By Sherry M. Adler, Xerox contributor

Chances are, you’ve heard about or seen the standup desk, the treadmill desk, the workout chair. These are artifacts in the sit versus stand debate in the spotlight of ergonomics today.

“Sitting is the new smoking,” says Linda Weitzel, senior ergonomist. A member of the Environment, Health, Safety and Sustainability (EHS&S) team, Linda is our expert on adapting human physical needs to the workplace. In short: It’s all a matter of what suits YOU.

Sitting versus Standing
“There is a great deal of information regarding the benefits of not sitting too long. Inactivity is the culprit,” says Linda. “The field of ergonomics recommends that people with chronic back issues stand or move around at intervals. This is not new. We’ve been advocating this for years.”

“… that people with chronic back issues [should] stand or move around at intervals … is not new. We've been advocating this for years." -- Linda Weitzel, senior ergonomist for Xerox.

“… that people with chronic back issues [should] stand or move around at intervals … is not new. We’ve been advocating this for years.” — Linda Weitzel, senior ergonomist for Xerox.

The rationale? Sitting influences spine posture. Sitting can stress the back if the proper supports are not in place. Standing offers relief for many because the spine generally adopts a neutral position.

But Linda cautions: “The reason you stand is not as important as how you choose to do it.”

For those at workstations who prefer to stand for a portion of the day, she offers this advice. Do a short test first. “Put a small box or book under your laptop or keyboard/mouse to elevate them to approximately standing elbow height  to work standing up. This may not be ideal, but it will give you a sense of whether standing is a good option.”

The best and easiest approach is to change posture frequently throughout the day. That refers to moving in your chair and getting on your feet. Incorporate standing into your daily routine when, for example, you speak on the phone, read/review material, collate/fold documents. For more tips, read Linda’s first article ─ in fact, try reading it standing up ─”Ergonomics Is Not One-Size-Fits-All.”

Ergonomics for the Mobile World
Do mobile devices solve ergonomic issues associated with a static work style? No! “Laptops, tablets, smartphones and other devices come with their own problems,” Linda says.

Laptops are non-ergonomic because they offer no way to adjust the distance between the keyboard and screen. Note: “Adjust” is the mantra of ergonomics. Using laptops on desks compounds the problem because that places them too high for most people.

Solutions:

  1. Use a laptop or monitor riser to elevate the screen with add-on keyboard and mouse.
  2. Use an external monitor/keyboard/mouse.

Tablets may appear to be better than non-adjustable laptops but they are not. Users place tablets on desks and have to lean forward or hunch over to work on them. The result? “iPad Neck,” which refers to chronic pain in the neck and shoulders.

Solutions:

  1. Prop up the tablet to position it at an angle.
  2. Put it in a specially-made holder.

Smartphones, especially texting phones, may lead to “texting claw” and other forms of tendinitis caused by repetitive actions.

Solutions:

  1. Use other input options, such as voice control/speech recognition and predictive spelling.
  2. Place the device on a hard surface.
  3. Modify the format from portrait to landscape to hold the device looser.
  4. Use the phone to call rather than text.
  5. Do something else for a while.

Here again, Linda suggests experimenting. She says, “Try different ideas. Ergonomics is all about what suits the individual. Guidelines are only a starting point.”

The newer mobile devices are quickly gaining ground in the workplace. Accessories need time to catch up. And they will.