New Ergonomics for the Agile Office

Livello(by Teknion), is a folding, height-adjustable table.
Livello(by Teknion), is a folding, height-adjustable table.

 

Simply put, ergonomics is the science of adjusting the workplace to the worker. As we know, the effects of ergonomics extend well beyond employee comfort. They impact productivity, morale, and even product and service quality. It is estimated that the average cost of one musculoskeletal disorder is $25,000 in direct costs and five to eight times that number in indirect costs3.

 

While people know it’s important to have a good chair and ergonomic work tools, what happens when the office space shifts? The increase in mobile technology combined with new collaborative work styles means that more and more, employees are no longer working from a permanent space that is theirs.

 

Ergonomics in collaborative spaces

According to the National Statistics Council, an average of 37% of employee time is spent in meetings5.  Studies also found that most professionals believe that over 50 % of meeting time is wasted1.  Considering such a substantial amount of time is being spent (ineffectively) in meeting rooms, every factor impacting productivity should be reviewed, including ergonomics.

 

Sitting in a chair for hours at a stretch invites poor posture; next time you are in a lengthy meeting, check out the body positions of everyone around you.  You’ll notice a lot of leaning and slouching – positions that put stress and pressure on our bodies.

 

However, many people never get any further than setting the height of their chair, especially in a meeting room. Adjustments such as seat depth (essential for proper leg comfort) and tilt tension (enabling the user to recline comfortably) are often forgotten. Incorporating seating with simple adjustment controls in meeting rooms can counter this apathy by allowing users to quickly and easily adjust chairs to accommodate their needs, ultimately enabling them to be more comfortable and productive.

 

Teknion’s Contessa chair features intuitive controls in the armrests

Teknion’s Contessa chair features intuitive controls in the armrests

In addition to meetings in formal spaces, impromptu gatherings occur in casual settings such as lounges, or even the spaces between desks. Incorporating places to meet and work while standing provides a good ergonomic option, as research has shown that changing posture throughout the day is beneficial in injury prevention as well as productivity. Research has found that workers who could alternate between sitting and standing experienced the lowest incidence of back pain. Only 3.5% of people who held jobs with two to four hours of sitting per day reported back pain, compared to 42% of those who sat for more then four hours6.  Another study also discovered that switching frequently from seated to standing increased productivity and decreased error and miss rates2. Tables that convert from seated to standing height are now available from major contract office furniture manufacturers.

 

The Teknion Livello Table adjusts from seated to standing height via a simple touch pad

The Teknion Livello Table adjusts from seated to standing height via a simple touch pad

 

Ergonomics in the mobile office

Nearly 80 percent of salaried workers in the United States spend at least eight hours per week using mobile devices, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics7.

 

While convenient and mobile, laptops can place stress on our bodies.  Most common is the “turtle” posture – a hunched back and protruding neck/head that results from cramming the body into the confined space of the joined keyboard and screen4.

“Turtle” posture while using a laptop

“Turtle” posture while using a laptop

To eliminate the “turtle”, use a laptop stand to place the monitor in the correct position for reading, then use a separate keyboard and mouse at the desk to allow for comfortable typing. This can dramatically improve user comfort and reduce the risk of long-term injury by promoting good ergonomic posture. Setting up touchdown stations that incorporate these types of tools allows the mobile worker to set-up and work comfortably when they are in the office.

 

Humanscale’s L6 Notebook Manager promotes a healthy posture when using a laptop

Humanscale’s L6 Notebook Manager promotes a healthy posture when using a laptop

 

While ergonomics has been touted as improving productivity, cutting absenteeism, reducing on-the-job injuries, improving morale and minimizing turnover, we must recognize that no single solution is right for everyone or every space.  Incorporating furniture and work tool options that are adjustable to not only the user, but also the task they are performing and the technology they are using will ensure maximum comfort, productivity, and flexibility for the future.

Resources

  1. Klubeck, Jeffrey Scott. The Expense of Ineffective Meetings. Retrieved from http://www.wolfmotivation.com/articles/the-expense-of-ineffective-meetings
  2. Budnick, Peter. (Aug 13, 2009) Ergonomics Impact on Productivity, Quality and Organizational Performance — more from the World Congress on Ergonomics [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.ergoweb.com/forum/index.cfm?page=topic&topicID=5347
  3. Davis, Cyndi. (July 19, 2010) 4 Common Misconceptions about Office Ergonomics. Retrieved from http://ergonomicedge.wordpress.com/2010/07/19/4-common-misconceptions-about-office-ergonomics/
  4. Stanford University Environmental Health & Safety. Ergonomics Guidance for Mobile Devices. Retrieved from http://www.stanford.edu/dept/EHS/prod/general/ergo/documents/laptop_guide.pdf
  5. Lee, Shirley. Management / HR Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.shirleyfinelee.com/MgmtStats
  6. Allie, Paul and Kokot, Doug. Choosing a Chair Based on Fit, Comfort and Adjustable Features 2.1. February 2005). Retrieved from http://www.oneworkplace.com/pdfs/whitepapers/ChoosingAChair.pdf
  7. The ergonomics of mobile devices in the workplace. (Wednesday, May 9th, 2012). Retrieved from http://www.remedyinteractive.com/health-and-safety-news/ergonomics/the-ergonomics-of-mobile-devices-in-the-workplace/

Shrinking Office Space – Sacrifice or Opportunity?

In the 1970’s, American corporations typically thought they needed 500 to 700 sq. ft. per employee to build an effective office.1   Today, that’s about the size of an average urban condominium.   Now factor in rising real estate costs, increased globalization, wireless technology, economic austerity and the demand for a reduced environmental footprint, and space assignment has been pushed to a little more than 200 square feet per person. 1   And, in another 10 years, we could expect it to go down another 50 square feet to 150, according to Peter Miscovich, who studies workplace trends as a managing director at brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle.  The rate at which the modern office is changing is increasing exponentially,  “we’re at a very interesting inflection point in real estate history…the next 10 years will be very different than the last 30”, says Miscovich. 1

But less space doesn’t need to feel small. Today’s innovative design makes the most of shrinking footprints to benefit both the office worker and the bottom line. Here are some tips for getting more out of less space:

 

Reduce number of desks:

Companies that really want to reduce space are doing it by addressing the desk to employee ratio.  For example, a company with 100 employees can have only 60 to 80 assigned desks.2   How is this feasible? Because the reality is approximately 60 percent of a company’s desks are vacant at any one time, because workers are either on the road or in meetings, according to Core Net Global.3

Teknion’s Marketplace workbench provides support for touchdown workers

Adjust for technology:

Remember how big our computers used to be?  A lot of people are still sitting at worksurfaces designed to hold large, bulky computer monitors. Now that we have laptops and flat screens a lot of the work surface is under-utilized.  Accordingly we can reduce the depth of worksurface, with no impact to the employee.

In this digital age we generate less paper so our filing needs have also gone down. Smaller storage units within workstations, or even shared storage units are now feasible.

 

Rethink workspace design:

Consider a standard private office of 10×15 sq. ft. with a swinging door. Simply replacing the swinging door with a sliding door saves approximately 9 sq. ft. 4

Furniture with overlapping surfaces and under-surface storage make even more efficient use of space.  They provide more storage capacity while imparting a feeling of spaciousness.

Teknion’s District furniture utilizes overlapping worksurfaces to maximize space where you need it, like under your desk, and not where you don’t, like behind your monitor

Use furniture that can multi task. For example, storage units can double as space dividers in a workstation, and cushions on top of pedestals accommodate visitors.

Global Contract’s floorplay furniture utilizes shared storage as the spine of the workstations

As our workspaces continue to shrink, we will ask not “how can we get that space back”, but how can we use the space we have to its greatest potential.  Looking at the furniture options available today it is obvious that rising to the challenge of shrinking footprints have spurned innovation, and in so doing has ultimately made our workspaces better.

References:

  1. Vincent, Roger, “Office walls are closing in on corporate workers”. LA Times December 15, 2010
  2. Sargent, Kay, IIDEX Cocreate Round Table Discussion. Toronto. September 2011.
  3. Shevory, Kristina, “Office Work Space is Shrinking, but That’s Not All Bad”. The New York Times, January 19, 2011
  4. Fleming, Darren, The Trend of Shrinking Office Space http://www.cresapartners.com/ottawa/blog/2011/07/the-trend-of-shrinking-office-space/