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Currently I'm a student, but I'm about to go look for a job next semester, and I'm a bit worried that the jobs I'll get will have me stuck with a table that is too high, screen that is too low, and a chair that barely supports my back. This is pretty important to me since I already experienced various computer use pains due to a bad setting, and I really don't want this to be an issue when I apply to jobs. So I was wondering, how much control can I expect to have in the work place over the furniture/equipment I use?

I assume that it's not a big deal to plug in your own mouse/keyboard, but what about bringing your own chair, and maybe screen(s)? I'm guessing that the desk is usually hard/impossible to modify, but is it completely unheard of? And would the work environment ever be a deal breaker for you?

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In which country do you live? The answer to your question may depend on local laws. –  Mike Samuel Aug 16 '12 at 20:58
    
I'm at a point where I never want a corporation to provide me with anything but network access. I always think to myself about the General Contract that shows up to work and asks the Forman for a hammer. –  Andrew Finnell Aug 18 '12 at 2:46
    
As a general comment, if you work for a large company you are more likely to get these kind of things than working for a startup. Partly because they simply have more money, and also because they have grown big enough to have actual policies in these areas, and people to look after them, and to worry about being sued :) –  JohnB May 30 '13 at 15:12
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9 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Having an ergonomic setup isn't a perq, it's an OSHA requirement. You have an expectation that reasonable demands will be met to have a work environment that does not injure you in the course of your work activities.

That being said it usually requires a lot of legwork by the employee to make sure things are acceptable, and it may end up easier for you to bring in your own keyboard/tray/etc. Bringing in your own monitor or computer can cause maintenance problems.

I've brought my own chair--or chairs!--to almost every workplace I've been in--the only problem was when it clogged up my cube. (I turned the corp-issued chair into a "guest chair".) I've also brought in keyboard trays, which can really transform a space.

Now, if you want to bring in an overstuffed lounger, that might be a problem space-wise...and of course people may walk off with your chair!

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A company who's product is software will probably give you a decent chair and monitor. If the company makes widgets, you'll probably get all the chair a hundred bucks can buy and a monitor almost as good as the receptionist has. In real life in the USA, OSHA is not interested in your chair as long you aren't sitting on a railroad spike. I bought my own work chair years ago, and that's what I recommend to any developer. I'm no good at the kind of office politics that so often go in to who gets what office furniture. –  Jim In Texas Aug 16 '12 at 20:49
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If you are a permanent employee or contractor you should be able to get all the suitable equipment you need from your employer, even if it's not the "standard" equipment they normally supply.

You might have to badger people for a while, but I certainly wouldn't even consider bringing kit in from home. As others have mentioned, in the US and EU it's the law that your employer has to provide you with a suitable working environment. This means a desk that is big enough and the right height, adjustable chairs, screens that can be positioned correctly etc.

The only time you would have to provide your own computer etc. would be if you were a freelance developer.

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Personally a lot of this is going to depend on where you work and the policies that are there.

As people have mentioned yes, OSHA has a set of regulations that are there to guarantee you an environment that doesn't cause you injury etc. However, i will say that to get "accommodating" materials is a bit of a tricky beast.

Some companies are more accommodating than others, but as a general rule of thumb in my experience most companies DO NOT allow you control over the environment that you are in. For example in my current job for a major bank, I don't have the best equipment, and that is just a limitation in general. I CANNOT bring my own mouse, keyboard, etc as that is a violation of corporate policy, plus I'd run a major risk of loosing my items.

For you it will be important to ask questions during the interview about what the environment is and what they will grant you. Then you have to look at the balancing to see if you can accept the environment that they have to offer.

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I use a Kinesis Classic keyboard, and wouldn't work anywhere that I couldn't use it. Anything else leads to pain in a couple of days. –  kevin cline Aug 16 '12 at 20:52
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The work environment can absolutely be a deal breaker, but most employers are reasonable to the extent you don't cost them a lot of extra money.

You are in a great position now that you don't work any particular place. That puts you at an advantage since you can walk through your potential work environment, see the chair, desk, etc. Then, once you see it, you can ask the potential employer exactly what changes can be made, which typically are as you said - everything but getting a new office. However, ask the questions up front. If they say you have to code in a basement with no windows and an alligator torture pit below you in case you complain about being uncomfortable, then you can just walk away.

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If you bring your own stuff, it should definitely not be a problem. Rather, it should be the employer's responsibility to provide proper tools (office worker's tools include furniture) unless otherwise agreed. Crappy environment == crappy employer.

I wouldn't work for an employer that doesn't care about its employees' working conditions

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Bringing your own chair? Screen? First off I highly doubt that it's going to be that bad. If it is just don't take the job. If your employer is giving you a 1 Ghrz machine with 512 Mb of RAM and a stool that's his (or her) issue not yours.

I would expect to be able to work on my own computer, with my own setup. Sometimes people will want you to work on a company computer (for security / NDA concerns) but even then you should have a pick.

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Some people have had problems when they use their own computer or phone for work, and they quite or are laid off. Suddenly, there's questions of who owns what on the computer or phone, and whether the employer has a right to examine or erase it. I wouldn't recommend it. –  David Thornley Oct 1 '10 at 14:01
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I've found it is very unusual to have choice of machine. IT departments tend to want to have a homogeneous machine pool to manage. –  Alex Feinman Oct 1 '10 at 17:27
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Smart Companies Cater to Your Needs

You are right to ask this question. Key to getting what you want is to look. Good companies ask the related question - "What makes our workers productive and comfortable?"

Smart companies cater to not just the needs you mentioned, but perhaps also after hours and weekend meals. Some like Google, all day every day.

In his book "Smart and Gets Things Done", Joel Spolsky recommends companies get developers a top of the line chair (like the $800 Aeron chair). Benefits like durability, comfort, making top talent feel welcome, could result in your sitting in that chair a few more hours a month (which quickly pays for the cost of the chair, monitor, etc.). See also:

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/FieldGuidetoDevelopers.html

Companies should resource to win, and good tools are important and cost effective.

Caution - Don't Ask too Early, Don't Get Carried Away

Let's talk about your first date (interview) with your prospective company.

Don't initiate a discussion of what you want before they have offered you a job. Get in their head and see yourself through their eyes. Many companies are having a rough time, but they may have a best fit job for you (except for the seat, monitor, mouse). Until you have some offers, take a wait and see attitude about whether you are hot or not (at least in the eyes of hiring managers). Take away every perk at Google and it might still be a top place to start and grow your career.

I was involved with an interview where the candidate's first question was a suggestion that he should get his own office. We had no cubicles, but most people shared an office with one other person. If you were CTO, CEO, chief software engineer, or needed to quiet to call on customers all day, you had your own office. The owner/CEO showed a lot of grace about this guy's lack of awareness. But the candidate did not get an offer.

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Within reason, most companies are reasonable when it comes to accommodation of ergonomic equipment, so long as it didn't cost an insane amount of money and you don't ask for the moon, there's a good chance they'll say yes. That said, sometimes it is just easier to bring your own, and I have done that before. If you bring in your own hardware or peripherals, I would suggest labeling it clearly with your name, to make sure it does not get mixed up with or mistaken for company property.

Additionally, the time to bring up specific accommodation desires is after you get an offer, before you accept it, not during your first interview, once they're already sold on wanting you on their team.

PS: In most places I've worked, if adjustable height desks were not present, the standard solution to the monitor being too low was to grab a ream of paper or two from the printer area and place them under the monitor. I'm not sure why that would necessitate bringing your own monitor?

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Good companies care for their programmer and provides with good adjustable chairs and other necessities.

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