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People first

Joerg Bakschas, Head of Ergonomics and Training at Adapt, warns that rapid technological change requires a new approach to workplace and furniture design

Ergonomics describes the adaptation of work equipment and environments to people, not vice versa. FMs need to be sure that health and wellbeing are prioritised when implementing new technologies and ways of working.

Over the last 15 years, advances in technology have had a huge impact on the office environment and working practices. Due to the internet and the availability of mobile communication devices such as smartphones and tablets, the way organisations are run and the way we behave in the office has changed. Communication and collaboration have become key priorities, with many modern workplaces offering diverse spaces that allow employees to perform their tasks in the most effective way.

Organisations are also becoming more agile. Routine activities are increasingly supported or replaced by artificial intelligence (AI). This means that office workers’ jobs are becoming more versatile and complex. In the future, it’s anticipated that teams will need to work more closely across different disciplines, requiring such facilities as collaboration rooms, creative laboratories, lounges, retreat areas, coffee corners, and shared desks.

There are obvious implications (as well as opportunities) in all this for workplace and furniture design. But there are also health issues to consider. The amount of time spent using handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets, for example, could lead to neck and shoulder problems. This could be addressed through the use of height-adjustable work surfaces that encourage the device to be held higher. For employees working on tablets, it might be worth investing in adjustable monitor arms which can hold the device comfortably, reducing the likelihood of tired arms and neck and shoulder strain.

The best solution to the drawbacks of sitting for too long is to stand up and move about. Swapping between different activities is beneficial, but if a lot of time is spent at a desk, it might be worth considering a sit-stand workstation. Introduced in Scandinavia and currently gaining popularity in western Europe, this is an intermediate form of workstation between a traditional seated desk and a standing desk. It allows the user to position the work surface at a level convenient for sitting or standing.

The risks inherent in new ways of working are not confined to physical health – there is also psychological strain to consider. For example, with mobile devices and apps such as WhatsApp offering instantaneous communication round the clock and pressure to respond, some people may find it hard to adapt.

All in all, the rapid pace of change requires a flexible and informed approach to workplace and furniture design, as well as heightened awareness of the changing conditions within which people are expected to work.


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