Ergonomic keyboards, computer mice and other tech tools are a must for employee comfort and productivity. Carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and other work-related ailments are the cause of one-third of all lost workdays, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. These painful health issues also cost companies as much as $20 billion per year in workers’ compensation.
As office administrator, it may be your job to research and buy ergonomic tech products. If you know what to look for and how to help employees succeed with these tools, your company will get the most from its investment.
Read on to find out how planning can pay off.
1. Know What’s Available
Keyboards, mice and other ergonomic tech items come in a range of configurations to accommodate individual preferences. Here’s how these tech items differ from their more conventional counterparts.
- Ergonomic keyboards: Many ergonomic keyboards come in a “split” design with the keys on each side arranged in a "V" shape. This layout can make keys easier to reach, potentially putting less stress on the wrist. Some ergonomic keyboards also include wrist pads and shortcut keys that users can customize to quickly access the files, folders or web pages they use most.
- Ergonomic mice: Vertical mice, which allow people to hold their wrists in a handshake position (i.e., thumbs on top) can reduce the strain that people feel with a palm-down, claw position. Research from the University of Washington suggests that vertical mice are better than traditional, flat mice at supporting wrist posture. Other mice feature a trackball on the surface for navigating documents and web pages, lessening wrist fatigue because there’s no need to move the mouse.
- Phone headsets: Beyond basic options such as single-ear, both-ear, over-the-head and behind-the-neck, some headsets include other features that can help with comfort and good posture. For example, wireless headsets allow employees who often take calls away from their desk to keep their neck and shoulders in a comfortable position.
- Monitor mounts: Changes to how your computer monitor is positioned can help relieve eye and neck strain. Monitor mounts can promote comfort and result in a less hunched over position. Laptop stands can provide the same benefits.
2. Put Ergonomic Tech to the Test
No matter how ergonomically friendly an item is, it may go unused if your colleagues find it hard to adjust to. For example, ergonomic keyboards vary in how dramatically they’re contoured, so that what feels comfortable to one person might feel awkward to someone else.
“People really need to be involved in testing things out, since they will know best how the equipment can support them physically,” says Carolyn Sommerich, an associate professor at Ohio State University and the director of the school’s Engineering Laboratory for Human Factors/Ergonomics/Safety.
Talk with management about giving employees the option of trying out items before making company purchases. Order a few different models or styles of an item to let people experiment. When employees are able to choose the style of mouse that best fits their hand or the headset that’s most comfortable to wear, they feel more invested in the purchase and know that the company is committed to addressing their needs.
3. Give Guidance on Tech Features
Ergonomic work tools won’t deliver benefits you’re looking for unless employees know how to use them. Some companies skip showing staff how to use these tools, assuming they will figure it out. That could lead to wasted money and effort.
For example, if your company invests in new monitor mounts, be sure employees know how to set them up to support proper posture — ideally, the top of monitor should be at eye level, with the monitor an arm’s length away. Similarly, if you order new headsets, the equipment should be both comfortable and easy to use when employees are managing calls and conferencing in multiple callers.
“New tools can offer a lot of adjustability, which can be intimidating at first,” Sommerich explains. That’s why training is key. Be sure at least one person (perhaps you) makes time to read the instructions that come with new tools. Then, schedule an informal training session so employees can learn how to use the items. You could also look for online videos from the brand or manufacturer that walk users through using them correctly.
4. Create a Comfort-Focused Culture
Even thoughtfully implemented ergonomic office tech items can only go so far. The types of tasks employees do and how much they move throughout the day also factor into muscle strain and overall health.
“If people are working with software that requires them to click a million times, they could still have discomfort in their forearm because of the highly repetitive nature of the task, even if they’re using an ergonomic mouse,” Sommerich says.
She recommends encouraging breaks — for instance, by sharing the productivity benefits of breaks with management and communicating them to the team, or keeping the breakroom well-stocked for your colleagues. Sommerich also recommends little tricks to get co-workers moving, like placing the printer in a location that requires colleagues to get up and walk to pick up printouts, rather than simply reaching over.
“Improving office ergonomics really takes a systems approach,” says Sommerich. “Ergonomic products alone might have a limited impact.”
Aches and pains may go away once you have supplied ergonomic work tools, but keep checking in with your team to see how these items are holding up. Ergonomic office improvements are being made frequently. Be sure to watch these new advancements to keep your colleagues happy and healthy.