Adjustable computer workstations & what to do if you don’t have one

Revised 2021.04.30

Can you imagine a world where there was only one size of shoes? For some lucky people, the shoes would fit but for many, they would not. The same is true for computer workstations [your chair and support surfaces for your keyboard, mouse and monitor]. With shoes and workstations, a lack of fit or poor ergonomics will cause discomfort and possibly, an injury. This will depend on how bad the fit is and how much you use the shoes or workstation.

1. Workstation heights calculator

There are many workstation characteristics that contribute to proper ergonomics but for now I will focus on height. An ergonomics professional can help you figure out what heights you need. To get a rough idea, there is a height calculator link below.

The numbers there are approximations and should not be the sole determinant of workstation heights. For example, some people’s legs are a greater proportion of their body height than others, and that will impact the relevance of the numbers for you. In addition, these numbers are based on the following conditions:
  • Sitting upright NOT reclined
  • Typing NOT doing paperwork
  • Looking at the screen NOT looking at the keyboard when you type
  • Bare feet NOT wearing shoes
  • Typing with your upper arms vertical
    • a person with a high Body Mass Index may not be able to or if you look at the keyboard while you type, it may not be comfortable
Workstation heights calculator link:
  • Workstation planner [approximate workstation heights, see above for limitations of this tool]

2. Adjustability does not guarantee that a workstation will fit you

Even if a chair is height adjustable, it may not go high or low enough for you. Your required height needs to be within the adjustment range of the chair.

3. Degree of difficulty of adjustment

The more difficult the adjustment, the less likely it will be done. A desk that needs to be flipped upside down to adjust the length of the table legs may be good for a one-time adjustment but may not be the best solution for a multi-task or multi-user workstation. Ideally, the adjustment can be done easily without tools or having to remove equipment from the desktop.

4. Correcting lack of fit

As mentioned earlier, a non-adjustable workstation may fit you. If it doesn't, here are some low-cost interventions that may help. To see some of these interventions in action, check the Links section at the bottom of this page.
  • Armrests pads [armrests too low or too hard]
  • Back cushion or Pillow or Rolled up towel [lack of lumbar support or seat too deep]
  • Cutting the legs of your desk [desk too high]
  • Desk risers [desk too low]
  • Document holder [for positioning paper at better viewing angles]
  • Footrest or Box or Anything you don’t mind putting your feet on [seat too high, see Links at the bottom of this page for more information]
  • Ironing board [most of them are height adjustable so it may help if your keyboard or laptop are not at the correct height]
  • Keyboard arm or drawer [an arm is typically height and tilt adjustable which is an advantage over a drawer that just slides back and forth, see Links at the bottom of this page for more information]
  • Lap desk & compact keyboard [keyboard support surface too high, typically lap desks aren’t wide enough for a standard keyboard and mouse so a compact keyboard may be required]
  • Monitor riser or a stack of books [monitor too low]
  • Removing armrests [if they don’t fit or bang into your desk]
  • Seat cushion [seat too low or too hard, armrests too high]
Very important:
Most interventions have pros and cons so ideally, they will be returnable in case they don’t work or cause other problems. Seeking professional advice may help reduce the amount of trial and error required.


Using keyboard trays and footrests when your desk is too high

This link shows low-cost interventions for desktop as well as laptop workstations
Video: Laptop Ergonomics - Basic Tips - Adult or Child Laptop Use at Home, Work or School