Upgrade Your Home Office Even If You Aren’t Getting a Facebook Stipend

It’s likely you won’t have an extra $1K to spend on home office upgrades

Key Takeaways

  • Facebook employees will get $1,000 to buy healthier office gear and work at home.
  • You’d be surprised how ergonomic your old office was.
  • You don’t have to spend a ton of money to make your home office better than it is.
A woman using a computer in the living room of her home
Susumu Yoshioka / Getty Images 

Last week, Facebook extended its employee work-from-home arrangements until July 2021. It will also give those employees up to $1,000 to get set up. Chances are you won’t get that kind of stipend, but there are still things you can do to improve your in-home office health.

Facebook has almost 50,000 employees, and most of them have been working from home since March. At this point, we may as well assume this to be a semi-permanent situation.

Along with plenty of other companies, Facebook is discovering that its business can run just fine without dragging everybody to work in the same physical space. Even if COVID-19 is eventually controlled enough to allow a return to communal office spaces, many people will keep working from home.

Do Your Home Work

At work, you might be used to sitting in an Aeron chair, or enjoying a sit/stand desk. If you use a notebook computer, you probably have an ergonomically-positioned monitor in a glare-free position. At home, you’re probably sharing the too-high kitchen table with a roommate or spouse. The best an ergonomics expert can hope for is that you prop your MacBook up on a pile of books and dust off that old Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.

“Your pre-COVID office-provided setup was probably more ergonomic than you realized,” James Olander, founder and designer of The Roost Stand told Lifewire in an email. “Many/most employers work with ergonomists to make sure their employees' bodies (and output) don't get wrecked.”

James’ Roost Stand is an ultra-light, sturdy, folding laptop stand designed to put your computer’s screen at eye height, so you don’t hunch over and destroy your shoulder, neck, and arms.

The biggest danger for homeworkers is a “lack of awareness on how bad your home setup is,” he says. Your body can stand up to some level of abuse for a few months, so it may even seem to you that everything is ok. Eventually, though, bad ergonomics, and possibly serious injury, will catch up. 

Get employees' screens to eye-level, and keyboards on a flat surface 3-6 inches higher than your belt buckle. --James Olander, founder and designer of The Roost Stand.

For most of us, home-working was seen as temporary, a quick break before returning to the office. This meant that few of us saw a need to make an investment in an ergonomic home workspace. And with the threat of sudden unemployment, few people had the means or will to buy standing desks or new monitors. Facebook’s $1,000 budget for home office equipment acknowledges this problem, and is enough to fix it. There are less expensive ways, too, if you aren’t getting a sweet stipend to upgrade your setup.

Make Your Home Office Safer

You’ve probably seen diagrams of the ideal ergonomic setup for computer work: a chair with a slightly forward-sloping seat and a desk height that is low enough to allow a 90˚ angle between forearm and upper arm while typing. Also important is the height of your screen. You should be able to see it without stressing your neck.

The bad news is, your kitchen table is too high. In fact, most office desks are also too high, which is why many of them have a slide-out keyboard tray underneath. It’s not there just to keep things tidy. 

“Bare minimum: get employees' screens to eye-level, and keyboards on a flat surface 3-6 inches higher than your belt buckle,” says James. “Since they will be on laptops, you must separate their keyboard from their screen to achieve this.”

For this, you can use an external monitor set to the correct height, which lets you keep using your laptop’s keyboard and trackpad if you prefer. The other way is to get the laptop’s screen to eye level, and use an external mouse and keyboard.

While James recommends his Roost stand (I’ve used one for years, and I can confirm that it is excellent), he has a great budget option. “Cheapest is an Anker external Bluetooth keyboard and mouse from Amazon, and a shoebox under your laptop to get its screen to eye-height.”

If you really are stuck with a cheap office chair, then there are a few ways to improve the situation. Check out this great video from Wirecutter.

Sit-Stand

Sitting all day is not good for you, and standing all day isn’t necessarily better, but you don’t need a fancy, electric sit-stand desk to keep you moving. You can easily make your own. I have an Ikea Frosta stool that I just set on the desk. I put a keyboard and trackpad on top, then add my iPad on a stand that gets it up a little higher.

It’s not perfect—the screen is still a little too low—but it helps me change position. If you try this, make sure to follow James Olander’s advice about keeping the new “desktop” a few inches above your belt buckle.

And finally, remember to take breaks. Set a timer to get you up from the desk every 30 minutes, stretch, and walk around.

If your employer does give you $1,000, then you now know how to spend it. But you can make your work environment safe with nothing but some awareness, and a few quick hacks.