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Brief Description

The Significance of Smart Office Furniture and Design Strategies In Creating an Engaging Workplace

Every smart organisation knows that the success of any institution largely depends on labour productivity. More than state-of-the-art machinery or wealthy investors, the real asset of each company is the people working for them. They are the best engines and the reason why companies continue to grow, improve, and innovate. With this, their basic needs that contribute to the increase of satisfaction and productivity should be given priority.

One of the tools which can be used to exert a positive influence to every employee is the physical environment. An independent study of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) in 1999 concluded that physical workplace design is one of the top three factors which affect job satisfaction, performance, and engagement. Workplace design is way more than mere aesthetics. The design plays a vital role in enhancing the quality of life and the culture of its occupants.

The furniture, lighting, colour scheme, and other design elements should work together in order to create a comfortable environment that supports productivity, satisfaction, and performance. If you’re aiming for a healthier, happier, and user-friendly working environment for your employees, here are five of the significant elements you have to consider.

Ergonomics or Human Factor Engineering

Ergonomics is the science of fitting workplace conditions such as tasks, workstations, and equipment to the capabilities of the workers. Choosing the right ergonomic furniture in the workplace is crucial for the job efficiency, satisfaction, and workplace health for it helps lessen physical stress and reduce the risk of developing repetitive stress injuries. Another advantage of using ergonomics is it boosts the morale of the company.

Industries today require higher production rates in order to maintain competitiveness and stay in business. With this, most jobs may include forceful exertions, sustained awkward postures, and high task repetition, which contribute to serious health risks. One of the most common disorders developed in this kind of workplace is the Musculoskeletal Disorder (MSDs) which refers to injuries that affect the human body’s movement (musculoskeletal system). Some examples of MSDs are Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Tendonitis, and neck and back injuries.

            Related Studies:

  • According to a report released by the American Cancer Society in the American Journal of Epidemiology, in a 14-year follow-up period, men who sat for six hours or more on a daily basis had a higher death rate which is 20 percent higher than men who sat for 3 hours or less.
  • According to a study conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), MSDs are accountable for 34% of all lost-workday injuries and illnesses.
  • Employers report that $1 of every $3 spent on every worker’s compensation which results in approximately $15 billion to $20 billion annually is caused by MSDs.
  • Workers with severe injuries can experience a permanent disability that prevents them from returning to their jobs and handling simple tasks.

These expensive and life-threatening costs can be addressed with simple and inexpensive solutions like ergonomic furniture and user-friendly technology.

            Workplace Design Strategies:

Ergonomic Chair

  • It is necessary for companies to invest in office furniture like chairs and desks that are designed to meet the specific needs and limitations of people who occupy them. Since the worker will be seated for an extended period of time, ergonomic chairs are a must because they are comfortable and adjustable. In purchasing chairs, focus on these four basic components: seat height, seat width and depth, backrest, armrest, and material.

Seat

  • The standard size of the seat is 17 to 20 inches wide with a curved or waterfall front edge.
  • The seat should be padded with a cloth fabric that breathes since the occupant might be sitting the entire day.
  • There should be an approximately 2 to 4 inches distance between the front edge of the seat and the back of the knees.
  • The backward and forward tilt of the seat should be adjustable.

Seat Height

  • The recommended seat height should be 16 to 21 inches off the floor to enable the user’s feet to be flat on floor or footrest.
  • The thighs should be parallel to the floor.

Backrest

  • The user should have an ability to recline while comfortably focusing on his or her work. Reclining reduces the pressure on the spine and sitting bones.
  • The adjustable and padded lumbar system is also a must.
  • The inward curve of the lower back should fit comfortably against the lumbar support.

Armrest

  • Armrests should also be adjustable and padded to support the shoulder in a relaxed position with arms close to the body.
  • Adjustable armrests allow the user to get closer to work without hunching the shoulders and back.

Desks and human-computer interaction

Aside from investing on ergonomic chairs, the desk and the equipment on top of it that employees have to work with every day should also be considered. Make the computers and other tools user-friendly by positioning them in a way that can meet the needs of the worker. Lastly, provide seamless technology that enables mobility and efficiency.

Desk Body

  • The standard height of an ergonomic office desk is 29” to 30” when measured from the floor to the desk surface top.

Adjustable Trays

  • The role of the keyboard tray is to bring the keyboard to the user rather than bring the user to the keyboard.
  • The tray should have a tilt function to maintain formation of straight wrists.
  • The mouse should be close to the keyboard

Monitor

  • The placement and angle should be eye-level.
  • The distance should be an arm-length away from the eyes.
  • You may also install a monitor arm, a highly adjustable arm with a clamp mount which can be attached to the desk. The arm allows the monitor to adapt to the neck and the eye level of the user.

Indoor Air Quality

One of the deadliest elements that affect workers’ satisfaction and productivity in the office is the one that cannot be touched or seen by the naked eye. It is the quality of the air that employees breathe every day, which should also be prioritised. Indoor air quality refers to the overall condition of the room’s ventilation, temperature, and instances of air pollution. Bad air quality has always been associated not just with poor performance but also with elevated rates of respiratory illnesses.

            Related Studies:

  • The level of pollutants indoor settings often contain is two to five times higher than the outdoor levels.
  • Exposure to heat for 30 minutes or more without rest periods deteriorates the performance of complex tasks.

Workplace Design Strategies:

Painting, carpeting, and other equipment

Different forms of air pollution like gas, mist, vapour, fibre, and other ingredients can also occur indoors when you don’t choose the right kinds of paint and carpeting. With this, you should consider the following factors in choosing the kind of materials you will use for your office space:

  • Invest in workplace finishes with low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
  • Choose finishes and fixtures with green labels.
  • Equipment with “ENERGY STAR” seals are recommended.

Thermal Comfort: Temperature, Airflow, and Humidity

Thermal comfort is the result of the good combination of temperature, airflow, and humidity in the workplace. It can be obtained by using the proper ventilation and air-conditioning equipment.

  • The recommended temperature control in an average office environment is in the range of 68 to 76 °F or 20 to 21 °C and humidity control in the range of 20% to 60%, OSHA states.
  • Make use operable windows and coverings to manage airflow and temperature control.
  • You may also add plants not just to beautify the space but also to help clean and filter the air.

Sanitation

Clean and uncluttered workspaces contribute to a happier and healthier working environment. Cleaning staff should have to go through training in order to maintain the sanitation of the rooms.

  • Train cleaning staff and even other employees about the proper use of cleaning equipment and products like vacuum cleaners with filters and chemical cleaners
  • Make sure the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning are regularly checked and maintained.

Noise

Noise can either boost or decrease productivity and performance. Some research found the decline of job satisfaction significantly correlated with the annoyance by noise. Some studies, on the other hand, found the absence of noise negatively affects the performance of the worker. With this, office designers should be able to come up with the idea of creating a balance of using or decreasing noise in a workplace.

Related studies:

  • Contrary to popular belief, the noise interruptions during simple tasks can provide the stimulation needed in order to focus. Too many interruptions during complex work, however, are not advisable for they have negative effects on mood and performance.
  • 28% of the respondents of the survey conducted by ASID implemented a couple of office design changes to reduce noise, such as controlling acoustics to minimize conversational noise and creating right levels of privacy for different tasks through strategic office layout.

Workplace Design Strategies:

Soundproofing materials

Most designers recommend three strategies in modulating noise in an office: absorption, blocking, and covering:

  • Absorption controls sound through acoustical ceilings, fabrics, and carpet
  • Blocking reduces noise through panel walls, furniture system, and partitions
  • Covering can be obtained through sound masking.

Separate rooms for discussion

It is recommended to have a room for the energetic activities and a separate one for quiet ones. The noisy rooms could be a small lounge, cafe, or pantry for collaborations and energetic discussions, which will create opportunities for workers to communicate without disturbing other workers.

Clever Desk Arrangement

Putting writers and speakers near each other might not be a great idea. With this, you can improve noise reduction by organising workstations in terms of work patterns and job description. You can also provide headphones to turn down noise for individuals.

Spatial Arrangement

Most people believe that open and less-crowded spaces are conducive to a more productive environment. However, there are studies that have concluded that open-plan layouts can be more disruptive due to uncontrollable noise and the lack of privacy. The perception of space varies greatly by gender, cultural background, and individual preferences. Careful and strategic spatial arrangement is the key to creating a balanced and harmonious working environment.

            Related studies:

  • In a U.S. Workplace Survey conducted by Gensler in 2013, it is concluded that knowledge workers whose companies allow them to help decide when, where, and how they work were more likely to performed better, be satisfied with their jobs, and viewed their company as more innovative than competitors.

           Workplace Design Strategies:

Spacing out

  • In most cases, people feel stressed when they feel crowded which can degrade satisfaction. With this in mind, try to space out your furniture so the office won’t look cluttered and unorganised.
  • The furniture should not be too close to each other.
  • Try to form an illusion of a lighter room by having high ceilings and walls with large mirrors
  • Provide plants and natural views to windows to reduce the impact of a dense space.

Arrangement of Workstations

  • Space should be adapted to the person rather that the person to space.
  • As mentioned in the previous discussion about noise reduction, there should be separate rooms for focusing and working and for socialising and energetic collaborations.
  • Setting up “libraries” for quiet and distraction-free work is recommended.

Flexibility and Privacy

  • Working environments with flexible office layouts give employees that sense of being valued and appreciated by the company.
  • Provide reconfigurable spaces and furniture for individuals and teams.
  • Personal lockers, filing cabinets, and storage solutions that are accessible should also be provided.
  • The choice to whether the company would allow their employees to choose a particular space that suits their personal work style still depends on the company’s culture. What is important is you allow the employees to bring their personality and character into their workspaces through decorating.

Visual Stimulation

Each employee is stuck in a small world called “office” every day for 8 to 10 hours to work for the company’s goal. As their employer, you have the power to make this world a better place for them by making it a visually stimulating environment. Visual stimulation which consists of proper lighting, colour, texture, natural views, and graphic designs helps maintain employees’ focus, alertness, and creative drive.

            Related Studies:

  • Visual elements, including colours, can have a significant influence on the behaviours, moods, and productivity levels of employees, says Kalyan Meola of the University of Hawaii.
  • According to Jason Brown, PE, CEM, LC, Application Solutions Manager for GE Lighting, workspaces that are too bright may affect both employees’ productivity and a building’s bottom-line energy costs.

            Workplace Design Strategies:

Psychology of colour

The proper choice of colour does not only have the capacity to beautify one’s space but can affect the occupants’ mood and engagement as well. Before buying furniture, artwork, décor, and wall paint, try to examine the general characteristics of colours and how they can affect employee’s performance.


  • Warm colours (red, orange, and yellow)

    • Warm colours are proven to stimulate and energise employees.
    • Red gives the room an energetic vibe and is associated with vitality.
    • Yellow helps stimulate memories and makes individuals clear-headed and alert.
    • Orange, on the other hand, generate enthusiasm and ease emotions.
    • These colours can be used as accents but not as the main colour of the walls for these may evoke feelings of anger and frustration.

  • Cool colours (Blue and green)

  • Cool colours support creative thinking with their calm and relaxed vibe.
  • Blue helps lower heart rates, blood pressure, and respiration.
  • Green, on the other hand, reduces eyestrain for employees who tend to be glued to their computers for longer hours.
  • Never use colours that are too dark for they can evoke sadness.

  • Neutral Colours (White, cream, grey, black, and brown)

  • Neutral-coloured workstations can help tone down brighter colors and tone down a loud environment. However, using large expanses of finishes and furniture all with the same height and texture may not support productivity and engagement but rather de-energise employees.

  • Other tips:

  • Use these colour techniques to promote desired behaviours and feelings among the employees.
  • Use lighter colours to help reflect light and increase amount of natural light entering the space.
  • As much as possible, avoid using glossy finishes and colours that are too vivid.

Access to natural views

As much as you like employees to be “engaged”, it is also necessary to give them time to “not engage” and simply get lost in the sight of nature and the outside world.

  • It is recommended to use glass. In this way, employees can get their daily dose of natural light and a motion picture of the scenes outside, which may help boost their performances.
  • Aside from using glass, it will also helpful for employees if they are provided outdoor areas. This encourages employees to go outside even for a limited time to breathe and escape from their desks every once in a while without spoiling their creative juices.

Lighting

Most of us agree that the intensity of lighting influences worker’s performance through its effects on visibility. Aside from this fact, proper lighting is also essential in creating a more comfortable working experience and minimising health risks like headaches, eyestrain, sore neck, and fatigue.


Natural lighting

  • A few studies found out that most employees prefer natural lighting over the artificial light.
  • In using natural light, you can never go wrong with glass. This material has the power to welcome natural light and create a clear space for free thinking.
  • To regulate the amount of light, you may use blinds and shutters.


Layered lighting

  • Layered lighting combines either natural lighting or ambient lighting and warm task lighting in different intensities and angles.
  • Pair low level of ambient light with task lights for a more optimal visual condition. According to the Illumination Engineering Society of North America (IES), the recommended range for ambient office lighting is 30-50 fc.
  • In layered lighting, the directional recessed lighting should be positioned around the perimeter of the workspace. This allows lighting to bounce off the ceiling and walls, creating a softer and more inviting lighting.
  • Warm coloured light bulbs are recommended to create the desired effect.

Expert’s Opinion

Jessica Sidenberg, a full-time interior designer at San Diego Office Design, stretches out the importance of smart office design in boosting morale in the workplace. She agrees that the current population devotes a huge amount of time in the workplace daily. With this, she believes that they deserve office spaces and furniture that are designed to suit their needs and allows them to be comfortable and supported.

“Smart office furniture is ergonomic and easily adjustable for different work styles; no two people are the same and the correct work surface and seat height will be slightly different for everyone. While high functioning furniture pieces support us physically, smart office design supports us mentally,” says Sidenberg.

She also believes that smart office design helps companies build rapport with their employees which lead to better performances in the workplace. She states, “designing spaces and elements within the workplace that provide outlets for creativity, contemplation and socialising allows people to feel understood and valued by the companies they work for. Intelligent design allows people to work intelligently, and that creates a positive environment that a company can truly thrive on.”

In conclusion, smart workplace design has a direct effect on a worker’s job satisfaction, outlook, and well-being. It is beneficial not just for the employees but for the institution as well since it boosts morale and productivity, the cornerstones of every successful company.

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