Working From Home: 9 Ergonomic Tips for Laptop Use

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Todd Meier
Photo of a woman stretching while working at home with her laptop

Employees working from home due to social distancing? Smart policy — but without a proper workstation, there’s a big potential for back, neck and eye strain.

Think about it. What position are you in when you’re working on your laptop? And where are you — on the couch, the bed or at the kitchen table? Even if you have a home office, full-time use could cause discomfort, unless it was set up using ergonomic principles.

The Problems With Laptop Design

Laptop computers can cause significant musculoskeletal and visual problems if used for prolonged periods.1 Because the laptop screen is connected to the keyboard, users have to make ergonomic compromises. For example, sustained flexion of the neck (looking downwards) is common, along with non-alignment of the user’s hands and forearms.2

9 DIY Tips for More Comfortable Laptop Use

Here are some simple do-it-yourself tips for laptop use. You can share these with employees to help them follow ergonomic principles, avoid discomfort and stay productive.

  1. Use a separate keyboard and mouse. There are a lot of portable options to choose from, even flexible ones.
  2. Keep the laptop at a comfortable viewing distance or connect it to a monitor.
  3. Position the laptop screen at the appropriate height, so that your neck is facing straight ahead (in a neutral position).1 You can purchase an inexpensive laptop riser. Or try using a 3-inch ring binder. Place the binder on your lap so that your laptop is angled toward you. That will let you move your neck and hands closer to a neutral position.2
  4. Prop your feet up when seated. Try using a box, suitcase, foot stool or similar item. If you’re sitting against a ridged seatback, such as a hard chair or bench, use a pillow or roll a towel and place it behind you for back support.2
  5. Elbows should be level with or slightly higher than the keyboard (90-degree angle).3
  6. Try using a chair without armrests. This will allow you greater flexibility and mitigate static postures.
  7. Position the laptop so that you’re not bending your head forward.3 A good way to accomplish this is to sit in a chair that allows you to lean into the backrest. If you have to bend a little, it’s best to tuck your chin as opposed to bending your entire neck down — which is a common cause of strain and fatigue in the neck and shoulder.
  8. Improvise when you’re using alternate worksurfaces. For example, prop your laptop on a book or box if you’re at your kitchen countertop. That will give you the ability to adjust the height and avoid bending your head down to view your screen.
  9. Make simple adjustments if you’re on a plane (when business travel resumes). You can use magazines under your laptop to adjust the height when it’s placed on the food tray. Also try raising your seat height by sitting on folded blankets or pillows.

Remind Employees to Keep Moving

Unless they’re distracted by kids, pets or snacks, employees may sit too much while working at home — just like at the office. Check out this blog post that offers tips on working more activity into the workday.