Office equipment isn't what it used to be--there are screens that automatically adjust to your light, for example, or stools with sensors designed to measure the pressure as you sit to encourage better posture. So you'd think that the common keyboard would have been rethought by now, too, right?

Not so much.

The problem with our good ol' keys

While some designers are being more innovative with hand positioning, most keyboards still have the same one-piece, line-based design you could find on old-school typewriters. They pull your arms forward and together in front of your body. And with gravity already wanting to pull us down, the design makes it all the easier to hunch forward. And while nobody will tell you that position looks the most attractive or inviting to others, the real problem is that you're then at increased risk of physical conditions like computer neck and compression of nerves, not to mention general upper back weakness that can influence everyday tasks. And while we often associate wrist tendonitis with repetitive motions, it's related to posture, too, since posture influences impingement and how the arms are positioned and able to work.

I've been fortunate in this area and make it a point to exercise my upper back to stay well. My husband, however, is to the point of having to do hot/cold therapy on his forearms every day. So needless to say, he's had enough.

Divide and conquer might be an answer

To get some relief, my husband bought himself a split keyboard. A split keyboard comes apart in the middle. Subsequently, it allows you to finally pull your arms back and open your chest, since you can put each half of the keyboard closer to your sides. It's a simple but beautiful change you really can't get from a one-piece, regardless of its approach to hand angle.

So why aren't these things more standard?

For starters, there's the desk and chair problem. If you really want to bring your arms and shoulders back, you end up needing either a U-shaped desk or keyboard tray, or chairs that have the keyboard integrated into fully adjustable armrests.

Secondly, there's the mobile problem. Some companies still use desktops, but many others rely on laptops and tablets. Since these are intended for sleek streamlining and portability, many users aren't looking to add on another piece of hardware, especially if the laptop or tablet they buy already is a higher-end, pricey model because of the type of work and applications required for the job.

Which brings me to cost. If you scour the Internet, you'll see that a run-of-the-mill one-piece keyboard can run as little as $20, although ones that have more ergonomic hand alignment built in tend to run between $60 and $100. Split keyboards, by comparison, can be two or even three times as much. Multiply that by a few dozen, hundred or thousands of employees and they start to lose initial financial luster.

And lastly, there's still the finger problem. Most split keyboards, while solving a big posture concern, still have standard, line-based key positioning. There's no way to adjust for hand size or finger length on most models.

But taking all this into consideration, none of the above should hold us back from approaching our setups a little differently. A U-desk or keyboard tray is about as low-tech, do-it-today of a solution as you can get, and since we have wireless technologies, integrated chair designs aren't that off-the-wall, either. In fact, consider the projection/sensor technologies that now let you "wear" screens--maybe we don't need the keyboard at all, only a projection in the right location. And while developing those solutions might require some cash, all technologies eventually become more affordable, and the potential ROI from avoiding more costly health treatments (e.g., tendonitis surgery) arguably offsets those investments. Additional studies could get more precise about where keys ought to be, and in the future, projection and AI technologies theoretically could work together to adapt to individual users, meaning that many employees could use the same station (perhaps via touchscreen, bioscan or secure chip login) without separate physical hardware. That could have enormous positive environmental and sustainability implications.

So look around your office at all your slump-backed comrades. We know what to do. We just need someone to step up and do it.

Maybe that will be you.

Published on: Aug 1, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.