How to Ergonomically Set Up Your Laptop as a Desktop

Laptop Ergonomics for a Desktop Setup

Ergotron. Ergotron Inc., Used With Permission

Laptop computers are wonderful pieces of technology. They allow you to take immense computing power with you where ever you go. Unfortunately, certain ergonomic features are compromised for the sake of portability. Posture, keyboard spacing, screen size and positioning, and pointing devices usually take the biggest ergonomic hit.

Even though laptops are designed for portability, many people use them as a desktop computer. Despite the poor ergonomics inherent in most laptops, certain steps can be taken to create a sound ergonomic laptop setup as a desktop. Whether it's the main computer or a temporary setup, you can improve your ergonomics.

The Main Ergonomic Issues With Laptops

  • Keyboard spacing - laptop keyboards are often compact with odd placement of some keys and cramped spacing of others. Hand cramps and repetitive stress injuries are more of a concern on compact keyboards. Preventing wrist repetitive stress injuries becomes even more of a priority.
  • Monitor size - laptop screens are often smaller than desktop monitors. Small screens can cause more eye strain than larger ones. Preventing eye strain becomes even more of a priority as well.
  • Monitor placement - the relation of the keyboard to monitor on a laptop is fixed. A proper ergonomic monitor setup has the monitor and keyboard at different levels and spaced far apart. This placement causes bad posture with either arms and hands held high or the neck and back bent low. Both of which can cause some serious problems and pain.
  • Small pointers - laptops usually have an integrated pointing device such as a touchpad or dot. These devices are adequate for the task, but not very comfortable or easy to use for long periods of time. Wrist related repetitive stress injuries pop up here as well.

    General Ergonomic Tips

    • Make your laptop setup as close to the desktop ergonomic computer station setup as possible.
    • Keep the wrists in the most natural wrist position that you can achieve.
    • Rotate the screen so that bending of the neck is minimized.
    • Tuck the chin into rotate the head instead of bending the neck.

    The Best Ergonomic Laptop Solution

    Use a laptop docking station. These devices let you plug in your laptop to a base station that has a monitor, keyboard, and mouse already connected. You basically have a desktop setup with a removable computer that just happens to have a keyboard and screen attached.

    The Next Best Ergonomic Laptop Solution

    If a docking station is out of your budget or otherwise impractical do the next best thing. Have a separate keyboard and mouse at the desk. This lets you place the laptop at the correct monitor position and have a comfortable keyboard and mouse at their proper locations.

    The Makeshift Ergonomic Solution

    If you can not get a separate keyboard and mouse, or you are in a temporary location there is still plenty you can do to improve your laptop ergonomic setup.

    Run through a quick task analysis to determine what the main thing you will be doing is. If it is reading, then set the laptop up in a proper ergonomic monitor position. If it is typing, then set the laptop up in a proper ergonomic keyboard position. If it is a mix, then set the laptop up in a proper ergonomic keyboard setup. The large muscles of the back and neck can take more stress than the arms and wrists so the bending of the neck to read the screen is the lesser of two ergonomic evils.

    If you have to place the laptop on a desktop, and thereby be higher than a good keyboard height, try changing planes. Elevate the rear of the laptop so that the keyboard is inclined. Then lean back in your chair so that your arms are now in line with the keyboard.

    Final Word on Laptop Ergonomics

    Laptops do not make good ergonomic desktops. They are not even that ergonomically sound on your lap. But that is not why you have one. Still, with a little diligence and a few accessories you can make your laptop work for you as a desktop.