Ergonomics Needs To Change To Be More Active

Ergonomics need to change.

That’s the short message gleaned from Haworth’s white paper: Active Ergonomics for the Emerging Workplace.

With the workplace just about unrecognisable, if compared to the “cubicle farms” of yesteryear, the way in which we work,  whether we sit or stand, has also changed. This causes a bit of a problem considering that the thinking behind ergonomics hasn’t changed since it was developed a couple of decades ago with the cubicle-style office in mind.

Haworth says in its white paper “technology has freed people to work anywhere, and a growing proportion of that work is collaborative and social.” But they also note that traditional office ergonomics does not address co-working or open spaces: “These emerging space types are being created with no ergonomic guidance, […] Organisations that fail to apply a ‘big picture’ approach to office ergonomics are missing the opportunity to provide a safe and high-performing workplace for their employees.”

Collaboration between colleagues are becoming the norm, and this style of working necessitates movement: employees need to move from one desk to another, meet up in break-out areas or spaces that can accommodate larger groups.

Classic ergonomics concentrates on individual workstations, with the assumption that an employee stays in one place throughout the day. It focuses on the employee’s seated posture at their workstation, with factors including the distance of the screen from their eyes, the position of the hands and wrists over the keyboard and desk, and the height of the desk.

So what about standing desks, or group meetings held on sofas (or heaven forbid pouffes!)? How does posture in these circumstances affect our productivity compared to when we used to sit in our cubicles?

It’s evident: ergonomics need to change.

Haworth suggests replacing traditional ergonomics with what they call Active Ergonomics – an approach to office design that applies a wide range of ergonomic principles to the whole environment.

They based their Active Ergonomics around three areas:

  1. Anthropometrics, which is the way our bodies relate to its immediate environment and essentially what classic ergonomics factors in.
  2. Ambients, which takes into account environmental conditions like the quality of light and air, noise and temperature.
  3. Movement, which can cover anything from moving from one space to another, to a person being able to adjust their posture to suit the task they’re working on.

Modern ergonomics should take the company culture and their specific way of working into account when the layout is done. In doing so, employers will ensure that they get the best out of their employees without encroaching on their collaborative creativity.