The importance of posture and movement while working is hardly new information, yet it’s only in recent years that it has been more widely acknowledged as a crucial factor in staff productivity and wellbeing. As health costs continue to rise and absenteeism, low productivity and workplace injuries combined cost organisations trillions of dollars each year globally, it is simply not prudent to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ workplace model, with poorly designed, uncomfortable furniture. Workplaces designed as an ecosystem of varied spaces provides tangible benefits to the company and staff and fosters a sense of accountability for employees to choose the most suitable and healthy way to get work done.
The link between sedentary workers and health problems has been researched for centuries. Back in 1700, Bernardino Ramazzini, an Italian physician considered as the founder of ergonomics, discovered that tailors, who mostly sat while working, were less healthy than messengers, who were generally mobile (Source: ergonomenon.com). Many years later, in 1953, a landmark British study made a connection between cardiovascular disease and people who performed various types of work. The bus conductors and postmen were found to suffer illness less frequently than sedentary bus drivers and telephone operators (The Lancet, Vol. 262, No. 679). Many studies since have corroborated Ramazzini’s findings; prolonged sedentary tasks can have significant effects on our health and encouraging active movement and a range of correct postures throughout the work day leads to numerous benefits.
We know movement and posture is important and simply can’t be ignored if we want to create productive, healthy workplaces. So how do we apply these principles when designing office space? As mentioned previously, the ‘one size fits all’ approach of fixed desks and poor seating must be replaced by what is now widely known as a Palette of Place and Postures. People at work need to focus, collaborate, rejuvenate, socialize and learn throughout their day. No single space can support these diverse needs.
For instance, a short video-conference meeting could be held at a standing table in an open, enclosed or partially enclosed space. Creative team collaborations could be optimized in a standing-only space with writeable surfaces and appropriate technology. Casual discussions, whether one-on-one or in groups, could be hosted in a breakout area, with lounge seating and access to food and beverage facilities. Phone booths, possibly provided with ‘perching’ stools are ideal for short, confidential phone calls. Meetings that don’t require fixed technology or paper are a perfect opportunity for a stroll through the office or even outside.
When staff are able to choose a place to work that best suits their needs, they are more efficient, engaged and less likely to suffer from repetitive action injuries. With the right furniture, tools and technology, workplaces today can offer a positive, healthy environment that is a powerful business tool for success.