Contagious Dual & Large Monitor Neck Syndrome

There is quite a conundrum office workers and IT purchasers are facing these days, and they may not even know it! Here it is:

The latest monitor set-up (dual and/or large monitors) with resulting neck pain

vs.

Smaller monitor set-up with no neck pain

User & Buyer Beware
In our practice, we are finding more and more ergonomic problems associated with the trend of providing dual monitors and/or really large monitors – and particularly dual large monitors. These set-ups are actually hurting the necks and eyes of the people who use them.

Why, you ask? It comes down to our visual system. There are natural and comfortable viewing angles from our eye sockets that allow our eyes to see up/down and side to side. Beyond those comfortable viewing angles, we move our heads to see. (We don't have those really cool reptilian eyes yet.)

  • The closer an object is to your eyes, the more side to side head motion is required to see that object’s right and left sides and the greater the eye strain.
  • The wider an object is, the more side-to-side head motion is required to see that object's right and left sides.
  • Combining these to have both a close and a wide object – (picture in your mind two wide monitors side by side on your desk) – well, you get the idea.

The Design Disconnect
I believe there is a disconnect in product design due to insufficient systems and downstream thinking. In the case of these trendy monitor set-ups, for example, the most significant mismatch is the shallow desk depths that were made trendy by the furniture industry first. These shallow desks (< 36” D and often as little as ~20” D) came into fashion when everyone was using one 17-inch-square LCD screen and businesses were looking to minimize their real estate square footage.

Once remodels and new construction were complete with these new shallower desks, the monitor industry began making large rectangular monitors. Then, we as a culture decided one large rectangular monitor wasn't enough, so there was a rapid spread of dual, large rectangular monitor implementation (without monitor placement adjustment options). And now, to make matters worse, we're seeing computer software engineers (and others) having three monitors!

You cannot stick dual (or triple) large rectangular monitors on shallow desks and expect humans to be injury free because they require so much head motion due to being both so wide and so close. This is a perfect recipe for neck problems and eye strain.

It seems the hardware designers and furniture designers are not collaborating enough to create an integrated functional-for-the-human-in-a-workstation systems design.

Is It Contagious?
Part of the IT dual large monitor purchasing trend seems to directly stem from the "I want the latest gear" mindset and/or the assumption that dual and large monitors improve productivity. And that's where the thinking and analyzing ends. I haven't seen any studies demonstrating significant enough productivity improvements to justify the cost of these additional monitors. And what about the costs of the negative health effects and injury costs?

Again, there is insufficient systems thinking on the part of these buyers (i.e., little to no thought about the downstream health effects to the users).

The Next Design Disconnect
As businesses embrace tablets and smartphones as work tools, there is another equipment/human/furniture disconnect. These tools create more shoulder motion and awkward neck positions, so expect both shoulder and neck pain or injury to increase. Phones are already wreaking havoc on human hands, thumbs, and necks even when used during personal time. And using these tools is much slower than using standard computer equipment, negatively impacting productivity.

With the historical and ongoing lack of integrated, coordinated, human-centered design between the IT hardware industry and the furniture industry, we as a company at ErgoFit Consulting will never reach our ultimate mission of working ourselves out of a job.

How Do We Work Ourselves Out of a Job?
True coordination, integration, and systems thinking will require multi-disciplinary, cross-functional teams, including furniture makers, IT manufacturers, ergonomic experts, usability experts, office workers from every generation, interior designers, architects, and facilities/maintenance experts.

Only when the mismatches disappear will we work ourselves out of a job. And this requires diligent and long-term forethought. Do you think it can be done?

Deborah Read is the Founder and President of ErgoFit Consulting, Inc., providing Ergonomics and Wellness services globally based out of Seattle, Wash. www.ErgoFitConsulting.com, 206-938-3294.

Posted by Deborah Read on Jul 23, 2014


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