Here’s the thing: the workplace isn’t really the best place for, well, people. Dr Josephine Chau of the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health headed up a 2015 study that found a dramatic increase in overall energy among workers who had the chance to spend between 60 and 90 minutes of their work day standing.
“They reported being more satisfied and feeling more productive at work. In addition, the proportion of workers who reported they had more energy throughout the day increased seven-fold, from six to 44 per cent, when using sit/stand desks,” she said.
You know the drill. There’s mounting research correlating prolonged periods of sitting with a higher risk of developing chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Sitting is the new smoking, it is said, and this is particularly relevant for the millions of desk-bound workers. But the solution to this problem isn’t quite as simple as standing up.
“Remaining in the same position – standing, sitting or even hanging out of a tree – all the time causes all of the health-related risks. Everybody says sitting is the new smoking; it’s not. It’s staying in the same place the whole time.” Those are the words of Dale Higgins, international sit/stand sales director for Humanscale, who partner with Formfunc to deliver high-quality ergonomic office furniture to South Africa. The company conducted an experiment on a volunteer employee where they fixed his desk at standing height and took his chair away.
“You’ve heard of shop-steward legs? You get calcium build-up in your legs that makes it uncomfortable to walk or stand. His upper back issues at month three were really impressive. His lower back started going at month four. He was leaning on his elbow for so long that he actually created a callous. It plays into the whole ethos that the problem is being in the same position the whole time,” Higgins explains.
Humanscale is currently the only office-furniture manufacturer in the world to have a Living Product (LPC) certification on one of their factories. The Dublin plant is completely off the municipal grid and all water used in the manufacturing process is recycled back into the system. The company has taken huge strides to make its product offering free from potentially harmful formaldehyde and has even gained LPC status for the latest iteration of the QuickStand sit/stand desk.
The secret sauce, however, is in its spring technology. None of the chairs have recline lock; instead, they operate on a counterbalance mechanism. A vertical spring uses your weight to offer recline resistance, meaning everyone who sits in it gets exactly the same recline effect.
That technology is also transferred to the sit/stand solutions. “QuickStand desks get the same spring. It’s vertical, so it looks like a small garage spring and the benefit of our product is that the lifting functions can assist you with 16 kg of lift. All you need to do is apply a maximum of three kilograms and it will move. We can assist users with acute back problems,” says Higgins.
Formfunc has an exchange agreement with Cape Town’s Workshop 17 shared-space network. The offices get kitted out with furniture, and Formfunc can run their business from there. The Cape Town factory is where local assembly happens and the distribution centre near Lanseria is very close to going off-grid too.
Shared workspaces are in-vogue because they greatly reduce the overheads of owning office space. Workshop 17 has all the modern-office-trend boxes ticked, but the abundance of glass can be a bit distracting.
“The trend is to get more glass into office design to bring the outside into the office,” explains ergonomist Janice Korte. She works for Formfunc and was a key part of brokering the deal with Workshop 17. She doesn’t seem worried about the glare coming off of the glass. “Nowadays, most laptops come with glare protection on the screen, but an easy way to remove the problem is by getting perpendicular to the source of light and you won’t get glare.”
Humanscale coincidentally started out making anti-glare filters for CRT screens. “A lot of the laptops today are coming with higher amounts of nits of brightness on the screen, allowing more light to come through the pixel,” says Higgins. “IPS panels are averaging at around 200 nits, so you’ll still see something on the screen no matter how bright the sun gets.”
LEAN INTO IT
If you’re working from home, though, it can become difficult to integrate all these new methods of making your workspace more human-friendly, but there are a few tips to set you on the path to holistic job satisfaction. The biggest thing you need to change, if possible, is your laptop.
“The problems with a laptop is that you can’t get the screen to be at eye level and the keyboard to the edge of the desk. It’s always a compromise; are you going to have sore wrists or a sore neck?” says Josie King, another Formfunc ergonomist. “If you can separate the screen from the keyboard then you can set it up correctly. The screen plays a huge part. It’s all about where your eyes reference from – top down, or looking up.”
You could also always invest in a stand that can also accommodate a second screen. Or you could drop a few grand on the QuickStand Eco and live your best standing life. “The most effective time for sit/stand is when the user requests it. Going into an office and plonking down workstations is the quickest way to bring down your utilisation rate,” Higgins says. “The best time is when someone has seen it and want to try it or themselves. “Your standing position will almost be the correct set-up. But the important part when transitioning from sitting to standing is that you almost over-correct the standing position. Push your pelvis forward to the front edge of the desk and stand up as straight as you can with your shoulders back. With our product, when you stand, it actually moves away from you. You’ll find a lot of benefits using the front edge of the desk for support, especially when you’re starting out. If you’re hanging on it like you hang on a bar on a Friday night, you’ve missed the boat. You need to be self-supported.”
When you’re sitting down, best practice is to have your screen at eye – level and at arm’s reach. Your keyboard and mouse should be as close to you as comfortable and everything else should be at arm’s reach without having to lean forward.
Oh, and you need to be leaning back in a comfortable position.
“Your mindset needs to change,” instructs King. “Lean back; it’s the best position. The more you lean back, the more your spine goes into a neutral position and you engage more with the lumbar support. If you walk through the Humanscale offices in New York, it looks like people are sleeping, but they’re not.”
The workplace of the future is the one you make it to be right now. Armed with the right tools and the correct mindset, you can be as productive as you allow yourself to be, from basically anywhere in the world. Be it in the huddle space or the scrum room, in the office or on the couch, there are fewer barriers to excellence than ever.