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Understanding Ergonomic Working Zones

01 June 2023

How do you organize your desk?

Chances are, you probably don't think about it too hard. You keep your things where they seem to look best, with perhaps a few rules in mind - stationery holders go on the edges or corners, your computer sits in the middle, perhaps a notebook or two on the side.

When arranging your things on your desk, you are looking at your workspace functionality, but a pretty heavy focus is on the aesthetic factor. Does your desk look good? If yes, you're likely satisfied.

While that approach isn't necessarily wrong, it's not a very good one to take either. The primary function of your work desk is to provide a space for you to actually work in. Sitting at a pretty desk is definitely fun and often motivating, but you also need to arrange your desk in a way that lets you work at it comfortably and productively.

That's where your ergonomic working zones come in. Let's take a look at what they are, and how we can maximize our productivity by understanding ergonomic working zones.

What is an Ergonomic Working Zone?

The main purpose of any business is to maximize profits. In workspaces where the work is more driven towards manual labor, it's pretty obvious to see that the layout and work area is designed for this purpose. Processes are streamlined so that outputs are maximized, which results in more profit.

At the same time, you also need to look at your own health and wellness, because optimizing profit generation doesn't necessarily mean optimizing your workspace ergonomics. The key is to find the right balance between the two!

In office spaces, however, this becomes a bit trickier. Because there's no official streamlining, you can work however you like and organize your space however you like. This is great for your customization, but because most people aren't aware of how ergonomics can affect them, it can become a problem in other ways.

An ergonomic working zone, in this context, is your reach zone. As the name suggests, this is the zone in which you can reach things easily, and that is exactly what makes it an ergonomic zone. By splitting your desk space into three areas to keep your things in, you can make sure you're making the most of the space you have, while also keeping everything you need right there within reach.

As such, you'll be able to work more productively, while also keeping yourself safe.

The Ergonomic Working Zones

Primary Working Zone

The first working zone is the primary working zone. This is the space on your desk where you can easily reach the things you need while you're sitting back in your chair with your arms relaxed. This means that you don't have to reach out for anything in this zone - it's right there within one arm's distance from you.

In the primary working zone, you should keep the items you most frequently use. For example, if you use a laptop, it'll be in the primary zone. If you use a mouse and keyboard with an external screen (laptop or otherwise) these will be in the primary working zone.

A notepad and pen, if you need them, should also be in this zone. In fact, if you have any snacks you frequently opt for during the work day, these could also be in the primary zone, as could a cup of tea if you're having one.

The main point is that anything you have to keep reaching out for over a stretch of time should be in this zone. So, if you don't constantly need your pen and paper, you may not want to keep it here, but if there is an hour or so during the day when you need these items, they should be moved to the primary work zone for that time.

Anything that doesn't need to be accessed frequently should be kept out of the primary work zone, because if there are too many items taking up space, they'll start cluttering up your desk and get in the way when you try to reach for the things you do need.

Secondary Working Zone

The secondary working zone is anything within the space you can reach when you're still sitting back in your chair, but this time with your arms extended. That is, you need to reach out for these items, but are still sitting comfortably in your chair.

This is where you keep anything that you do need less frequently, but not all the time. This could be your cup of tea once it's emptied out, your phone when you're not using it, any reference materials you need to get your work done, extra stationery and other such items.

If you're using an external screen, this also falls in your secondary working zone, since you're not reaching out for it. Another reason to keep your screen here is that your screen shouldn't be too close or too far away - an arm's distance is usually the recommended distance for your screen, so the secondary working zone is the best place to keep it.

If you think your desk space is too small to properly divide it into these three zones, you can reduce the amount of space used up by your screen by using a monitor mount instead. These can attach to your desk or the wall with a clamp or grommet, and can keep the monitor elevated so the space it would have taken up otherwise gets freed up for you to keep other items there. FlexiSpot's Intelligent Monitor Arm is one of the options you have to do this.

Non-Working Zone

The last working zone is the non-working zone - that is, when working, you shouldn't keep anything here. Since this is more than an arm's distance away from you, you'll find that reaching out for anything here would involve you having to lean or put yourself in an awkward position to grab something. While these don't affect you much once in a while, they can lead to discomfort if it becomes too frequent, so you should avoid keeping anything in this area.

Anything in this zone should be items you do need every once in a while, but a maximum of a couple of times a day. For example, any organizers that hold stationery items you rarely need, or perhaps a pen holder where you can grab your pen at the start of the day and be done with it.

You can also keep accessories or decoration items here, like a lamp or a photo frame. These add some personality and customization to your desk, but don't result in clutter.

If you think you're using something in this zone more frequently than you thought you would, you can keep it in the primary or secondary zone instead.

Organizing Your Desk Using Ergonomic Working Zones

So, now that you know what your desk's ergonomic working zones are, how do you actually go about optimizing your workspace?

The first thing to do is to look at your desk - is it large enough for these divisions to work out the way we described? Most standard office desks do have enough space for this, but if yours doesn't, you'll have to adjust the way you divide your desk space.

For the primary working zone, the rule remains the same: anything in this zone should be within an arm's distance to you while you're relaxed back in your chair. Because you'll be reaching for these items more frequently than others, you want to avoid any kind of awkward positioning.

However, you can make the limit for this zone a bit smaller. This means that your secondary working zone could come a little closer to you than an arm's length away, but don't bring these items so close that they start cluttering your space.

The non-working zone remains the same.

Another option is to reconsider what items you need on your desk to begin with. If you can, get yourself another desk at the side - for example, an L-shaped desk works great - to keep your things, or remove some items that you've kept on your desk. Assess how frequently you need each of these items, and whether you need to keep them on your desk, or if you can keep them somewhere else within reach.

You can also reconsider your desk personalization options. For example, instead of keeping a frame on your desk, you can keep it near you on a shelf, or stick a picture up on the wall instead.

In most cases, none of this would be necessary because most desks do have enough space, since they are designed to be useful in the office.

Using the ergonomic working zones as a template for office design, you can make sure your desk remains free of clutter and you can maximize your productivity while working, while also remaining ergonomically safe.