Have you ever wondered what ergonomics really is? Ergonomics is the adaptation of work equipment and environments to people, not vice versa. In many cases people are enthusiastic about technical innovations and the new possibilities offered by progressing digitalisation. On the other hand, we often forget that these innovations are intended for the purpose of serving and adapting to man, not the other way round.
Over the last 15 years, advances in technology have had a huge impact on the office environment and the ways in which we work. When the current DSE (Display Screen Equipment) regulations were published back in 2002, office workers were typically found sitting rigidly in front of their screens all day. Ergonomists therefore focused on introducing dynamic sitting, where the movement of the seated person is made possible through using an appropriate chair. However, today it‘s widely accepted that sitting for prolonged periods of time can have a negative impact on our health.
Technology is transforming our workplace…
Due to the Internet and the availability of completely new communication and IT-solutions, such as smartphones and tablets, the way organisations are run and the way we behave in the office has changed. Nowadays, communication and collaboration are more important than ever before in order to speed up innovation. Modern office environments are characterised by a variety of available spaces for employees, giving them the opportunity and freedom to perform their duties and tasks in the most effective way.
Organisations are becoming more and more agile. Routine activities are increasingly supported or replaced by artificial intelligence (AI). This means that the tasks for office workers are becoming more versatile and at the same time more complex. In the future, it’s anticipated teams will need to work more closely with one another across different disciplines, requiring new ways of working. The basis for these new ways of working, such as: collaboration rooms, creative laboratories, lounges, retreat areas and coffee corners, is first and foremost the introduction of desk-sharing.
As offices become more open and diverse, new and higher demands are placed on acoustics, lighting and flexibility. Although employees are generally more active in these working environments, new problems arise. The use of handheld devices, such as smartphones and tablets, are not limited to working hours and excessive use can cause neck and shoulder problems. This is also backed up by the latest statistics from health insurance companies.
There are ways to help reduce the risk of injury caused by over use of handheld devices: ideally they should be held at a higher level, which can be made easier through using height adjustable worksurfaces. For employees working on tablets it’s worthwhile investing in adjustable monitor arms which can hold the device comfortably, reducing the likelihood of tired arms, neck and shoulder strain.
The increased popularity of sit-stand workstations…
The trend of sit-stand-workstations started in Scandinavia and has only recently become more established in Western Europe. The benefits are not only achieved by the movement itself but also in the way we breathe when standing. A person can speak more freely standing because our breathing works better without the pressure of the abdomen on the diaphragm.
What you can do if you don’t have a sit-stand workstation…
The current DSE regulations are still valid for a large part of the workplace, however, they could still be improved for the next generation of open working environments with space for activity-based working and the use of mobile devices. I believe that updating the existing list of DSE questions should be a top priority in order to address new threats to the office.
Ergonomics does not stop at the workstation itself. Increased attention must be paid to the psychological strain on employees. Anthropologists state that technological development has become so rapid it is increasingly difficult and stressful for humans to adapt. In the past, a person received a letter and had a few days to reply. Then the fax was introduced. Fast forward to today and you will probably receive a call if the other person doesn’t see the 2 blue ticks on his WhatsApp within a few minutes!
To summarise, I believe that with rapid advances in technology, the ergonomic design of our workplaces has never been more important. Businesses need to ensure that their office environments are ready to meet the current and future needs of their workforce or risk the consequences.
This article was written by Joerg Bakschas, Head of Ergonomics and Training at Adapt and published in FMJ Magazine in April 2018. To find out how Adapt’s ergonomic office furniture solutions can help you create a more effective workspace, please contact 01327 855833 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .