Martin Atkinson explains how office design enhances the behavior, comfort and productivity of the worker.
There is a lot more to creating an ergonomically designed office environment than purchasing suitable furniture. Whilst chairs and desks are undoubtedly paramount, the design of a workstation’s surrounding environment also warrants close attention. Careful consideration should be given to workplace features such as those which promote movement and encourage safety through design. An ergonomic office should provide both protection and comfort, as well as boost positive behavior and enhance well-being. The following steps offer a foundation in developing an office environment that will maximize productivity whilst reducing discomfort.
When it comes to muscular fatigue and discomfort, posture change is critical and with the recent advances in technology, we have become more desk-bound than ever before. Today’s pace of life means fewer people take regular breaks and whilst more and more of us have lunch at our desks, the risks associated with fixed posture increase.
Break out spaces in the office can encourage the frequent change of position that is vital for your body. Moving from your desk allows for a change of muscular posture that will relive built up tension, provide nourishment for your spine and keep joints well lubricated. A break out space encourages such movement by providing a change of scenery or an alternative workspace to our desks. This versatile environment can pose as an area where casual or spontaneous meetings may occur, social gatherings develop or as an area where short breaks or lunches seem more appropriate. Break out spaces also promote psychological restoration, enhance internal communication and build team spirit, acting as a bridge to otherwise unrelated departments.
Go with the Flow
A tidy well organised office environment also allows for a greater flow of movement and will improve the overall aesthetic of the office. Movement around the office can be enhanced by switching from a paper based filing system to one that is digitally stored freeing up the space that would be otherwise occupied by cumbersome filing cabinets.
A cramped and cluttered work area will also reduce the likelihood of posture change and will cause unnecessary strains to the body. Extra space can also be gained under, on and around desks by improving storage using desk solutions with multiple horizontal surfaces, document stands, and small stackable surfaces to help allow workers to easily access and store necessary documents.
It’s common knowledge that staring at your screen for long periods of time is bad for you, but we often forget that we should be looking away from our screens as often as every 10-15 minutes. As well as causing eye strain, spending too long looking at a screen can cause us to blink less often drying out and tiring the eyes. This is known as focusing fatigue and can be reduced by pausing to look at an object around twenty feet away to relax the focusing muscle in the eye. Installing art work around the office has proven to encourage users to occasionally look away from their screens, as it can offer an aesthetic image to focus or momentarily concentrate on. Adding colorful visual areas means workers will give their eyes that much needed rest.
As well as being cost effective and energy efficient, increasing natural light exposure and can reduce sickness by up to 15% and will have a positive impact on mood and productivity. Natural light can also help us to focus on detail and colour more clearly and can therefore prevent eye strain and the headaches that artificial light can cause.
There are various ways to make best use of the light that the windows in your office provide. If you don’t have floor to ceiling windows, make sure the windows you do have are free from obstruction. Remove furniture and clutter on window sills allowing the maximum level of light to enter. Try creating a more open environment and consider removing interior walls. These could be replaced with glazed partitions so private offices still exist, but allow natural light to permeate the centre of the office. They will also enhance the overall aesthetic of the office design.
Ultimately lighting should enable an individual to see their work without any visual strain. Lighting that is too bright or not bright enough can increase the risk of eye health problems. Studies have revealed that those with desks situated nearer windows are significantly more satisfied with their working environment than those that are not. If workers do not have direct access to daylight in their immediate space, merely seeing daylight or a view of the outside
world will have positive effects.
However, window shades, blinds or drapes should be made available to block excessive sunlight, and anti-glare screens can minimize reflections on the screen itself. Glare on walls and finished surfaces, as well as reflections on your computer screen, can also cause computer eye strain. If sun glare is an issue consider painting bright white walls a shade darker or using a paint with a matt finish.
Some offices are integrating natural day light with an electric lighting system. Here the artificial light automatically adjusts, turning off when a sufficient level of daylight exists. Dimming controls work similarly but will need to be continuously adjusted according to natural daylight conditions.
Improving Your Workstation
It has been proven that reducing budget on furniture will cost you money in the long run as the right workstation equipment can stimulate productivity and reduce sick leave dramatically. Lower back pain accounts for more sick leave and disability than any other medical condition, costing UK businesses a fortune every year. Well-designed workstations that genuinely support the physical needs of users should not be substituted with those that simply look like they do. One study in the US revealed that the additional investment in ergonomically designed tables and chairs was returned in only five months following a significant increase in productivity and decrease in sick leave.
When it comes to chairs, there are various features to be aware of, but adjustability and ease of use are most important, especially if there is a flexible working policy. There is no such thing as an ideal posture for all – what many people may feel comfortable with, others may not – so adjustability is paramount in shared desk offices. A chair must accommodate the range of individuals who will use it and therefore should have adjustable height, depth, length, and angle and the lumbar support should sufficiently fit the lower back. The chair should also be on a five-caster base for stability and should ideally also have adjustable armrests. A good ergonomic chair should promote flexibility and encourage the natural movements of the body whilst providing support.
Office desks should ideally be adjustable in height, but failing that should not be too high or too low and should offer plenty of space for legs and feet. Small or cramped desks will force the individual’s body to make many adjustments causing negative muscular effects. The work surface should also be large enough to accommodate files and any additional equipment, whilst leaving ample room to safely work without restriction.
Ergonomics require regular and continued attention and it is important that above all, workers understand the risks of unhealthy posture, lack of breaks, strains and injuries and how they can be sustained. It is also critical that employees are familiar with the equipment they are using. After all, even the best ergonomically designed chair is failing if its user hasn’t adjusted it to suit their individual needs.