Ergo + Office Design = Happy and Healthy Employees

rendering of a modern office  interior

As practicing ergonomists and users of computers, laptops and mobile devices, we have wrestled with the gap that exists between office and furniture design and a good sound ergonomic set up.  The trick for most of us working in the fields of Ergonomics, Healthy & Safety, Human Resources, Facilities and Interior Design is to work together to make sure that the work environment that the end use has to work in is functional, comfortable, attractive and affordable!

We are delighted to bring you an interview with Mason Roberts who is a Workplace Innovator and Artist, specializing in Facilities Management, Planning & Design.

ErgoMuse:  There seems to be a disconnect between furniture design, space planning and the needs of the end user in terms of ergonomic considerations and user friendly functionality.   Where do you think the biggest gap lies?

Mason RobertsYes, I agree however the commercial furniture industry is working towards a more “ergonomic” functional suite of products.  Workplace ergonomics has received a lot of attention over the past few years and most furniture companies are embracing it, though it’s not completely intergraded yet.  In my opinion, the biggest gap is the need for a completely adjustable work station at a marketable price.  The furniture industry is headed down that path but is not quite there yet.

ErgoMuse:  What can be done to shrink that gap?

Mason Roberts: It’s happening now with a more user friendly/ergonomic approach to design.  Most of the Architectural and Design schools are teaching ergonomics and ergonomic design in their programs now.  It’s just a matter of time.

ErgoMuse:  What considerations do designers and architects need to keep in mind to have the best of all worlds?  (Design, function and comfort?)

Mason RobertsAll the above.  The aesthetics and functionality of commercial office furniture are improving along with the functionality of the workplace itself and the products that are designed to inhabit it.  The real inhibitor is cost and how to balance that.

ErgoMuse: As a Facilities Manager, what ergo issues come up “after the fact”?

Mason Roberts: Moves are a constant reality in the fast paced workplace of today.  Companies, business units, teams, etc are consistently realigning and moving.  A flexible workspace is key to keeping the move costs to a minimum and workplace productivity high.  Many of the move and workspace issues we run into are ergonomic in nature like adjusting the height of the work surface, adjusting the height the monitors, providing the proper amount of lighting on a work surface compared to general ceiling lighting, noise levels, personal space, etc.  These all can be worked out in advance.

ErgoMuse: What considerations should be taken into account when planning for a move?

Mason Roberts:  There are many and much depends on the size of the move/relocation.  The basics would be to know how your teams work in detail and their work space requirements including I.T., storage, meeting, teaming, AV and telecommuting/mobile office needs.

ErgoMuse:  Are there any different issues for a new space for new hires vs new space for existing employees?

Mason Roberts: This can be a slippery slope.  The answer is yes and no.  I have experienced both.  Retaining employees can be a challenge and the workplace is often a key factor.  By providing a functional and comfortable workplace, along with employee perks such as a cafe, lounge space, quiet rooms, shuttle services, on-site dry-cleaning or workout facility the organization is investing in workplace culture and keeping its workforce happy and productive.  Real Estate is expensive and adding to your Real Estate Portfolio may not be possible.  What do you do when you run out of space for new hires, etc?  You squeeze them into every last corridor and corner you have.  This is a significant issue for an organization and should be taken very seriously.  Strategic Workplace Planning is essential to addressing this type of issue.  For these ‘ad hock’ workspaces I recommend keeping with a flexible workspace, standardize with your current furniture and partner with H.R/I.T. to make these spaces as functional and comfortable as possible.

ErgoMuse:  What about contraction (reduction of work force)?

Mason Roberts:  Yes, this is part of the workplace cycle.  The more flexible and adjustable your workspace is, the easier it will be to reconfigure and/or realign your teams.  Teaming areas, flexible meeting space, etc can easily be modified for a large workforce or a contraction.

ErgoMuse:  What are your thoughts on the new trend of Work Anywhere Programs?

Mason Roberts:   There are a growing number of companies who are embracing this option since technology allows for employees to literally work anywhere.   Just like expansions and contractions, the more upfront planning and clear ergonomic guidelines and education for the Anywhere worker, the better.  This includes equipment chosen, home office set up guidelines and standards, addressing the needs of road warriors as well as  flexible and adjustable “hoteling” stations when and if employees work on-site.

ErgoMuse:  What needs to be considered in terms of all of the new mobile gadgets and gismos that keep changing the way we work?

Mason Roberts:  Something often is overlooked is the user interface of devices and products.  Things like portability, functionality and the ergonomic design need to be considered as opposed to who has the best deal going.  Employee testing can be extremely valuable.  Technology that includes touch screens, hand gestures, voice commands, etc. are significantly changing the way we live, work and play.

To close, the workplace of today is not the workplace of yesterday.  It’s changing rapidly to incorporate new technologies.  It’s becoming more and more flexible allowing its workforce to work ‘anywhere’ around the globe.  Ergonomics is playing a large role in this workplace change and should be embraced as a leading indicator of the health and productivity of a company.  Employee satisfaction, retention, a healthy workplace all these are important bench marks for the  successful companies of today and tomorrow.

Mason Roberts is a Workplace Innovator and Artist specializing in Facility Management, Occupancy Planning, Space Planning, Project Management and Workplace Design.  Mason grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and attended San Jose State University studying Interior Design and Art History.  Mason has been working in the Technology and Biotechnology industry for the past 17 years.

Please take a moment to leave a comment below and share ways that ergonomics and office design has or hasn’t worked for you!  As always,  the more we can learn from each other, the better!

Vivienne and Andrew, PBE Co-Founders

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  • Cyrus
    Posted at 10:17h, 07 January Reply

    That looks like a cool office setup!

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