Healthy working situation at the office desk: Working in an office and at a desk usually means sitting for hours and moving barely. However, working at a desk not only seems to be physically strenuous – but sitting for hours every day puts a strain on the body itself. Back problems and tension are a frequent consequence. However, this can be avoided with an ergonomic approach of working at a desk and some movement.

Why is movement important in the office?

Experten raten dazu, auch im Büroalltag ausreichend Bewegung einzubringen. / Foto: Picture-Factory /

Experts recommend including enough exercise in everyday office life. / Picture: Picture-Factory /

The human body is anatomically meant for movement and not for sitting for long periods of time. This applies to health in general, although there are two different problems. First, there is the lack of movement and second, the anatomical challenge of sitting.

The lack of movement mainly leads to problems with the cardiovascular system and a weak constitution, which in turn makes sitting for long periods of time even more onerous. This is why people who spend a lot of time sitting at a desk in an office and working on a PC experience numerous complaints such as back pain and tension in their neck and shoulders.

Moreover, the way one sits, the chair, the desk and even the monitor also have an impact.

An ergonomic office workplace can greatly reduce the risk of back problems and tension. Basically, however, movement is the most important thing. This certainly applies to doing sport as a compensation. But even a little movement in the office may have a great influence.

How to incorporate more movement into your daily office life

Darum sollten Sie mit dem Fahrrad ins Büro fahren. / Foto: bernardbodo /

Riding your bike to work is a healthy alternative and also a great way to get your body moving. / Picture: bernardbodo /

Instead of taking the lift, start with taking the stairs, or even before that, with cycling instead of using the car or public transport.

The possibilities to do so depend on individual circumstances just as much as the possibilities to do some exercise in the office itself.

Anyway, you should regularly take shorter breaks where you get up and just walk around a few steps, stretch yourself, or even do some stretching exercises. You should not be afraid to take a walk around the office building or just walk up and down the corridor. It’s recommended that after every hour spent sitting, you get up at least for a short while and walk around the office a bit or stretch.

In practice, however, there are also a lot of activities where you can get up and walk around a bit, such as making a phone call, gathering your thoughts, or working out a concept. Conversations and even meetings do not have to be held sitting either, although the latter is more a question of general organisation and less of individual possibility.

What features should a good office chair have?

A good office chair should provide a lot of features because it is the main factor when it comes to sitting healthy. It should have many different options for adjustment so the chair can be adapted to individual needs. This is especially the case for the precise adjustment of the backrest, armrest, or neck rest. The backrest should always have an ergonomic shape. In other words, a shape that adapts to the natural shape of the back and supports it. Ideally, it should also have a lumbar support. In addition, the office chair should not be too small or narrow to enable dynamic sitting.

How do you sit in a healthy way?

First of all, there should be enough space and room to move the office chair around. The legs should also have some room to move. The following is important for optimal adjustment:

• the angle between the upper body and the thighs should be about 120 degrees
• the knees should be bent at an angle of 90 degrees
• there should be about 5 centimetres of space between the back of the knee and the seat
• feet should be placed flat on the floor
• there should be some space between the thigh and the edge of the desk
• when arms rest on the armrest, shoulders and neck should be relaxed
• armrest should be in line with the tabletop

In addition, it is very beneficial to maintain a certain dynamism when sitting. This means not staying in one position for too long and, if possible, also moving around while sitting and adopting different sitting positions.

Alternative seating options

Ein Sitzball

An exercise ball

As the whole topic around sitting and ergonomics in general has become increasingly important, more and more alternative seating options have become and continue to become suitable for the office. These can include special, movable stools or even exercise balls. The latter allow a high degree of dynamism when sitting, but do not offer a permanent solution. Instead, exercise balls are more of a practical exercise and something that can be used to strengthen the back for in-between times. However, they can be overstraining if you sit for a longer period.

Healthy working at the desk – an insider’s tip

Here’s a rather specific tip for the home office: especially at home, you can also work with your legs bent on the chair. This can also serve as a variety and even by bending your leg, with the foot placed on the chair, you back will be noticeably relieved.

For those who are able, it is also possible to work in a deep squat position. However, this usually requires not only some habituation, but also special training. But the deep squat is anatomically the healthiest (and the most natural) way to sit, because the entire back is relieved, and the neck and shoulders are less endangered.

The office desk

Laptop oder Desktop-PC für das Homeoffice?

Rather use a laptop or a desktop when working from home?

The height of a fixed desk is usually 72 centimetres. The optimal desk, however, also offers plenty of adjustment options. Ideally, it is even height-adjustable to a point where it is possible to work while standing. This lends a very good and healthy variety.

But apart from that, it is important that the desk can at least be adjusted to the height of the chair and to individual needs. The desk should always remain straight. The forearms and wrists should rest on the surface of the desk when it is optimally adjusted. The legs should have some free space underneath the desk.

The best place for the desk is parallel to the window, so that the daylight falls sideways onto the desk and the screen. Do not use glass desks or desks with a reflective surface, as these may reflect the sunlight excessively.

Wer nicht stundenlang auf seinem Bürostuhl sitzen möchte, der sollte sich für einen elektrisch höhenverstellbaren Schreibtisch entscheiden.

If you don’t want to sit on your office chair for hours straight, you should opt for an electric height-adjustable desk.

Which way should the monitor be positioned on the desk?

Folgt man den neuesten Studien, so gehen 70 Prozent des Stroms, die der Computer benötigt, ungenützt verloren.

According to the latest studies, 70 percent of the electricity used by computers gets lost unused.

The monitor and its correct alignment are additional important points for working healthy at the desk. This includes the type, size, setting and distance of the monitor.

In terms of size, a device with 22 or 24 inches should be chosen. Screens that are too small can cause unnecessary strain on the eyes. The ideal monitor has a movable screen arm that allows optimal individual adjustment. It is also important to choose a low-reflection device to avoid annoying reflections and glare.

The settings around resolution, contrast and brightness should meet individual needs and if you have problems reading, the font size should be changed accordingly.

Depending on the size of the screen, one’s own distance to the screen should measure between 70 and 90 centimetres. For the perfect height, your eyes should glide just above the top edge of the screen. To achieve this, the monitor can be raised, if necessary, for example by using books underneath it.

What should the lighting in the office be like?

Büro Tageslicht

A bright office flooded with daylight

Last but not least, you should not underestimate the lighting in the office. Sufficient and adequate lighting is also part of ergonomic working conditions. Incorrect lighting can cause fatigue, headaches, and nervousness. Indeed, there is a European German Industrial Standard (DIN) as well as standard values for the lighting of VDU and office workplaces. Natural daylight and sunlight are therefore the best. Both are essential for people’s health and well-being in general, and thus also for their productivity. In offices without windows, several, sufficient and flicker-free light should be used. However, the light should not be too bright.

In addition to these basics for working healthy at a desk, it is best to do some additional exercise, or at least to not spend most of the rest of your day sitting. Nevertheless, by paying some attention to ergonomics and taking regular breaks from sitting and short walks in the office, you can improve your health a lot or even avoid discomfort.

The post "Healthy working situation at the office desk – 10 tips" written by:

Sophie Voigtländer

Expertin für Bürogestaltung und Ergonomie

Sophie joined deskonia at the beginning of 2021. Since then, she is mainly responsible for translating all kinds of texts into English.

She studied International Communication and Translation.

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