Ergonomics at desk 

Make your workspace effective! 

Ergonomics is the relationship between people, their equipment and the tasks they perform. At Steelcase, ergonomics is perceived as a tool intended to improve not only comfort but also performance.

Not all users are the same
People and the way they work have been changing a lot over the last decades and there is more diversity than ever in the workspace; these crucial changes imply that the companies are facing new challenges. At Steelcase we use ergonomics to respect people’s different work needs and ways of working, designing the work environment for the individual.

Differences in gender, physique, age, ethnicity, culture and personal taste place individual demands on the modern office environment. Steelcase has a user-centred approach to the workspace: everything is designed to empower people in their diverse work styles by meeting their ergonomic requirements and personal preferences.
Another new challenge of today’s workplace is that you will find in the office four different generations working alongside each other, each with their own attitudes, expectations and behaviours: Traditionalists (born before 1945), Boomers (born 1946-65), Generation X (born 1966-77) and Millennials (born after 1978). One of the challenges for the modern office is to accommodate all four.

Finally, new ways of working have appeared: for decades people have worked either alone at a workstation or in a private office. Research indicates, however, that people are most productive when they work in a collaborative way. This is the key to better learning, negotiation, problem solving and innovation. Communication technologies like Wi-Fi, smart phones and laptops are key to this, allowing people to work in the way that best suits them, anywhere and at any time they please. Along with these new devices, space planning is also crucial to enhance the informal meeting and communication within and between teams, and thus answer these new needs and expectations.

The user within his work environment
Technology is proliferating and the office is shrinking. On the other side there is a need for more productivity and efficiency. In this respect, four different aspects can contribute to the well-being and productivity of people:

1. Acoustics - Any disturbing sound is a noise!
Noise has always been present in the workplace. However, with the new open space era, the increasing density of workstations, the use of mobile phones as well as the new teams and informal groups working habits, conversation “leaking” has increased dramatically.

Studies have shown that a very noisy environment can result into a decrease of the work effectiveness by 20%.And according to a Steelcase & IPSOS Workplace survey 2007, the main bothersome element mentioned by European is noise with 59%. In order to guarantee a sound intensity level lower than 45dB (commonly advised by most professionals), the work space has to be treated globally:
• By insulating the building (equipped with sound reflecting external shell and sound absorbing internal walls or partitions).
• By the creation or adaptation of the workspace according to the space planning philosophy which guarantees a right balance between individual and team work as well as privacy.
• By encouraging people to respect rules of community life: discrete phone rings, use meeting spaces when conversing with others, speak with low voice, don’t shout

2. Thermal comfort
Thermal comfort is also key, for the well being of people. It is the third main bothersome element mentioned by European white collars, with 43% of them complaining about the temperature. And the same study reveals that only 38% of them have the possibility to adjust the temperature of their workplace

An optimum thermal comfort relies on those 3 parameters:
• Throughout the seasons, the ideal temperature is 21°. Variations of 2-3° are acceptable. However, the body better supports the warmth than the cold.
• 30% humidity is the minimum acceptable within a work environment during the winter. In the summer, a 40% to 60% humidity ratio will generate a good comfort feeling.
• The air speed should not exceed 0,2 metres / second.

3. Colours have impact on human behaviour
Colours should be used to structure the space and visualize the different departments but also to support people in their daily work. Warm colours tend to stimulate, while cool colours generally soothe. Vibrant reds and oranges are great colours to use in places that people occupy for temporary periods of time. For example, applying calm and soft colours on large surfaces will contribute to relax and remove stress. In the same respect, choosing bright colours for chairs and panels will encourage and stimulate their users. The same distinction will be applied when selecting colours for tasking or conferencing areas.
A good formula for mixing colours is to allow either warm or cool tones to dominate. Try 75 % warm hues and 25 % cool hues, or vice versa.

4. Lighting - 85% of the information we receive is visual!
Lighting directly influences sensations, humour and effectiveness at work. Most office lighting systems primarily support paper-based work which means that computers create some physical challenges with constant eyes adjusting between the screen, the white paper and the desk.

Therefore, the full value of the workplace investment won’t be realized without a quality lighting solution. A Steelcase IPSOS survey 2007 reveals that 36% of European white collars complain about not having enough control over lighting and 29% of them that they do not have enough daylight. These issues can cause stress, headaches and hence loss of productivity.
The main requirements of a quality lighting solutions include:
• The right balance between ambient (direct and indirect), task and accent lighting
• The right light for the right task: Meeting: 300 lux, Reading/writing: 500 lux, PC work: 200 to 300 lux, In between: 200 lux
• Accommodate the individual
• Integration of natural light

The user in a sitting position
Each individual’s spinal motion is unique and the seated position is not natural for the human. The resulting back pain is the number one absenteeism cause since it often leads to lumbago, cervicodynia or sciatica. The chair needs therefore to be adapted to the human diversity as well as to the different tasks performed by users. Each company has different spaces dedicated to different types of activities. Each of these requires a specific seating support.

The main criteria when selecting a chair are:

1. The physical comfort
When selecting chairs, three things are central for users to achieve proper support:
• Adjusted chair height must allow the user to keep both feet flat on the floor or on a footrest.
• The user should be able to sit in contact with the backrest at all times.
• The backrest must support the chosen posture with even pressure on the lower and upper back.
• In addition, chair controls have to be operable while seated to provide immediate feedback to help the user adjust the chair quickly and correctly.

For long-term, task intensive use, advanced features enhance the ability to custom-fit the chair to each user’s physical requirements and personal preferences. There are additional features to consider for users who sit for long periods each day. Providing these adjustments will reduce back and shoulder pain and help workers stay focused on their job.

2. The emotional comfort
Pleasing the mind as well as the body: A good chair offers much more than just excellent ergonomics. The most immediate manifestation of emotional comfort is appearance. A visually attractive chair is more inviting to sit on, and therefore makes people feel better about their workplace.
It is also important to be aware of the full capabilities of a chair. Recent research indicates that the vast majority of people do not know how to optimally adjust their chair to suit their own height, individual body weight and posture. Back pain and other discomforts are not just due to poor seating, but to poor use of seating. A chair has to be easy and intuitive to adjust.

3. The diverse activities thoughout the day
Everyday, people are involved in lot of different tasks and activities: meeting colleagues, using the computer, talking on the phone, gathering information, concentrating, analysing, organising, interacting with team members, taking a break, working on the go, storing information. Not one type of chair can cater to such a diverse array of office activities. For this reason, Steelcase offer a wide range of purpose-built seating solutions, which support different kinds of applications and working situations.

The user at his desk
Within the new technologies era, Steelcase proposes a global approach to the workstation environment. Several elements can have an impact on the user: from the PC and its integration at the desk to the connections and the overall organization of the workstation. One of the most important elements nowadays is the screen since 77% of European white collars spent at least 4hours per day in front of a computer screen (including 45% of them spending more than 6 hours per day). In this respect an LCD screen provides better comfort to the user (less visual tiredness, wider view angle enabling group work, easier to adjust) and reduces visual troubles as well as WMSD (work-related musculoskeletal disorders). The proper posture towards a screen includes a slight downward viewing angle (screen centred with keyboard) and a eye-to-screen distance between 500 and 700 mm. These can also result from the use of the mouse since several studies have put forward the link between the intensive use of the mouse and neck, shoulder or arm pain. The wrist is also sensitive to pressure as it supports the hand’s weight and also because of the pressure of the bending angle. Increasing the angle of bend increases the contact stress and irritation on tendons and tendon sheathes.
Water drop shape, not too sensitive buttons are crucial elements when it comes to the choice of a good mouse.

The proper posture towards a screen, keyboard and mouse include:
• straight neck
• slight downward viewing angle (screen centred with keyboard)
• eye-to-screen distance between 500 and 700 mm
• forearms parallel to the floor
• wrists straight
• palms resting on a soft surface when not typing on the keyboard

A badly set work equipment can lead to several important discomforts: according to a Steelcase IPSOS Workplace survey 2007, 59% of European white collards declare suffering from visual fatigue at least once a week, 46% of them from back pain, 44% of them from neck pain, 25% from wrist pain and 33% from headache.

Worktools - For a better day at work
All LCD screen arm, laptop support, headset or keyboard support can help by providing solutions for improving workstation ergonomics. Worktools are designed to give user a healthier day at work. Another issue is how people integrate technology tools and connections within their personal workspace so that they can work ergonomically and effectively. Steelcase Worktools can also provide help by means of a range of solutions such as connecting hubs, CPU supports, vertical processing slings designed for the new world of work.

New ergonomics induced by wireless era?
People use more and more wireless tools which enable them to be reachable anytime, anywhere. Does their new nomadism status impact on their health?
On a daily basis, they can escape from their traditional workstation and work in different spaces according to the level of privacy, concentration, teaming or even creativity required by their tasks.
The global workspace therefore needs to adapt to these new requirements and offer multi-users workstations comprised of intuitive chairs, flexible furniture, easy connectivity… Steelcase products such as the Think™ chair or the Moby™ storage system have been specifically devised in order to meet these requirements.

In many companies, even if the assigned workstation is still the most common form of spatial organization, the proportion of nomad workers is growing significantly with about 30% of executives in several countries (e.g. Netherlands and UK) working at several places and having no assigned desk anymore. The new challenge for their employers consists in providing them with the appropriate infrastructure when they come to work at the office. Even if they don’t have their own dedicated workstation, they still have a strong “belonging” feeling. Specific infrastructures such as bench stations (to balance the individual and teaming work), free desks fully equipped (with keyboards, batteries, support for laptop…), rooms for projects or (video) conferencing and “in-between” spaces can contribute to this new corporate spirit. At Steelcase, the product range matching the best this new work philosophy is the B Free Lounge ™ range.
From an ergonomics perspective, nomads should also carry their laptop and work belongings from one place to another with a backpack or a trolley case.

What’s next?
Due to mobility and work life balance issues, more and more people will be working at home in the coming years. According to the latest Steelcase IPSOS Workplace survey 2008, 33% of European white collars indicated that their preferred place of work was home. Questions induced by such a trend include:
Is it more stressful, or relaxing to work at home? Working at home equals living at the office?

The problem is that only a few people can dedicate a room at home for their work and that most of them don’t have the appropriate furniture.
However, with nomadism, worker have been gaining autonomy which implies that they also have to take in charge and control their own ergonomics even if the employer still has the responsibility to take in charge the set up of an appropriate equipment.

The wish to work a other places- either more relaxed/inspiring is also growing: The latest Steelcase IPSOS survey 2008 reveals that 22% or European white collars declare they would like to work from time to time from a lounge spaces or the canteen, 20% in a coffee place, 17% in a terrace/garden. These needs will also require companies to adapt and offer their staff some ergonomic solutions.