The ergonomists say it can’t be done, they say it is impossible to set a laptop up ergonomically.
But what they are ignoring, is that we will continue to try – despite this advice. In this guide we take a definitive look at how to achieve an ergonomic laptop setup. We will reopen the question “can a laptop workstation be ergonomic?”
To answer this question we’ll present a golden rule to laptop ergonomics.
This guide provides a comprehensive look at how to create an ergonomic laptop setup at home, including the use of a laptop stand for comfort, ergonomic laptop accessories, and ergonomic tips. Whether you work on a standing desk, at a cafe or a permanent workstation with a laptop, this blog is for you.
Working from home has become a growing trend in our modern world, and along with it comes the need to create a comfortable and ergonomic workspace.
There is one golden rule to computer ergonomics: correct laptop screen height. This blog starts with how to select the correct laptop stand for the job. But first, let’s discuss what is so important about ergonomics anyways?
Definition of ergonomics
Ergonomics, the science of designing and arranging things so that people can use them comfortably and efficiently, has a surprisingly long and counterintuitive history. The first known use of the word “ergonomics” was in the 19th century, when a German physiologist named Hermann von Helmholtz applied the term to describe the study of efficient work.
Factory owners in the United States and Europe slowly began to recognize the importance of designing their machines and tools around the needs of their workers. This led to the development of the first ergonomically designed chairs and desks, as well as the introduction of safer and more ergonomic tools. The modern concept of ergonomics wasn’t fully explored until the mid-20th century, when researchers began to study ways for how people efficiently interacted with their environment.
The rise of the laptop for work
Then came along the laptop, and this compact computer rapidly achieved dominance as the personal computer of choice. What a laptop provided in portability, it lost in ergonomics. No longer were computer users confined to a desk or even an office.
The kitchen table and the cafe became perfectly acceptable computer workstations for personal and even business use. The global pandemic of 2020 kicked this trend into overdrive. Suddenly, everyone who was able to was working from home, and most of that work was being done on a laptop.
This created an important trend in the field of ergonomics, because using a laptop for work and play means committing long hours to sitting in the required position to use the laptop. A typical business computer use can be upwards of 6 hours in a working day, and these hours add up over days, months and years. Improper posture can cumulatively lead to serious musculoskeletal injury.
How not to use a laptop ergonomically
Using a “laptop” by resting it in your lap results in poor posture and puts the user at risk of injury. The size, shape and function of a laptop simply isn’t designed to fit with a human body in this way. That’s because when using a laptop’s keyboard, we limit the position of all the other features – like the position of the trackpad and the height of the screen.
Putting a laptop on a desk and using the built-in keyboard, trackpad and laptop screen attached to the laptop is only slightly better than using it on your lap. Again here, if we use the laptop keyboard then the position of the laptop screen and trackpad are limited to the laptop dimensions. The result is too much limitation on the height and distance of the laptop screen and trackpad. Use in this way forces our body out of a neutral position and into an inefficient and injury-prone posture.
The golden rule of using a laptop ergonomically
The golden rule of laptop ergonomics is this: set the screen height so that the top of your head is level with the top of the laptop monitor. You can do this using books, a shelf, suspending it from the ceiling or by having your friend hold it. The most simple and portable long term solution is using a laptop stand.
Benefits of an ergonomic laptop setup
Comfort is king when it comes to ergonomics. Using a laptop stand (discussed below) allows you to adjust the height and angle of the laptop to better fit your posture. This makes typing, mousing and just watching videos much more comfortable. In the long term this comfort will help reduce the risk of long-term injuries or muscle fatigue.
Using a laptop stand you will simply create a better viewing experience. By elevating the laptop, you can adjust the height and angle to make it easier to view the screen. This reduces eye strain over longer periods of time.
Another great benefit of using a laptop stand is that it can improve the laptop's performance. By elevating the laptop using a stand, it can help to promote better air circulation and cooling, which can help to reduce the risk of overheating. This can improve your laptop's performance. Additionally, laptop stands can also help to keep your laptop off the ground and reduce the risk of accidental spills or damage.
A laptop stand creates a more organized workspace. By elevating the laptop and using a laptop stand, you free up extra desk space to reduce clutter and even store items temporarily. Because laptops have good portability, you may find yourself working on smaller surfaces like a cafe table which a laptop stand is well suited for.
Types of laptop stands
There are three main types of laptop stands. They are desk laptop stand, wall mounted and free standing. Freestanding, usually on wheels, or wall mounted laptop stands are normally related to a specific task (like monitoring data in a hospital) rather than general computer work. In this blog we will be discussing desk mounted types which have the greatest impact on ergonomics.
There are a huge variety of desk mounted laptop stands because overall these are a great accessory for improving ergonomics of a laptop. They are designed to elevate your laptop screen, essentially creating a wedge under the device to elevate the screen off the desk.
There are a few variations to achieve the desired effect including a rigid one piece design, or many extendable designs that compact when not in use. Pick the right one for your purposes, however if you’re using the stand at the same desk, use a rigid design. If you are going to work at a cafe or at your kitchen table, then bring a foldable stand.
How to choose the right laptop stand
When choosing a laptop stand, it is important to consider several factors. First, consider the size and weight of your laptop. A laptop stand should be able to easily accommodate the weight and size of your laptop as laptops are valuable and you do not want the stand to collapse during use.
You should also consider the height and angle of the stand. The stand should allow you to position your laptop screen to a height where the top of the laptop screen is level with the top of your head.
Additionally, consider the material of the laptop stand. Most laptop stands are made of metal or plastic, but some are made of wood or even bamboo. Choose a material that is durable enough for your purposes and aesthetically pleasing to your eyes.
The portability of the laptop stand is so important if you plan to take your laptop stand with you on the go, look for one that is lightweight and collapsible. Many laptop stands come with carrying cases, making them easy to transport.
Finally, be sure to check the reviews of the laptop stand you are considering. Read what other customers have to say about the product before you make a purchase. This will help you find the best laptop stand for your needs.
Laptop Ergonomic Accessories
Because a laptop stand should be a non-negotiable part of an ergonomic laptop set up, what about a mouse and an external keyboard? Since laptop stand will raise the laptop off of the desk surface, and its built-in keyboard out of reach.
Mouse and External Keyboard
These are essential to laptop ergonomics because they allow use of a laptop stand, and can be set up in a usable and comfortable position.
Using an external keyboard and mouse with a laptop have the added benefit of flexible placement. Both corded and wireless versions are useful for your ergonomic laptop set up.
A trackpad, especially the laptop’s trackpad is not required for ergonomic set up. When the laptop is set on a stand, use the trackpad attached to the laptop sparingly. If you require frequent use of a trackpad, it makes sense to use a separate one and place it flat on your desk.
There are two options for your peripherals when it comes to laptop ergonomics, either corded or wireless. The less fussy option is corded as there are no batteries or wireless connectivity issues to contend with. However if you decide to use a corded mouse and/or keyboard, make sure to check the number of ports you have available and add a USB hub if necessary.
It is unlikely that you will be packing a second external monitor to your local cafe, but it is very common to work on a hotdesk or co-working space, or even your primary workstation using a second monitor. The important thing to remember here is to set this external monitor up side-by-side with your laptop, not in a vertical above or below position.
Most laptops will actually continue to work when plugged into a secondary monitor and closed. If you are using an external monitor, consider closing the laptop altogether and using this as your only monitor.
1. Obey the golden rule
Once again, the golden rule of laptop ergonomics is that the top of your monitor should be at the same height as the top of your head while sitting so that your eye level is the same height as the top portion of your computer screen. Again, having the correct monitor height is essential for proper ergonomics.
When the monitor is set to the same height as your head, it encourages good posture and reduces neck, shoulder and back strain. This is important because it can prevent long-term injury and discomfort. When your monitor is too low, you will likely hunch over, causing strain on your upper body. When your monitor is too high, you may crane your neck up, causing strain on your neck and shoulders. In either case, having an incorrect monitor height can lead to muscular fatigue and even chronic pain.
But also, your main monitor screen and/or secondary monitor should be at that height.
To find the proper distance, reach your arms out in front of your body and your fingertips should just graze your screen. Adjust your monitor vertically so that the top is level with the top of your head, and forward or backward so that it is just within arm's reach.
2. Adjust chair height
Now that you have your laptop correctly positioned, it’s time to think about your chair. Normally an ergonomic chair would be the starting point with computer workstation ergonomics. But then normally we would say laptops are never ergonomic.
Having your feet in front and firmly planted will allow for your hips, shoulders and head to be in a stacked position for the most relaxed and upright posture. It will prevent you from slouching, and keep your back, neck and shoulders healthy.
Start with the seat in the highest position, then lower your chair while sitting in it until you can plant your feet firmly on the ground and your knees and hips are at a 90 degree angle.
3. Laptops are not for laps
Using laptops on our laps can be detrimental to our health. Not only can it cause us to feel uncomfortable due to the heat generated by the laptop, but it can also cause us to experience physical pain due to the extraneous pressure being applied to our legs and lower body.
This pressure can lead to musculoskeletal injuries in the long run such as back and neck pain. Avoid using a laptop on your lap for any extended periods of time.
In conclusion, ergonomics is an important and achievable factor when it comes to laptop set up.
To ensure an ergonomic set up for your laptop, it is important to choose the right laptop stand, use the correct accessories such as a mouse and keyboard, and follow the golden rule of having the top of the laptop screen at the same height as the top of your head.
By following these simple steps, you can ensure that your laptop setup is both comfortable and ergonomic. For more tips make sure to read our blog on 5 office ergonomic tips to save your lower back.