked into them (literally and figuratively) a few years ago, asking if blue light blocking glasses actually work.

I was skeptical, but after a few brutal migraines and sore, gritty eyes, I figured I'd give them a try. They helped, though my guess is if you're able to turn the brightness down on your monitor, it'd have the same effect. You can also enable "night mode" on Windows, macOS or iOS, and Android.

My monitor at its dimmest is still quite bright. If yours is the same, blue-blocking glasses might help. I bought a pair of ElementsActive as they fit comfortably over my regular glasses. Unfortunately, as of this writing, they're out of stock. Conveniently, we have a list of the seven best blue-light blocking glasses to prevent eye fatigue. The Gunnar Optics, pictured above, are available with different levels of blue-blocking tint. The more the better, generally speaking, to block the blue, but looking at the world through a significant orange-yellow tint might not be for everyone. 

$70 at Gunnar Optics

Adjustable desk

Jarvis Standing Desk

Jarvis If you're expecting to work from home for a while, an adjustable desk is worth considering. Note, not specifically a standing desk, but a motorized desk that gives you the option to stand for part of the day, sit for part of the day, and adjust its height to make sure you're comfortable to reduce strain on your back, shoulders and so on. Standing desks were all the craze a few years ago, though in some cases you're just trading one problem for another. Standing -- as anyone who does it for their job all day can tell you -- isn't great either. There are several things to consider before you make the switch.

Why consider this at all? Desk height can be a crucial part of your overall comfort, from the height and position of your arms and shoulders, to how far you have to reach to get to your keyboard and mouse and more. "Desk surfaces that are too high or too low may lead to awkward postures, such as extended arms to reach the keyboard, and raised shoulders," OSHA says.

I've worked from home for 13 years (when I'm not travelling). The Jarvis I bought a few years ago was the single best upgrade I've made for my home office. It's well built and adjusts to new heights in seconds. I can spend a few hours standing, then switch it up and sit for a bit too. It's also quite lovely with a bamboo top.

Another option is to convert your current desk to a standing desk, and for that we can recommend the five best standing desk converters. But again, unless you're positive you'll like standing all the time, one of the adjustable options is probably best.

$754 at Amazon

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.


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