Thanks to everyone who joined us last week for our ‘Design for Productivity’ events around Australia, presented by leading ergonomics expert, Professor Alan Hedge.

Alan Hedge, Director of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory at Cornell University in New York, joined Schiavello and Humanscale for a series of talks designed to share insights with the Australian workplace community about the latest research in the field of ergonomics, and the relationship between ergonomic products, programs, design and office productivity.

We’d like to share a recap of the discussion, video and photos from the Melbourne event for those who were unable to attend.

The link between design, innovation and productivity

The presentations opened with a discussion about innovation. In the US market, it’s all about dollars, and companies rely heavily on innovation to drive dollars. Companies in the US have realised that achieving high business productivity, and therefore survival, is all about fostering innovation.

Hedge says office facilities exist for one thing. “They are places where people are supposed to do productive work.” The concept of productivity, however doesn’t only relate to work, he continues. It’s also about recruitment and talent, especially important as the competition for talented people is escalating.

Touching on generational differences in the workplace, Hedge says, “The generation of people going into these companies is not thinking they will stay for life. They want work that challenges, that’s exciting, where they feel they’ll be rewarded.” Facilities need to reflect this desire. Some companies, in fact, are building facilities with one thing in mind: To recruit and retain talented people.

It’s a change in mindset. Companies are now realising that the workplace is really important, and that productivity, health & wellbeing, and the business are infinitely related.

The changing workplace

Hedge walked through the ways in which the workplace has changed over the last 10-20 years. The large screened desktop computer has evolved over time – to notebooks, and now ultrabooks, ultra thin, ultra fast devices that enable people to work easily from anywhere. New technologies free you in space (not fix you in space).

He discussed the impact of multiple generations in the workplace. Veterans, baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z (those entering the workforce now), will work side by side, and each has different expectations about how they will work.

New technologies enable new ways of working, and as such, the office space is shrinking. As people work from different types of spaces – from cafes to breakout areas, couches, etc., and take up less individual space, Alan Hedge asks the audience, “What happens to ergonomics?”

To sit or to stand?

A recent study showed that prolonged sitting is considered detrimental to your health. The more you sit, the more chance you’ll develop risk of cardiovascular events, or diabetes. Standing isn’t the answer either. Prolonged standing increases the risks of carotid atherosclerosis, varicose veins, and increases leg fatigue.

The best solution, according to Hedge and many leading experts in the field, is continuous movement. Hedge sites work from Baker IDI’s David Dunstan, which shows one to two minutes of movement every hour mitigates the negative effects of prolonged sitting.

Facilitating movement

When we think about the workplace we need to think about how to facilitate movement.

Hedge discusses the trend of sit/stand workstations, and gives an overview of the most recent research around the actual impact of giving people sit/stand workstations. Many studies have shown significant health, wellbeing and productivity benefits when people switch from sitting to standing throughout the day. Hedge’s own research (Hedge and Ray 2004) has shown that productivity ratings are higher for people who varied posture than for people who stayed in one position.

While products like sit/stand workstations enable people to move, companies need to consider how to create a culture that encourages people to move. We can’t just rely on workplace tools, we need to evaluate workplace movement strategies, and create policies that support the right type of workplace dynamics that encourage people to move around.

What strategies can we employ to encourage movement? Alan Hedge offers a few ideas to get people thinking about how to move more at work:

  • Periodically stand to work
  • Sit in a neutral posture to do computer work
  • Stand for short meetings
  • Periodically stand to work in neutral posture
  • Periodically move around to do other types of work
  • Move filing systems / printers to end of office
  • Move shared equipment
  • Move water fountains far from desks

ABW and ‘Everywhere Ergonomics’

Hedge also talked about the growing trend of activity-based working (ABW), a trend that’s already gained significant traction in Australia. ABW environments have a variety of settings to support sitting work and standing work, group work and private work.

Every place where someone can come into contact with technology must ensure people can work in healthful way. Ergonomists can no longer plan for one person sitting in one place – they have to plan for entire facility.

Designers can play a key role in the creation of activity-based, dynamic workplaces that facilitate movement promotes productivity, comfort and health and wellbeing for all.