Millions of people spend upwards of 8+ hours per day working in an office environment, whether it’s at work or in a home office. The single commonality that unites all of these people is the requirement of using a desk and a chair. Both are indispensable items for working a modern office job, but they’re rarely tailored to your needs. You get whatever chair your office has purchased for you, with whatever desk they give to everyone, and you have to make the best of it.
Luckily, there are some things you can do to improve your overall comfort, productivity, focus, and environment to suit your needs. We’ve compiled this set of work hacks for desks and chairs, to help you make the best of your situation and boost your productivity.
Since many office workers spend a large amount of time in their office chair, we'll start with some office hacks to improve your chair:
First up are the chair hacks. These tips and tricks help you get more comfortable in your workspace. If you’re working in an office environment there’s only so much you can do, but at least you’ll have the budget of the company behind you and can potentially convince your boss to invest in better furniture. If you’re working from home, these hacks help you transition from the back pain-inducing couch or rear-end numbing kitchen chair to something resembling a real home office.
1. Invest in a Better Chair
The first and the best thing you can do for yourself is to invest in a better chair. There are thousands of different chairs on the market, and they range from stools to barely-cushioned task chairs to luxurious executive leather to well-designed ergonomic chairs.
We recommend one that has a thick seat pad for extended sitting, as many different points of adjustment as you can get, and smooth casters to make for an easy range of motion. We also have a guide on what to look for in an ergonomic office chair here. Give it a look before you go shopping.
2. Change Posture Frequently
One of the worst parts of office work is your body locking up over time, as you maintain a single posture for the duration of your workday. Sure, that posture might be ergonomic, but even then, the human body was made for motion, not for stationary sitting. Throughout the day, shift your posture. Invest in a stool or footrest to raise your feet, adjust your armrests to get a different typing angle, lean further forward or back; there are a lot of different changes you can make. The point is to keep moving. Taking frequent breaks can also help a lot.
3. Do Stretches to Stay Limber
Sitting in a chair for a long workday puts stress on muscles throughout your neck, shoulders, wrists, back, waist, and legs. Some relax more than they should, some tighten up, and they all fall out of balance for motion.
To help alleviate this before it becomes an issue of back pain, set up a schedule and do stretches once or twice a day. Stretching while sitting, or while using the chair as a support, goes a long way. Here are some stretches you can consider adding to your daily routine.
4. Use a Small Pillow for Added Comfort
One of the biggest drawbacks to most standard office chairs is that they don’t have nearly enough seat padding. Even the ones that have cushy tushies tend to have low-quality foam that gets squished down and compressed over just a few months, leaving a thin, hard seat that is increasingly uncomfortable over time. You can, of course, reupholster your seat, but that’s more investment than many people want to do. Instead, consider investing in a seat cushion extension, a small, thin pillow, or even just a folded-up towel to give you additional padding and make sitting a little more comfortable. Don’t forget to adjust your seat height when you add it, though!
5. Properly Adjust Lumbar Support
Most modern ergonomic office chairs have lumbar support built into their design, but many people fail to realize that the support can be adjusted. Typically, we’re used to slouching, so lumbar support feels awkward when it’s properly adjusted forward. That is - until you get used to it.
Our biggest recommendation for chair adjustments is to properly adjust that lumbar support pad in the back of your chair if it’s possible to do so on the chair you’re using. If not, consider either a new chair or a lumbar support pillow, to make sure your back has the support it needs.
6. Get an Under-Desk Exerciser
Many of us love to fidget and move throughout the day. Fidget cubes and spinners are one thing, to keep our hands and minds occupied, but another common motion tic is twitching, bouncing, or otherwise moving our legs. Rather than simply tapping feet, why not consider an exercise machine? There are small treadmills and elliptical machines, as well as simple pedal machines, which are designed to sit beneath the desk. They can work just to give you an outlet for your motion, or they can have their resistance dialed up to be used for actual exercise purposes. Just make sure they don’t make too much noise; you don’t want to be a disruption in your office.
7. Raise Your Viewing Angle
A lot of neck pain comes from a poor viewing angle on your computer. Working with a laptop at your desk is one common cause; the screen is so low you end up looking too far down, and that stresses the muscles in your neck and upper back.
Instead, consider getting a laptop stand and an external keyboard and mouse to use. If you’re using a desktop computer, consider getting a monitor riser or monitor arm to lift the height of your screens so you have a better viewing angle.
8. Practice Active Sitting
Active sitting is a way of sitting at a desk using an unbalanced stand, like a single-pole stool or a yoga ball chair, with no back and no arms. The lack of support forces your body to constantly make micro-adjustments to your posture, strengthening your core and preventing your muscles from locking up. It’s a great habit, though you’ll likely need a new chair to use for that specific purpose. It’s awkward at first, but once you get used to it, you’ll be surprised at how effective and comfortable it is.
This second section is dedicated to hacks to improve your desk itself and the environment in which you’re working. People talk about the zen or feng shui of their offices, and while there’s no real mysticism to it, a better environment can do a lot for your concentration and productivity. Reducing distractions and stressors, increasing personality, and adjusting comfort levels can all have a positive impact. Here’s how to do it.
1. Try a Negative Tilt Keyboard
Normal keyboards either sit flat or are propped up in the back, like an old-school typewriter. This is okay, but it can lead to a poor angle on your wrists which puts pressure on the tendons and leads to carpal tunnel syndrome. A potentially better long-term solution is to invest in a negative tilt keyboard tray.
These can sit on your desk surface or replace your existing keyboard tray, and tilt your keyboard so the front end is higher than the back. This allows your wrists to be straight, allowing for a better range of motion.
2. Soften Your Lighting
In a corporate office, harsh overhead fluorescent lighting can be incredibly stress-inducing. It messes with your natural awareness of time, the harsh light and buzzing can cause headaches, and harsh shadows can make it stressful on your eyes. We highly recommend a desk lamp with a softer, more natural colored light, and possibly some rope lights to soften shadows throughout your desk. A home environment is similarly in need of softer lighting, though you’re more likely to have access to natural light. You might also consider installing F.lux on your computers, particularly if you tend to work into the evening.
3. Get Some Greenery
The stereotype of an office plant is one that has decades of history, but it’s a surprisingly effective way to make an office environment more comfortable. A small plant or two – something that doesn’t need a lot of light or attention to thrive, like a succulent – can be a great way to liven up your office.
The greenery itself helps, as does the minor air freshening effects of a plant. There are a lot of possible plants you can choose but native plants are typically the best option.
4. Keep Water and Snacks on Hand
Two things kill office productivity more than any other: dehydration and poor nutrition. Dehydration is chronic in climate-controlled environments, so keeping a large water bottle on hand is always a good idea. Sure, you might have to hit the bathroom every hour or two, but that’s fine; it gives you a chance to adjust your posture, stretch your legs, and swap between sitting and standing. Snacks should be healthy, like roasted nuts, fruit, or vegetables. Whenever you feel your energy is flagging, eat a small snack, to give your body that burst of energy to fuel your mind.
5. Get a Good Mechanical Keyboard
Mechanical keyboards are an incredible benefit to any work environment. The tactile feedback of mechanical keys helps you speed up typing and makes it more satisfying to work. The biggest downside to a mechanical keyboard is simply the noise it makes, and you can mitigate that by getting a keyboard with linear or silent keys rather than tactile keys.
Modern mechanical keyboards come in several forms and from many manufacturers. Just make sure no one in your office is susceptible to the noise; you don’t want to become an office disruption. For a home office, though, go wild.
6. Make Use of Vertical Space
Whether you’re in a home office, a work office, or a cubicle, you likely have access to a decent amount of vertical space. Walls, whether they’re fabric-lined cubicle walls or the walls of your home, are prime real estate for making your environment more pleasant. Here are some ideas of how to use the space.
- Hang photos, illustrations, and artwork to create an inspirational mood board.
- Hang lists and to-do notes to keep you on task and remind you of what you’re doing throughout the day.
- Mount small shelves you can use to display or hide away tools, resources, reference materials, and other infrequent use items.
If you end up mounting shelves or investing in a monitor rack, make sure it’s stable enough to handle whatever you’re going to throw at it. The last thing you need is for a shelf covered in office supplies to come crashing down in the middle of a task.
7. Personalize Your Desk
You need more pieces of flair! Your office environment may be controlled by your company, but you’re the master of your domain so long as you spend all of your time there. Bring in small objects that give you joy, like action figures, crystals, photos, toys, or other knick-knacks that you might enjoy throughout the day.
Our strongest recommendation here is to focus on variety and color. These objects should give you a bit of pleasure to look at, and a string of black and white objects only draws comparisons to the often drab environment of the typical office.
8. Consider a Standing Desk
If your budget allows it and your office manager has no objections, consider investing in a standing desk. A desk that can convert from sitting to standing is an excellent way to take advantage of a lot of different physical fitness benefits, including stretching, frequent breaks, and daily exercise. Every hour or two, switch between sitting and standing, do some stretches, go to the bathroom and take a break, and you’ll find your overall health improving by a surprising degree. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.
So there you have it; sixteen of our best tips for livening up an office environment. While they aren’t the commonly repurposed household item lifehacks you typically see in viral videos, they’re much more practical, and we stand by them.
Get exclusive rewards
for your first Autonomous blog subscription.