In a fast-paced office environment, it’s common for employees to prioritize tasks and conference calls over their own well-being. Too often, lunch breaks are a happy accident, let alone stretch breaks. However, more companies are waking up to the need to create not only productive workplaces, but healthy ones.
That’s why we’re seeing an influx of ergonomic offices that are conducive to improved physical and mental well-being. These incorporate furniture, technology, and other design elements that minimize the risk of distraction, illness, and injury, and are adjustable to employees’ individual needs. This is perhaps more important now than ever, as generations entering the workforce are at risk of greater tech-related injury (one only has to look as far as the “tech neck” epidemic to understand why), while an overall aging workforce presents additional workplace challenges.
Your team is your greatest asset. Not only is an investment in their well-being the right thing to do, it can actually have positive ROI. Research shows that taking the time to design an ergonomic office has a positive financial return on investment, by reducing workplace injuries, and maintaining a healthy, engaged, and invested staff. Whether you’re designing an office from the ground up or making incremental changes to your existing space, there are significant opportunities to create a healthier, more productive organization.
Greater office-wide productivity
Good ergonomics create an environment that allows employees to feel comfortable and productive at work while minimizing the physical effort needed to perform given tasks. After all, no employee can stay focused on the task at hand without a comfortable workspace where they feel both supported and safe.
Even in open concept offices, companies need to take their employees’ personal space into account; if employees are bumping elbows trying to type at their desks, chances are something is wrong with your office design. Space permitting, keep rooms functional with the “3-foot rule” by ensuring you have at least 3-feet of walking room for employees between any piece of furniture or fixture. Employees with proper personal, visual, and auditory privacy will also be less distracted by their coworkers.
When designing your ergonomic office, think about the entirety of the environment first — how employees access, move through, and interact in the space — and then hone in on the details. Besides ensuring that everyone has enough room to focus and move freely around the office, productivity is bound to increase when, for example, a desk is intelligently designed so that employees can sit with proper posture, and place less stress on their bodies throughout the day.
Fewer office injuries and illnesses
Productivity is a top priority for any successful business, of course. But keeping them healthy is equally important — and can directly impact their focus while at work. Most office workers spend the vast majority of their time at work sitting, so making small adjustments — the right chair, a taller desktop monitor — can make a significant impact on an employee’s physical health.
Poor ergonomics make work harder than it needs to be: neck tension, wrist strain, and headaches are only a few of the symptoms employees regularly experience. These ailments can develop into larger chronic issues including carpal tunnel, tendonitis, migraines and even spinal injuries. The problem is, employees tend to accept a certain level of discomfort — considering it a part of the job — until they hit the critical tipping point where their discomfort turns into full-blown injury.
When assessing your space it’s important to consider whether it accommodates people with a range of abilities. Particularly in urban centers, obstacles like lack of wheelchair access and even heavy doors can cause daily distress for some employees, and increase the risk of workplace injury.
The last thing you want is for employees to regularly be out-of-office at appointments because office life has taken a significant toll on their well-being and productivity. Taking proactive measures upfront can help keep everyone happy, and minimize the cost of workplace compensation, temporary position coverage, and the inherent administrative costs of such incidents.
Creating a “people-first” culture
There are many ways to make your office ergonomic, like better lighting, greater individual privacy, and more ergonomic furniture and technology. But before investing in office-wide changes, consider discussing employees’ needs with them one-on-one, and adapting the space to address their most pressing pain points. Having informational sessions on workplace best practices — ranging from taking a lunch break, to setting up an eye-level computer monitor — can educate your team on easy adjustments that can preventatively avoid workplace injuries.
Whichever route you choose to go (psst — we’ve expanded on some tips and tricks below, to get you started), by demonstrating a commitment to health and safety, you’re sending an essential message to your employees: that you’re invested in their health. Not only does this have a direct business ROI (reducing turnover and absenteeism), but it creates long-lasting reputational benefits as both past and current employees represent the company in a positive light to their colleagues and peers.
How to improve the ergonomics of your office:
1. Take the entirety of the environment into account
As we mentioned above, ergonomic design doesn’t just refer to furniture. Office ergonomics also consider environmental factors that may affect workplace productivity throughout the day — everything from noise and lighting to temperature should be taken into account.
Chances are most of your employees are fairly stationary throughout the day, and may need a higher room temperature than if they were actively on their feet. By the same logic, office employees typically spend a good portion of their day in front of a computer screen. Take the time to consider how window glare, screen brightness, and fluorescent lighting may affect employees’ vision. Window blinds, desk lamps, and adjustable monitors can dramatically reduce discomfort.
2. Tweak both desks and habits
Most employees spend the vast majority of their workday sitting, so proper desks are an important piece of the puzzle. No two bodies are exactly the same — and in an ideal world, no two desk setups would be, either. Consider investing in adjustable desks to give employees the freedom to choose the height that works best for them.
Generally speaking, desks should have enough room for a computer monitor that is arm’s length away from the employee’s body. As we mentioned above, education is key: consider hiring an expert to perform assessments on your team. Once your team is trained on ergonomics, make it fun! Incentives for good posture (consider a friendly competition between departments) can help create healthier workplace habits.
3. Get the right tools
The desk is a critical part of an ergonomic set up, but a proper workspace shouldn’t stop there. There are a number of smart items you can invest in to alleviate pains and ailments. Ergonomic keyboards or USB headsets (to avoid the terrible habit of jamming phones between the ear and shoulder) are inexpensive but will make a world of a difference by enabling employees to talk on the phone and type without straining their necks and wrists. Ergonomic chairs provide better support; be sure to find an adjustable model so that employees can keep their knees positioned level with their hips. If fancy furniture isn’t in the budget, the right tech can help — a number of apps will notify slouching employees and remind them to keep their heads held high.
4. Take a stance
Now that desks and chairs are optimized, encourage your team members to walk away. Try switching your one-on-one meetings to walk-and-talks, which will allow a break from your chair and your screen. You can also change your weekly team meeting from sitting to standing. Not only will it encourage blood flow and creativity, it’ll also save time — standing meetings are known to be more efficient than traditional meetings. Or better yet, take a meeting off-site, encouraging your team to move midday and refresh their focus before a big brainstorm session.
Creating an ergonomic office will not only save your company money, but it will also benefit your team’s physical and mental well-being. It’s impossible to have a healthy company without healthy employees. An ergonomic office can help to ensure you have both.
Photo Credits: Breather, Shutterstock / Halfpoint, Shutterstock / bbernard