The workplace is becoming increasingly domesticated. When we look back to the 1980s it was all big corner desks and status chairs. Aggressive corporate art hung on the walls mirroring the hard lines of the firmly-shut doors to the C-suite, and the cubicles of the typing pool huddled outside. Everyone knew their place, and they stayed in it.
Now, thanks to concepts like activity-based and agile working, together with technological advances which mean we’re no longer chained to a desk, there are a whole variety of different spaces in which to work. Café style spaces, kitchens, sofas and bean bags. Office furniture manufacturers are selling rugs and cushions for the first time. Pool tables and computer games help people chill out in spaces which can also incorporate pilates and yoga classes. Walk into some workplaces and it’s more homely than your own home. And probably better equipped.
Domesticated workplaces have been in vogue for a while. But is this trend storing up a problem up for the future? Rather than sitting on ergonomically-sound task chairs looking at computers positioned at exactly the right height on supportive desks, people are curled up in bean bags or on sofas precariously balancing laptop or iPads on their laps. Or hunched over café style tables pounding away on a laptop. Comfortable for short periods, but long-term working in this way risks causing neck, back and joint strain together with issues with eyesight. And that’s without considering how easy it is to spill your coffee over yourself – or your laptop – when it’s balanced on a beanbag.
The key is education. Back in the 1980s the office manager would train people how to use their desks through formal workstation assessments. They’d have a somewhat dull tutorial on how to adjust the chair to suit the height of the monitor, where to position that monitor and the keyboard to ensure the line of sight was right, and arms and hands were positioned correctly at the keyboard. Ergonomic mouse mats (remember them?) and wrist supports helped people to avoid repetitive strain injury, while specialist task chairs supported those with back problems.
Now even those people working at desks, often desk-share or hot desk and could find themselves working in several different desks throughout the day. The idea of adjusting the furniture each time to suit individual ergonomic requirements has gone out the window along with the power suits and the rolodexes. And there are no rules on how to sit ergonomically in a beanbag, though the first ergonomic beanbag is probably already in production.
We need to go back to basics and educate people on how to actually work in this new style of working. Yes slumping on a beanbag to relax is fine. Working there for six hours is not. Using a café-style area for a meeting, or to catch up on emails is no problem. Spending all day in the Starbucks concession leaning over a laptop is a no-no. And that’s without thinking about all those people working from home at their kitchen tables. Many organisations might have qualms about re-introducing formal workstation assessments (although by law they should have been doing them all along). But they don’t have to be dull and can be supported with entertaining cartoons and charts posted around the office. This type of formal training in how to work and use the furniture and equipment is essential if the generation currently sprawling in beanbags have a hope of being able to do the same in 40 years’ time.
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