Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

The Ergonomic Office

Is business a pain in the neck? It wouldn't be if your office were ergonomic.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Once considered some trendy European way to make business owners spend a lot of money, ergonomics has gained respect in recent years. Simply put, this term refers to designing and arranging furnishings and space to fit the natural movements of the human body. Ergonomics can help you and your employees avoid repetitive stress injuries from typing or bending, and can prevent common problems like back pain, which often sideline entrepreneurs and their employees.

Noise pollution is one of the biggest problems in many offices. One good way to decrease noise is to cover computer printers with sound shields. Covering a printer can cut noise by more than 90 percent . . . and increases concentration accordingly.

Buy adjustable chairs. A good chair allows the user to adjust the seat height and the tension of the backrest. The seat should angle forward slightly to keep from cutting off your circulation. Boost the benefits of a good chair by providing footrests. Elevating the feet slightly while typing or at a reduces lower back strain and improves circulation, keeping you more alert.

Make sure the desk and chair arrangement you choose allows you to keep the tops of your knuckles and tops of your wrists, and your forearms all in a straight line as you work on your computer. Your computer monitor should be at or below eye level. Use under-desk keyboard trays and monitor stands, if necessary, to get everything in line.

Another often-ignored problem in offices is lighting. Too much or too little lighting causes eye strain and tiredness, decreasing productivity. To cut down on glare, put filters on computer screens. Use individual lamps to illuminate desk work and help eyes adjust from overlit computer screens to underlit paper. Install miniblinds to let each employee control the amount of light to match the task at hand and time of day.

You can find touted as ergonomic at a variety of sources, from office supply superstores to traditional office furniture retailers. Just because something claims to be ergonomic, however, doesn't mean it's right for you. Always test furnishings before you buy. Sit in the chair and make sure it's comfortable; sit at the desk and make sure it's the right height. Make sure your desk and chair work together and that there is plenty of legroom under the desk.

When buying furniture, look for solid construction, particularly in desks. The ready-to-assemble desks available at home or office superstores are often poor quality. Most are made of particleboard, which won't stand up to heavy use. A better option for those on a budget is to buy used office furniture.

More and more furniture dealers these days sell used (also called "reconditioned") office furniture. You can find everything from a single desk and chair to a full fleet of cubicles for your staff. Typically, furniture has been repaired and repainted where necessary. In some cases, savings can be up to 70 percent over the cost of the same items new.

You can find used furniture sources in the Yellow Pages, or look in your local newspaper's classified ad section for individuals selling used pieces. , auctions and estate sales can be other sources of used items.

Excerpted from Start Your Own Business: The Only Start-Up Book You'll Ever Need, by Rieva Lesonsky and the Staff of , © 1998 Entrepreneur Press

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks