The technology website Geek Wire published advice from ergonomics writer Larry Swanson, author of Scared Sitless, the Office Fitness Book. In the past few years, tablets and smartphones have made huge inroads in workplaces of all types. According to Swanson, the compact size and portability of the devices make work and life better in many ways. But at what price? He says that now, in addition to traditional computing ills like repetitive strain injuries and computer vision problems, there are posture and ergonomic challenges as society moves from the age of “point and click” to “swipe and flick.”
Swanson explains that the primary ergonomic challenge with laptops, tablets, phablets, smartphones, and other portable computers is the “fixed relationship between the input interface and the display screen.” If hands are positioned comfortably on the keyboard or touch screen, the user needs to crane the neck to see the screen. If you position the screen as you would a desktop monitor, you have to reach awkwardly to use the keyboard or swipe the screen.
According to Swanson, ergonomists have been slow in catching up to the trends in computing. “While we wait for scientifically vetted advice from the ergonomics pros, I recommend three strategies to cope in the meantime,” he says.
1. Use a portable like a desktop. Attach a monitor, keyboard, and pointing device just as you used to do with your desktop. Swanson recommends using a manufactured docking station or rigging one up by attaching an external keyboard and mouse, touchpad, or other pointing device. Depending on the setup, it’s possible to view the work using the laptop screen, elevated to eye level, or an external monitor. You can similarly buy or create a docking station for a tablet.
2. Use a safe position for data entry. If you’re using a laptop in the field, on the shop floor, or elsewhere, you probably are compromising on ergonomics, with your wrists and/or neck in a risky position. Swanson says the solution is to position the portable the way you would position an ergonomically arranged keyboard—with the letter B aligned with the body’s midline and the surface of the keyboard easy to reach with wrists in a neutral position. This means you’ll be looking down at the screen. Instead of jutting the neck forward (like a turtle) to see the screen, “keep length in your neck as you look down, like an egret scanning a pond for fish, tucking our chin downward and lifting the back of your head upward and back.”
3. Use a safe viewing position. If you’re using the device to read, scan reports, and perform similar activities, Swanson advises setting it up as you would a desktop monitor. Elevate the laptop so that the screen is at eye level using a laptop stand or anything else that’s handy. Similarly, raise a tablet or smartphone so that the screen is in a near-vertical position, just below eye level. If you have to hold the device in your hands, lift it as close as possible to eye level, resting the elbows on your rib cage or knees to prevent arm fatigue.