Noise in Open Office Plans Kills Productivity.

Office cubicle stations beware: open office setups can be bad for corporate productivity. According to Julian Treasure, Chairman of sound consultancy The Sound Agency, the impact of sound on business is way out of proportion to the attention it’s been given so far.

Most organizations have no idea about the impact that sound makes on business, and therefore don’t seek to control it. But sound does affect workers on a very deep level – changing behavior in subtle ways for both good and ill.

In open office plans, Treasure notes, average ambient noise can drop productivity by over 60%. The good news, Treasure reassures us, is that workers in open office plans can triple average productivity just by wearing headphones playing the sounds of twittering birds.

Don’t take our word for it, listen to Treasure’s TED Talk below.

Call Center Workers Appreciate Ergonomic Thinking.

Earlier we discussed new thought on ergonomics – namely, how we’ve discovered that movement is essential to proper ergonomics, not proper posture.

Therefore, comfort and long-term protection from injury doesn’t come from knees locked at a ninety-degree angle all the time. Proper ergonomics comes from adjusting one’s chair, stretching extremities, resting one’s eyes from looking at the monitor, or standing every few minutes to avoid being locked in a seated position for hours on end.

One group of office workers is extremely grateful for this new ergonomic thinking – call center workers, who suffer a great deal from the injuries that come with bad ergonomic habits.    (read more)

18-Button Mouse: Ergonomics Fail.


Image © OpenOfficeMouse.

Ergonomics isn’t rocket science – comfort is job one, and intuitiveness is always, always going to get you there two-thrids of the way. A seat that supports your lumbar area. Keyboards that cushion your wrist.

So what could the guys at OpenOffice be thinking with this un-ergonomic eighteen-button monster?  (read more)

New Thinking on Ergonomics.

Is your intel on ergonomics accurate? New discoveries in ergonomic science may have made your old ideas on office ergonomics obsolete.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably not a professional ergonomics consultant – you can rest easy, as you’re not really supposed to keep up with all the latest in the field. (That’s a job for Cubicles.com’s space planning team.)

According to Ankrum Associates, the new developments mainly constitute a relaxing of the old rules – and an increased emphasis on range of movement versus correct posture. Here’s a rundown of the new thinking in ergonomics:

Monitor distance – the old wisdom was that a monitor should be 18-24 inches away. Actually, longer distances relax the eyes – so the ideal distance is actually further than two feet away. Keep the monitor far from your eyes, but close enough to read the text.

Chair placement - people used to believe that the chair’s height should allow the feet to reach the floor, assuming the legs are bent at a 90-degree angle. While this angle isn’t necessarily uncomfortable or harmful, the legs shouldn’t be expected to be nailed down in that single position all the time. The chair should simply be expected to be low enough for the feet to rest on the floor, period.

Posture - formerly, ergonomics books recommended an upright posture, hips perfectly perpendicular to the legs. Now, a wider hip angle seems to be more in line with natural ergonomics – optimally, the hips should be angled at 130 degrees. This aligns the vertebrae to ease the pressure on the intervertebral discs.

Sitting at a recline is also better than sitting upright, as this position eases the strain on your lower back muscles and lightens the load on your spine.

Ergonomics Pro Needed to Banish Office Pain.

Do you need to hire an ergonomics professional to reduce outbreaks of aching backs and carpal tunnel in your office? Do you need to take the ergonomic bull by the horns?

Science says yes – according to Dr. Jasminka Goldoni Laestadius from the World Bank’s Joint Bank/Fund Health Services Department,

“Just providing new office furniture and written instructions is not sufficient to achieve proper accommodation,” Laestadius’ paper reads. “Good office equipment is a poor substitute for good working positions.”

The study was conceived when the World Bank workforce moved headquarters – an excellent opportunity for Laestadius’ team to study how proactive ergonomics could improve employee health.

The employees were divided into two groups – one simply got new ergonomic office furniture, together with the manuals to set them up and no more. The other received new furniture and information, plus personalized attention from an ergonomics professional.

The second group was found to experience less musculoskeletal pain and eyestrain, with a corresponding jump in productivity. “Better postures meant less pain,” the paper concludes. “This verifies our experience that equipment such as an adjustable chair does not add value unless properly adjusted.”

The study was published in the October issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

(If your office could stand a World Bank-grade ergonomics upgrade, consider checking out Cubicles.com’s selection of ergonomic chairs. Unfortunately, professional ergonomist not included.)

October is National Ergonomics Month!

Since 2003, October has been celebrated as National Ergonomics Month (NEM), since being designated by the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES). NEM is intended to promote ergonomics issues to executives, students, and the general public, by spreading information and services to the community.

This year’s slogan for NEM is “A Time for Teaching, Learning, Networking, Service, and Fun!” Because we all know that ergonomics is a barrel of laughs. Seriously, I’m surprised nobody’s discovered the comedy potential of carpal tunnel syndrome, I’m smiling just thinking about it.

October really serves as a kick-off month for National Ergonomics Month’s outreach activities. Ergonomics boosters use NEM to make presentations at schools and offices.

The list of upcoming events can be viewed at the HFES website. For example, Georgia Tech is sponsoring a Bad Design contest that highlights bad design on campus, and proposes fixes to each bad design. Ditto with the University of Illinois, which has a Bad Design contest of its own.  (read more)

Case Study: Ergonomic Chairs Deliver on EGL’s Investment

Ergonomic chairs are a crucial part of an efficient office setup. Coupled with remanufactured cubicles, you get a double load off your conscience: a green and healthy office at the same time!

For example, the European Gemological Laboratory (EGL USA) asked Cubicles.com to help put their New York office together. The office would serve as a telemarketing hub seating a hundred employees; each station would need to be ergonomically sound, and costs would need to be kept low.

Cubicles.com completed the job with pre-owned Steelcase and Herman Miller workstations, as well as five dozen Eurotech ergonomic chairs. Completed in August 2003, the new office continues to serve an essential role in the EGL network: an environment-friendly and ergonomically satisfying workplace that continues to reap significant returns on EGL’s investment.

Proceed to this page to see how Cubicles.com delivered on its commitment to EGL: Cubicles.com EGL page.

September 11, 2009

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Ergonomics in Unlikely Places.

Think only desk jockeys need ergonomic chairs? Even Air Force flyboys are getting in on the act – according to AFLink, outfitters have added new ergonomic seats to AWACS aircraft.

I’m betting this is good news down on the Air Force barracks; operators aboard the AWACS-equipped E-3 Sentrys fly 12 to 14-hour missions at a stretch, which takes its toll on the body.

The old seat designs had been in place since the 1970s, the Stone Age as far as ergonomics is concerned. No lumbar support; no adjustment features; and the wrong kind of padding for long missions.

According to Paul Zauner, the manager in charge of the program switching the seats on the domestic AWACS fleet, operators have to keep stretching back muscles, resulting in “fatigue and greater inattention to scope activity.”

“The current E-3 seats are not designed for crew efficiency over long AWACS’ flight and mission profiles,” Zauner summarizes.

Not so with the new seats; the newly-installed ergonomic chairs aboard the AWACS fleet should alleviate back and neck stress for operators on each flight. 14 sets of seats have been installed so far on four airplanes; all 32 E-3s are expected to undergo this refit over the next year or so.     (read more)

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