For those of us who work in an office, sitting down for long periods of time comes with the territory. Even in workplaces where efforts are being made to encourage more activity throughout the day, many of us cannot avoid sitting at our desks for a sizeable proportion of the day.
Here is where office ergonomics comes in; both in the design of specific items of furniture, such as desks and chairs, and also in the overall working environment encompassing the layout of work stations, lighting and how office space is utilised
Ergonomic Office Furniture
Typically we think of office furniture when looking for ergonomic workplace solutions, and office chairs are definitely the place to begin! But before delving into what makes an ergonomic office chair, why do we need them to start with?
If you suffer from any of the following complaints, it could be that your current office chair is causing or exacerbating the problem. Here’s why:
- Back pain: One of the most common problems associated with sitting for prolonged periods of time. Poor posture is generally the culprit and many conventional office chairs do little to address this. Good lumbar support is essential to help users maintain good posture and discourage slouching and the classic ‘C’ shape many office workers assume.
- Tension in neck and shoulders: Another common issue is pain and tension in the neck and shoulders. This can be caused by not having enough support, causing you to tense up; having your computer screen too high or low; or incorrectly positioned armrests causing raised shoulders or leaning.
- Numbness or tingling in legs or feet: Chairs being at the wrong height often cause leg problems. Hips should ideally be at a 90° –100° angle to your torso, and feet should be flat on the floor.
- Headaches and eyestrain: Tension in the shoulders and neck can also affect your head, causing headaches and referred head pains. Eyestrain may also result from a badly adjusted office chair, or screens not being positioned at the optimum level.
- Repetitive Strain Injuries: Wrist and hand pains caused by using a keyboard and mouse are another symptom of our office lives. Keyboard and chair height can reduce this issue.
Ergonomic office furniture seeks to address these issues. Combining specialist knowledge of human anatomy, biomechanics, physiology and psychology to the process of product design, creating office furniture that’s comfortable, safe and efficient.
Poorly designed office furniture can have a real impact on your workplace. Productivity can suffer because employees are uncomfortable, disrupting concentration levels and necessitating frequent breaks to alleviate this discomfort. Sick days may increase as employees suffer from issues such as migraines induced by eyestrain, or attend health appointments to deal with neck, shoulder or back pains. Furthermore, if employees do not feel that their company values them enough to invest in comfortable and supportive furniture they may become disengaged and poor morale becomes a significant issue.
A simple change to an ergonomically designed office chair can make a real difference.
Should we be sitting at all?
In recent years there has been a lot of interest in standing desks, encouraging people do away with the classic office chair entirely. As a solution to our sedentary lives, and the impact this has on health, many people are opting for standing workstations or even treadmill desks.
While there are currently no definitive studies into the health benefits of standing desks, overall there appear to be plenty of positives*. Energy expenditure is higher with an average heart-rate increase of 8 beats per minute, with treadmill desks naturally performing even better. Some research suggests an increase in good cholesterol, and weight loss has also been cited as a possible benefit.
The impact on employees mood and general wellbeing also seems to be significant with participants in some studies reporting less fatigue, tension, and depression, and more energy, focus, and happiness when using a standing desk over a period of time.
Ergonomic Offices Of The Future
Most research confirms that the greatest problem to health and wellbeing is stasis: sitting for too long, performing small repetitive movements. Ergonomic furniture can certainly go a long way to reducing the impact of immobility, but it cannot completely eliminate the problem of sitting still for hours on end.
The office of the future (and the present) is one that encourages movement. Utilising a variety of different options from ergonomically optimised workstations, office layouts and work areas that increases mobility, to standing and even treadmill desks.
Fortunately, as technology enables many people to work using wireless connections and mobile devices, organisations no longer need to tie employees to their desk from 9-5. Flexibility and ergonomics are the future of modern office design.