Small, all-in-one devices are booming. In
terms of sales, small laptops and tablets have now
overtaken traditional desktop computers. This is in
line with modern trends. People want to be more
mobile, be able to work more efficiently and have
their tools with them wherever they go. According to
Hugo Bos (see right),
this is a logical trend - yet one that comes with
new challenges. In particular, are the devices
sufficiently geared to their users and the jobs at
Some countries use the term 'Human Factors' to
refer to ergonomics. This does in fact provide get
much closer to the intrinsic meaning of ergonomics,
compared to how most companies approach this
Ergonomics is not just about setting up specific
workplaces with comfortable chairs, tables adjusted
to the right height and ergonomically shaped
computer mice, in other words: the adjustment to
the user, in terms of physical aspects. The
playing field is much wider than that.
Ergonomics is about the human factor as a
whole in different work situations and
environments. This therefore includes the
adjustment to the task of the user. Hence
ergonomic experts assist staff to ensure that
specific work tasks are carried out with a maximum
of efficiency, effectiveness and comfort.
Within that framework, smaller devices such as
smartphones, tablets and mini laptops put ergonomics
in an altogether new perspective. These devices
certainly contribute to a better adjustment towards
certain tasks, but in many cases they do not. After
all, editing an Excel worksheet on your iPad is not
particularly efficient or even easy.
All-in-one equals convenience ...
The huge popularity of small devices can be
attributed to their all-in-one character. A
smartphone, tablet or mini laptop has simply been
made to carry out any feasible task a user can wish
for: emailing, surfing the internet, agenda
management, navigating, word processing, listening
to music and making calls via the standard telephone
network or the internet. All these features have
subsequently been cast into a format that you can
simply take with you to a meeting, which you conjure
up out of your bag in a roadside restaurant, or
which you can put on your bedside table to check
your emails immediately after you wake up.
In addition, all the 'old' controllers have been
integrated in these smart devices at the same time.
After all, a touch screen serves as screen, keyboard
and mouse in one. And as a finishing touch: its
user-friendliness is also extremely high thanks to
three-button or even single-button operation. To sum
it all up in one word: fantastic. Still, every
benefit comes with its downside. The truth is that a
device that can do it all is not necessarily the
right choice for all tasks.
... but there is a flipside of 'can-do-it-alls'
Take this very moment in time, for example. I am
not writing this article on a smartphone or tablet,
but on a laptop supported by a laptop stand. And I
am typing the text on a separate keyboard, using all
my ten fingers. Why? I want to do the task in hand -
writing a proper article - as efficiently,
effectively and comfortably as possible. That is my
And not only is typing a 1000-word article with
two fingers on a tablet touch screen wholly
unproductive, it also leads to physical complaints.
This is because my body was not built to write long
articles with a tablet on my lap. Yet a lot of
people more and more use their mini laptop or tablet
as a can-do-it-all device than is deemed healthy,
thereby largely ignoring the ergonomic departure
point of 'the right tool for a specific task'.
Empirical research demonstrates that such
irrational work behaviour leads to discomfort and
inefficiency. It is the latter aspect in particular
that you do not expect when thinking of these small
smart devices. Yet the weakest link in all this is
the human being. We are not sufficiently aware of
the health effects. Typing on a tablet, for example,
takes longer and generates more typos, as is clear
from research conducted by Chaparro (2010). And when
the tablet is flat on its back, the neck and
shoulder muscles are put under considerably more
strain, as concluded by Shin & Zhu (2011).
So the key question is: what can you do to
provide staff with maximum support in the execution
of all their tasks when they frequently use small
Ergonomics for the small ones
The first problem-solving approach is staring you
right in the face. As an employer, you can make
quick gains if you provide staff with compact mobile
auxiliary devices that are compatible with their new
devices. Examples include an integrated laptop
stand. This stand is mostly hidden from view, is
mounted underneath your mini laptop and simply
unfolds. This considerably increases work comfort
when taking an hour to answer emails.
Such accessories certainly make mobile working
more comfortable and efficient, yet do not
altogether convert your device in a fully-fledged
workplace as required by law. More is needed for
that. The screen of a mini laptop is simply too
small for a lot of tasks and it is better to connect
a separate (large) VDU. In addition, you need a
separate keyboard and mouse.
Sometimes a laptop stand with document holder is
desired, particularly for users frequently working
with paper documents. This stimulates so-called
'inline' working: working on a single horizontal
view line, as the paperwork is aligned to your VDU
viewing height. This promotes the effectiveness of
the job and ensures you maintain a natural working
These days, laptop stands with document holder
come in fully foldable versions for 12" laptops,
which you can simply bring along as they are made of
lightweight materials. Note: this option does also
require a separate compact keyboard. I would
recommend heavy-duty tablet users use a special
tablet stand that you place upright on the table.
This enables you, for example, to view YouTube from
a convenient angle.
If you want to do more on your tablet than
surfing the net and watching videos, a Bluetooth
compact keyboard compatible with multiple Bluetooth
devices (iPad, iPhone, laptop, etc.) is the answer.
The above auxiliary devices become an integratd part
of your device, enabling you to simply increase
effectiveness on a lot of the jobs you carry out on
A second approach to improve the ergonomic aspect
of small devices is offering a fully-fledged
workplace as an extra: flexible, at home or fixed.
This will support doing all those tasks for which a
tablet, mini laptop or hybrid laptop is less
suitable. Such tasks include writing long articles
or frequently switching between multiple
You can choose between two variants:
- in addition to a mini laptop, the staff
member is given a home-based device such as a
desktop computer; or
- the employee uses a docking station
instantly converting his laptop into a
fully-fledged workplace with large screen,
comfortable mouse and separate keyboard.
A cloud-based IT infrastructure may be desirable
to support either option i.e. all necessary data and
software can stored in a secure internet
environment, and available to you whever you are .
More adjustment needed
To summarise: new devices certainly offer
additional all-in-one options. Yet at the same time
they force us to carefully consider as to whether a
certain configuration is indeed the most suitable
for a specific task. Ultimately, users want to do
their work while enjoying the highest levels of
effectiveness, efficiency and comfort.