Ergonomic Tips for the Mobile Office

Many people who travel for their job are required to work on a laptop while they are in their vehicles, and the number of these ‘mobile workers’ is growing. From an injury standpoint, those who drive as part of their job tend to be more at risk for low back issues than those whose jobs primarily involve sitting (not driving) and standing activities. Also, the frequency of reported discomfort typically increases with higher annual mileage driven (Michael, 2002).

In general, it is not possible to work with completely neutral body postures when using a laptop due to their compact size. However, there are additional postural challenges when using it in a vehicle. It is likely the worker will have a combination of twisting of neck and back, neck flexion (looking down), awkward wrist postures, and elevated shoulders. Not many vehicles are actually designed for mounting a laptop (i.e. there is not a dedicated space), so how can one set up their mobile office to best reduce their risk of injury?

A study by Saginus et al. (2011) assessed four common laptop locations (Figure 1) in fleet vehicles for an electric utility company.

Locations included:

  • A: laptop desk mount on passenger seat;
  • B: post mounted in front of passenger seat with docking station;
  • C: screen mounted to dashboard with keyboard placed on steering wheel;
  • D: Mount with two articulating arms and docking station.

Of the locations assessed, locations C and D were recommended. In these locations, the laptop was located close to the driver’s trunk, minimized awkward postures, and were reported to be the preferred locations in terms of ease of use, productivity and overall preference/comfort.

When mounting and adjusting a laptop in a vehicle, it is important to consider several factors. Assess how the laptop will be used when adjusting height of screen and keyboard:

  • If the computer tasks are mostly visual with little keyboard input, focus on neck posture before wrist posture
  • If the tasks require mostly keyboard input or a mix of keyboard input and visual tasks, focus on wrist posture first

Ideally, the laptop position should minimize twisting or forward/lateral bending of the back and neck and enable the worker to maintain elbows close to their body.

Further consideration should be given to the type of laptop and laptop mount to be used. Keep in mind that the laptop will experience some jostling while driving as well as temperature changes. The mount should be sturdy to support the laptop, and provide enough adjustability so that it can be placed close to the worker (as per the location recommendations in the study by Saginus et al., 2011).

PROergonomics has assisted clients with training and education on working in mobile offices, and can provide further advice and strategies on implementing laptop mounts in fleet vehicles. Contact us for more information at info@proergonomics.ca


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