How to Ergonomically Set Up Your Laptop as a Desktop

Laptop Ergonomics for a Desktop Setup

Ergotron
Ergotron. Ergotron Inc., Used With Permission

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

Even though laptops are designed for portability, many people use them as their 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 you use 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 when working on a laptop.
  • 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. The placement in laptops causes bad posture with either arms and hands held high or the neck and back bent low. Both of these positions can cause some serious problems and pain.
  • Small pointers: Laptops usually have an integrated pointing device such as a touchpad. 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 show 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 in to 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. Compare prices of laptop docking stations.

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.