CPA Firm Ergonomics Checklist

Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA.CITP, PAFM

Optimizing production is the #1 request we get from CPA firm owners when we are hired as their external IT/workflow consultant. While most of our efforts are focused on “LEANing” tax and audit production, one of the most overlooked productivity opportunities comes to light during the office walkthrough: ergonomics impacting the personal workspace. Recent studies have highlighted the health dangers of firm members sitting too much and many firms have experienced downtime caused by employees with repetitive stress injuries or lower back pain, further exasperated by poor workspace configurations. The good news is firms that take ergonomics seriously not only minimize these risks but can also increase individual production to more than pay for the investment in ergonomics efforts. To help CPAs get started with optimizing their workspace, we provide the best tips we’ve picked up over the years. While this is not intended to be an all-inclusive list and not designed to provide legal/medical guidance, it is a starting point for you to correct your own work area and be able to actively promote ergonomics efforts in your own firm!

Desk: Many traditional workspaces were acquired prior to today’s digital environment and have not been optimized to today’s PC/laptop and over the top multi-monitor environment.

  • Keyboard/Desk Height: Wrists should rest comfortably on the keyboard, which can be difficult on older desks that were acquired before computers became the primary means of production. Adjustable keyboards can be added below such desks. Firms should also review desktop configurations as personnel move from traditional desktops to laptops and surface computers which have smaller, flatter keyboards, resulting in potential stress on the wrists.
  • Standing Capability: Studies show that standing two or more hours per day while working increases individual productivity. This can be accomplished with new electric/mechanical desks that rise with the touch of a button or by retrofitting existing desks with spring-loaded risers from companies such as VariDesk or VersaTables.

Chair: Most CPAs spend most of their day at their desks with many sitting ten or more hours daily during busy season.

  • Resting Feet: Feet should comfortably rest on the floor either by adjusting the seat or by placing them on a solid foot rest, which may be needed if the chair seat is adjusted to properly accommodate a higher desktop with optimal keyboard placement.
  • Arm Rest Adjustment: Arms should rest comfortably at your sides on the chair rests so there is no stress on shoulders and all the weight of your arms is supported. Wrists should be flat on desk or at a slight uphill angle, without the wrists leaning on the hard edge (if this is the case utilize a foam pad to minimize stress points).
  • Lower Back Support: The curve of the chair should support the lower back which can be accomplished with a chair having an adjustable back or by adding a lumbar support pad. Make a conscious effort to sit upright as slouching causes stress on lower vertebrae. Also, make it a habit to move your chair as close to the desk as possible to promote good posture.

Display(s): Today’s digital CPA requires multiple applications open simultaneously meaning more screen real estate accomplished via multiple and/or oversize monitors capable of viewing documents in their natural or larger size to reduce eye strain.

  • Monitor Height: The top of all displays should be no more than 2” above eye-level and if the CPA wears bifocals or progressive lens the top of the monitors should be at eye-level or lower to minimize neck strain from looking up to see clearly.
  • Screen Size: Monitors should be capable of displaying images in their native or larger size to reduce squinting which causes eyestrain and should be placed approximately at arm’s length. Get rid of those older screens that are less than 19-inch displays!
  • Glare: Position the monitor to minimize the glare on the screen and be cautious about having it set in front of a window which can create excessive backlight, exasperating eye strain.
  • Eye Rest: Reduce eye fatigue by looking away from the screens every 20 minutes and a simple rule is to focus out the window on objects that are at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds or more.

Telephone: Talking on the phone is a fact of business but can cause neck strain when cradled on your shoulder while simultaneously typing.

  • Phone Placement: Your phone should be within easy reach to minimize awkward stretching when answering or replacing the handset on the cradle.
  • Headset: Using the speakerphone may be an option in a private office, but with many firms going to an open office plan, the use of wireless/bluetooth headsets allow mobility and some privacy when communicating with clients. This is particularly important for today’s cell phones which are optimized more for viewing information than being held up to your ear while simultaneously working.

Now is a good time to take an honest look at your current work environment and make changes to optimize the configuration so you are ready for the upcoming busy season. Taking ergonomics seriously can improve your firm’s overall productivity.

Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA.CITP, CGMA, LSS BB is the Director of Consulting for Xcentric, LLC and works exclusively with CPA firms to implement today’s leading best practices and technologies incorporating Lean Six Sigma methodologies to optimize firm production workflows. Roman is also the author of the 2018 Edition of “Quantum of Paperless: A Partner’s Guide to Accounting Firm Optimization” which is available to members of PCPS.