Ergonomic Office Furniture
The modern society demands a lot of work-input from the average adult, having to spend about half of each day cooped up in offices, engrossed in mounds of work. This isn't just true for the formally employed, but rather almost every economically active individual, whether at an office structure or in a home office. Now, considering the hours on end spent in these offices, the issue of comfort becomes a key aspect that can boost these office occupants’ productivity and ensure a comfortable working environment. As such, office furniture and office space designers have begun to consider ergonomic factors when coming up with their products in a bid to enhance the comfort of this highly-utilized space, ultimately boosting the productivity of the workers within.
What is Ergonomics?
Ergonomics is a design concept that focuses on people-centric design processes. According to the ‘Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science’ Journal, it can be defined as the application of psychological and physiological principles to the engineering and design of products, processes, and systems.
In simpler terms, ergonomics is simply considering the human component when designing or creating products meant for human consumption. For instance, psychology has shown that the color blue has a relaxing effect on people. Now, Facebook then employs ergonomics when designing its applications and uses the color blue as the main theme color so that people will find the social platform relaxing.
An Ergonomic Workspace
Having established the concept behind ergonomics, it only makes sense that it be applied to the design of the workplace, particularly our office spaces. Now the key features in every office are the furniture, from the work tables, the chairs, to the modern office implements that ad our work such as computers, printers, projectors, writing boards, etc. As such, it only makes sense that all this office furniture should conform to the ergonomics concept since they all contribute to the quality of your office lives.
As implied by the ergonomics definition, ergonomic office furniture should possess 3 key qualities to satisfy the criteria of the concept namely;
- High Comfort Qualities – people perform better in a comfortable environment. It, therefore makes sense that any furniture design seeking to satisfy office ergonomics should ensure the comfort of the end-user.
- Seamless Functionality – imagine a filing cabinet that has sticky doors! The frustration and annoyance of dealing with such inconveniences indicate the absence of ergonomic designs. As such, it follows that ergonomic office furniture should provide seamless functionality for all users.
- The Human Functionality Element – this last quality baffles a lot of designers, many of them entirely overlooking it yet it is just as critical as the others. Consider a super-comfortable chair that doesn’t rotate on its vertical axis. Is it comfortable? Yes! Is it functional as a chair? Absolutely yes again! However, do people always sit facing one direction? What happens if I drop a pencil on my side and need to turn that way? Now, this is where this quality kicks in, ensuring that the design takes into consideration the diverse nature of human movement and other ways in which we function in our daily office lives.
Key & Practical Considerations for Ergonomic Office Furniture
Now that we have outlined the qualities and expectations of ergonomic office furniture, let’s dive a bit deeper and explore some of the key features and considerations that help to satisfy the expected qualities of ergonomic office furniture;
- Sitting posture / Sitting Position
This is easily the key focus of ergonomic office furniture. Over 90% of the time spent in any office is spent in a chair or a sitting position at the very least. It is, therefore, no surprise that chairs have long since been the main target of ergonomic office designs.
The sitting posture on an ergonomic office chair or for-sitting piece of furniture should maintain the natural ‘S’ posture described by the human spine. A regular chair cannot do that, rather they often force occupants into a 'C' spine posture due to the 'crouching' or leaning-over tendency that it gives.
Having considered the correct sting posture, ergonomics is also concerned with design features that can further enhance the structural support of the lumbar region. This will help to maintain the furniture user’s spine in the natural ‘S’ curve position even when fully relaxed. The job is often achieved by items such as seat cushions, chair-back cushions, specially-designed lumbar support belts, etc.
The body is designed to move and rest in certain comfortable ways. That should never be compromised hence the ergonomic design should ensure that there is no restriction or limitation whatsoever imposed by the office furniture.
For instance, any desk that causes you to tuck in your legs n some cramped posture isn’t ergonomically designed. Similarly, furniture like chairs should allow you to twist and turn around as you normally would in the absence of the chair.
Since office furniture is mass-produced, it should be fully customizable to accommodate all sorts of body shapes and sizes for it to be considered ergonomically designed. Features such as legroom, height, breadth, inclination should all be adjustable, especially for furniture like chairs and tables.
Office furniture can also be designed to relieve muscle pain, promote physical activeness of the occupant, and a lot more other therapeutic features. For instance, a chair’s design can have a ‘stretching mode’ which positions your body in a particular position that promotes muscle relief and perhaps even some exercises just like a workout bench.
This feature is often associated with the use of computers, however, there are numerous office furniture items and features that can affect your eyes’ comfort. For instance, the type of blinds chosen needs to enable sufficient natural light when needed or block it out completely where necessary. Similarly, the color of the décor can easily create an uncomfortable glare or color tone for the whole office.
As for electronic gadgets, designers don't just focus on the computer monitor's glare but also consider other aspects such as the flash of a printer's light, the hum of the air conditioning unit, the lights from the power adapter, etc.
Key Features of Ergonomic Office Furniture
Ergonomic furniture is not an abstract concept, but rather very tangible features and equipment that can be implemented in any workplace to increase productivity. Let’s take a quick look at some of the key and tangible features of ergonomic furniture;
As suggested by the name, monitor arms are supports for the computer screen that enables easy and effective manipulation of the screen's height angle, orientation, etc. Monitor Arms are a vital component of ergonomic office furniture/equipment since they enable the user to customize the screen to his/her specific fit. After all, people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and each one has a different optimum screen position that works ideally. The common type of monitor arms come with convenient attachment features which allow optimum positioning such as on the desk’s frame itself.
A computer mouse can also be designed to be ergonomic. Considering that it is one of the most commonly used equipment in any modern office, it is essential that it be very comfortable and convenient for the user. An ergonomic mouse reduces the muscle strain on the hand by fitting in the operating hand in its natural orientation it can actually prevent serious ailments such as arthritis and tendonitis which can be triggered and aggravated by non-ergonomic mouse designs.
Seat cushions can easily turn a regular chair into a piece of ergonomic office furniture. Since the sitting posture is critical in ensuring the user's comfort, anything that corrects the 'C' sitting posture to an 'S' posture is vital in the event that there are no specially-designed ergonomic chairs available. These seat cushions correct the posture and hence eliminates a major ergonomic risk factor.
Task chairs are easily another key office furniture requiring an ergonomic design. Almost every second spent in an office is spent in this chair hence the need to have a special design that supports the correct sitting posture, the correct hands-to-table angle, and the correct leg posture. Sometimes, it may be necessary to provide footrests with task chairs for proper ergonomics, especially for shorter people. The same goes for all other sitting furniture such as stools, sometimes referred to as drafting stools.
The kneeling chair is also another specially-designed type of an ergonomic chair that ensures ultimate comfort for the user, relieving the leg muscles of any undue strain that may result from sitting for long hours. The kneeling position on this special chair allows office workers to take a more natural posture on the desk while simultaneously enabling them to have full and easy access to the desk area to do their normal work.
Ergonomic desks are another key element of ergonomic office furniture. The main unique feature of these vital office components is the ability to adjust the desk's height. This enables different workers of different heights to fit on the desk comfortable by raising or lowering the surface to the proper level. It also ensures that, as the tasks being carried out changes, the desk orientation changes. For instance, the ideal desk surface level when using the computer is different from the ideal level when drawing.
Studies by the CDC (center for disease control) showed that over 30% of people who spend 8+ hours in the office each working day experience one kind of skeletal ailment or another. The solution to this worrisome trend is a fully-agronomical approach to office furniture designing. Furniture manufacturers are, therefore urged to consider usability more than the aesthetic and convenience features. Here are some key features to look out for in your office furniture before we proceed to the FAQs;
- Chairs must enable your hips to be parallel with the knees.
- Screen filters for monitors
- Supports for your mouse & keyboard.
- Adjustable chair arms
- Sensitive weight-support mechanisms
Frequently Asked Questions
- What does ergonomic mean?
Answer: Ergonomic refers to designs that promote seamless interaction between people and their surroundings, tools, and processes as they go about their business. As such, ergonomics refer to the study of the relationship that exists between workers and the essential functions of their job.
- What is an ergonomic office chair?
Answer: For an office chair to be classified as ergonomic, it must have adjustable features such as the seat's height, the seat's orientation, as well as lumbar support which ensures a natural 'S' position/posture for the spine.
- What is an ergonomic workspace?
Answer: An ergonomic workspace is one that promotes a comfortable working environment for the occupants such as comfortable furniture, optimum room temperatures, easily accessible tools, functional equipment, etc. It is, therefore, a workplace with optimum productivity.
- What could be a cause of ergonomic injury?
Answer: Ergonomic injuries result from ergonomic risk factors i.e. the lack of a comfortable working environment, for instance, chairs that cause occupants to crouch forward in a ‘C’ spine shape, cold room temperatures, uncomfortable leg positions under the table due to limited space, etc.
- What is an ergonomic keyboard?
Answer: This is a keyboard that minimizes muscle strain for the user due to its design features. They often come as V-shaped units, allowing each hand to type in a more comfortable position and angle.
- What is ergonomic design?
Answer: An ergonomic design is one that takes into consideration the comfort of, and the convenience to, the people who will make use of that design.
- What are ergonomic risk factors?
Answer: these are the risk factors that are experienced in work environments and arise from work-related activities. The key ergonomic risk factors include; awkward postures (seated or standing), forceful exertions, localized body-contact stresses, vibrations, and exposure to extremes of temperatures.
- Will ergonomic furniture benefit my business, and how?
Answer: This question is quite popular with business owners. The short answer is YES ergonomic furniture will benefit your business. Your employees or colleagues will spend more time on their comfortable workstations, hence no more endless stretching sessions and less sitting fatigue. You will also experience a marked decrease in physical ailments' absenteeism such as those resulting from backaches.
- What key features should I consider when buying ergonomic furniture?
Answer: Every piece of furniture needs to be unique for it to be fully ergonomic. Consider main details such as the gender, height, and weight of the intended user. You can also find out their preferred or dominant hand/leg to use for a more personalized touch. All these details will guide your furniture selection and ensure it suits the user perfectly.
- Is ergonomic furniture expensive?
Answer: every office user is concerned about the cost of setting up the working space. Ergonomic furniture is very affordable, almost similar to the regular furniture, so NO it is not expensive. Remember, you can also achieve an ergonomic workspace by simply rearranging furniture and equipment, then spending only a few necessary special items like chars.
- Do ergonomic features and standards vary with each job?
Answer: Absolutely yes! There are no one-size-fits-all when it comes to ergonomic furniture or an ergonomic workspace. Each job and its executor should be examined and the right features established.
- Can natural environmental factors affect workplace ergonomics?
Answer: Yes! Many employers focus only on factors such as furniture and leave their employees to suffer the effects of natural phenomena. Factors such as natural light and temperatures should also be considered and dealt with. For instance, every office space must have air conditioners and artificial lighting to ensure optimum temperatures and visibility.
- What are the ideal ergonomic furniture conditions on setup?
Answer: Remember, you can have ergonomic furniture but still suffer from ergonomic hazards. Therefore, you need to CORRECTLY set-up your furniture to ensure optimum conditions; a) your arm should form an angle of 90 degrees + when resting on the table, b) your legs must not be suspended, and must also have a 90 degrees + angle (behind the kneecap) when resting, c) your chair’s seat should level with your knees when standing, but only if you have an adjustable desk or your desk space allows it.
- What is the correct computer monitor features and position?
Answer: your monitor should always have the highest clarity, without glaring up the whole desk. Try to use a lighter shade background. If you have to squint to see on the monitor, you either need to fix the text size or get glasses. A common standard measure is that all text sizes should be kept at about 3mm, and should be visible from 50cm away from the screen.
- Who is responsible for an ergonomic workspace and is it sufficient grounds for employee disgruntlement?
Answer: this is a tough one, there is just no clear cut answer to it. Rather, politely approach your superiors and try to convince them to implement ergonomic features around the workplace, highlighting the key expected benefits; higher productivity!
Surely, you have an understanding of office ergonomics now. The next step is to adopt the concept in your workspace and experience the benefits that it brings. Don't hesitate to implement due to cost fears because, as discussed earlier, an ergonomic workspace can be achieved by simple efforts such as rearranging furniture and equipment. Of course, you'll still need to spend a little on other unique elements but there are lots of affordable options out there. Good luck!