Hot Desking: The Space Planning Concept That (Sometimes) Works.

Office space planning is in a bit of a tumult lately, what with a troubled economy, shrinking work forces, and changing technology turning what was previously a stable work environment into an arena ripe for revolution. The late unlamented recession has actually been good for the average space planner, who has found more leeway to put new ideas to good use.

One of those new ideas that’s getting another look is the concept of “hot desking”. We’ve talked about hot desking before: the practice of having no assigned desks per worker, allocating them instead to the first worker who uses or reserves it for use.

Office space planning professionals use hot desking to reduce property costs without decrease the labor force in turn. In Edinburgh, Scotland, Telford College’s faculty and staff have joined the bandwagon, implementing hot desking in their Granton campus to allow the same number of people to work in a smaller space.

Technology has allowed hot desking to gain the critical mass it failed to reach in prior decades. When Jay Chiat of Chiat/Day ad agency tried it out in the Nineties, it was a famous failed experiment in space planning. Today, high speed Internet, cheap laptops, and Wi-Fi has allowed most firms to succeed where Chiat failed.

More on hot desking after the jump. Read more….

Finding the Right Office Chairs for the Really Tall – and Really Small.

If you fit in regular office chairs, that puts you within “normal” body dimensions – the range of body types that fall between heights of 5’2″ and 6’2″, and weights of 120 to 300 pounds. Office workers who fall outside these outliers, though, are out of luck.

Designing office chairs for the whole range of body sizes may sound simple, but it’s not.  The variation in sizes and dimensions between the opposite ends of the mean suggests that office chairs designed for the “average” human body type causes discomfort to a large subset of the population. Designing office chairs only to the average means that the long tails of the body-fit bell curve – the tall, wide, or diminutive – have to work in less than optimal conditions.

For shorter folk, their feet may dangle from their office chairs, when the OSHA specifies that feet must be able to lay flat on the floor for optimal comfort. For more generously-sized individuals, regular-issue office chairs may be too cramped or permit too little movement.

Over time, the bad fit can become a quality of life problem that affects productivity and increases operating costs needlessly.

Office Chairs That Solve the Problem

To solve the conundrum, facility managers and employees need to exert a little more ingenuity to get the office chairs and system furniture that fit their unique size needs. (Read more)

Comfort in Office Seating: A Neglected Criterion?

Affordability and durability may be your top criteria for office seating… but what role does comfort play in determining what office seating to buy for the workplace? In today’s cost-conscious world, most people look at the price tag before they check how easy each chair is on the user… but it’s important to remember that comfort levels have very real effects on your bottom line.

Consider what happens when comfort is taken entirely out of the picture. We’ve talked about musculo-skeletal disorders (MSDs) before – these injuries are the cumulative effects of repetitive actions done in the workplace. Over time, if such actions aren’t mediated by a more comfortable workplace, an MSD may be in the worker’s future – leaving the employer vulnerable to workers’ compensation claims.

Dollars and Cents of MSD

Charles Jeffress, the former assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health in the U.S. Department of Labor, breaks the cost of MSDs down: “Nearly two million workers suffer work-related musculoskeletal disorders every year, and about 600,000 lose time from work as a result,” Jeffress said in 2000. (read more)

Ergohuman: Bang-for-your-Buck Ergonomic Office Chairs.

[Image © Ergohuman, all rights reserved.]

Ergonomic office chairs have an undeserved reputation of being expensive. This has prevented many office managers from investing in office chairs that may help prevent the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive strain injuries.

With the introduction of Ergohuman ergonomic office chairs, office managers now have a mid-price contender: a less pricey alternative to expensive ergonomic office chairs that delivers the goods nonetheless.

When compared with our list of criteria for the best ergonomic office chairs, the Ergohuman acquits itself quite nicely. (read more)

How to Choose the Best Ergonomic Keyboard for Your Office.

The best ergonomic keyboard for you will ease your carpal tunnel… but won’t look like your regular keyboard.

The flat, clumped-together keyboards that come standard with most PCs don’t offer any sort of ergonomic relief whatsoever – you’ll have to turn to those odd, split and tented keyboards if the carpal tunnel is starting to get in the way of work.

Doing the Split

The split keyboard design, when it hit offices in the 1990s, looked odd to traditionalists – a gap was introduced down the center of the key array, and both key sets arranged around the gap in a V.

While this takes up more space and attracts odd looks from officemates, the arrangement is actually more natural – arms aren’t placed in an awkward position while typing, and wrists are less stressed in the process.

If you’re choosing an ergonomic keyboard, choose one whose “V” angle feels most natural to you. Or if you can’t decide, spend the extra dosh and choose an adjustable ergonomic keyboard to get the flexibility you need from your input device.

If the price bothers you, tell yourself that an expensive keyboard now saves you the expense of surgery to heal stress injuries further down the road.

Test It Before You Buy It

Finding the best ergonomic keyboard for your office takes time, and continuous testing.

Throughout the testing process, make sure the environment is as close as possible to the one in your own workplace. Use the keyboard at a chair and desk with similar angles and height to your own. Use the keyboard with wrists straight and in line with your arms, elbows close to your body, and relaxed shoulders.

Ask yourself the following questions when you test your new keyboard:

Can I adjust the keyboard easily? An easily-adjustable keyboard helps users find their optimum settings in the smallest possible time. Inferior keyboards are harder to adjust, and as a result will not provide the optimum settings needed for the user’s ergonomic comfort.

Does the keyboard “tent” to an angle I prefer? You don’t have to set the tenting angle to the highest possible setting – just to one that your wrists can live with. The ideal tenting range seems to fit within ten to twenty degrees for a majority of users.

Does it come with palm supports? The best ergonomic keyboard models come with padded and removable palm support add-ons.

Can I live with the key rearrangements? Some ergonomic keyboards move some keys around to optimize ergonomic comfort. Users have to be aware of these switches beforehand, or else they risk reducing productivity while they’re getting used to their new keyboard.

5 Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel You Shouldn’t Ignore.

5 Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel You Shouldn't Ignore
Image © Petr Kurecka.

Office work is hard on the eyes, brain… and especially the hands, as symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome emerge after years of abuse. Carpal tunnel syndrome should never be ignored, nor should treatment be postponed. As soon as these symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome emerge, you should see your doctor immediately.

Numbness in fingers and hand. You find that your hand “falls asleep” often when working. Or you have less sensation in the fingers and thumb. If this is how you feel after a few hours of work, congratulations – you now have the very first symptoms of carpal tunnel right in your hands.

Carpal tunnel syndrome begins very slowly – sufferers report feeling tingling or numbness in the fingers and palm. This usually happens when the sufferer grips something between thumb and forefinger – holding a cellphone, for example, or steering a car.

Decreased Grip Strength. Whoops! becomes a constant refrain in your life, as you begin to drop pens, coffee mugs, and utensils. As pain makes work impossible, your hand muscles may atrophy, decreasing your ability to hang on to small objects.

You’ll find it difficult to grasp small objects, clench your fists, or perform manual tasks around the office. You’ll have difficulty supporting yourself on stairs or climbing into a truck.

Pain Radiating up the Forearm. Carpal tunnel sufferers report feeling a shooting or burning pain moving up from the center of their forearm to their shoulder and neck. This occurs after repetitive or stressful use of one’s hands. Sometimes the pain is constant – an ache felt around the upper shoulder and neck.

Cold Hands with warm forearms. As the nerve in your carpal tunnel gets pinched, blood circulation around the area gets constricted as well, contributing to the odd sensation of having two different temperature gradients on the forearm and hand.

Loss of fine motor skills. This progresses from the swollen and numb feeling in your fingers and hand, as motor skills begin to give way to the numbness. Everyday fine motor skills like writing, moving a mouse around, buttoning a shirt, or tying a shoe become almost impossible to do.

If any of these symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome appear, you must consult your doctor immediately. Carpal tunnel syndrome, if left untreated, interferes with work, interrupts sleep, and leads to more severe nerve and muscle damage.

Top Tips to Prevent Carpal Tunnel.

Image © Andrew / Creative Commons.

Turns out that to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, you’ll probably need to change some deeply-ingrained habits.

Work posture, for one thing. Getting carpal tunnel syndrome may force you to change the way you type, for example, or wear a splint on your wrist while you work, on doctor’s orders.

There’s good reason for this advice: the doctor wants to keep your hand from assuming the posture it normally does. Which eases the pressure on the median nerve, the source of all your carpal tunnel troubles. The same posture day after day, on the other hand, can stress the tendons in your carpal tunnel to the point of affecting the median nerve – leading to carpal tunnel syndrome.

When someone has carpal tunnel syndrome, the median nerve is pressured by ligaments and tendons in the carpal tunnel in your wrist, which sometimes get swollen from abuse to the hands. Pressure on the median nerve can make your hand hurt, or numb the sensation in the affected hand.

So, to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, you need to prevent your affected hand from assuming a posture that increases the pressure.

That means wearing the aforementioned splints to prevent carpal tunnel. But you don’t have to go that far. It may be a simple as avoiding a downward bent position for your wrists. Or not resting your wrists on hard surfaces – soft wrist rests for both keyboards and mice are now de rigueur for keyboard jockeys in the office.

Regular typists may also benefit from a seating posture that keeps forearms level with the keyboard; this minimizes the flexing your wrists need to do while typing.

Resting the wrist may also be necessary: this means regular breaks for your wrists, or switching the dominant hand used for a certain task.

These simple fixes can prevent carpal tunnel syndrome from ever taking hold of your wrists. Nobody said carpal tunnel syndrome was hard to overcome!

Picking the Best Ergonomic Chair for Your Office.

 Picking the Best Ergonomic Chair for Your Office. Image © Quinn Dombrowski / Creative Commons.

Image © Quinn Dombrowski / Creative Commons.

I’ve got the world’s best ergonomic chair in my home office, and it suits me just fine. It was my old boss’s ergonomic chair, but I got it cheap when the business folded and I’ve been using it for the past 12 years.

How is it the best? Because over time, it’s adjusted to me – the depressions made by my back and backside have molded this chair, over the years, into one that fits my curves perfectly.

But not everyone has 12 years to make the world’s best ergonomic chair out of any garage-sale purchase. Certainly not facility managers who have to contend with quick employee turnover – no employee really has that much time!

The only real lesson you can derive from my example is this: the best ergonomic chair in the world is one that is perfectly adjusted to suit the individual.

The best ergonomic chairs provide adjustment mechanisms that conform to individual body shapes. No single body is unique, and each chair must be adjusted to match specific body shapes. In some cases, you might be better off hiring an ergonomics professional to do the adjustments.

Also, really good ergonomic chairs allow for constant movement. The back, armrest, and seat should be able to let you shift your body into other positions, while keeping your body in the proper posture.

Ideally, you should also get the best ergonomic chair that suits your profession. Doctors, software engineers, and art directors have totally different working habits – their ergonomic chair needs are different, too.

Nothing can substitute actually testing the chair out for yourself. Finding the best ergonomic chair for your needs can be a matter of just sitting in it, making a few adjustments, and asking yourself a few simple questions:

  • How much hip room do I have?
  • How much can I adjust the seat’s height?
  • How comfortable is my lumbar, or lower back?
  • How comfortable is my butt in the seat pan?
  • How comfortable is the chair when reclining?
  • How comfortable is the chair after an hour or so of use?

You don’t have to wait ten years to get the best ergonomic chair, as in my case – you just need a little patience, some hands-on experience, and the courage to ask the right questions.

(By the way, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the best ergonomic chair for you doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg – check out our partner’s selection of affordable ergonomic office chairs.)

Three Quick (and Relatively Cheap) Ways to Reduce Office Noise.

Image © Rakesh Vaghela

Office life may thrive or die based on the ambient noise level in the workplace. And we’re not talking about the occasional irritating one-way conversation from Doris in Accounting.

“The single most powerful determinant of individual performance, team performance, and job satisfaction is the ability to do, for all job types, large amounts of distraction-free work… with noise being the greatest bulk of distractions,” says Michael Brill, president of Bosti Associates.

So we can’t blame you if you’re constantly searching for office noise reduction techniques to turn the volume down at work. Keep your office life productive with one or more of these methods guaranteed to cut down on your office noise problem, without cutting too deeply into your budget either:

Office plants. Indoor foliage does more than make your desk look pretty – office plants can reduce office noise by breaking up or diverting sound waves. A study conducted at South Bank University showed that office plants can help to reduce noise levels by as much as 5 decibels.

For the best effect, arrange the plants along walls and corners to catch the sound waves before they bounce from the walls and back into the room! Pro tip: the best plants to deploy as office noise-busters are the Madagascar Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata) and the Benjamin’s Fig (Ficus benjamina).

Two more noise-reducing techniques for the office, after the jump.  (read more)

What has ergonomics ever done for us?

First class seats, nuclear power plant control rooms, and cars that respond well to older drivers, among other things. The Design Museum in London features several key examples of good ergonomics leading to great results.

For example, the control desk at the CERN control room is the end product of intense study. That’s reasonable when you’re dealing with billions of dollars worth of sensitive scientific equipment. “It’s a huge scientific instrument, so it has to be right,” says the ergonomics show’s curator Gemma Curtin.

“They studied everyone’s jobs, how they needed to be connected, how items had to be arranged on the desk.”

Today, ergonomics is changing to accommodate shifting work habits and evolving technology, as well. The Design Museum of the future might take a look at how we’re using today’s laptops, along with their irritating tendency to be un-ergonomic at the worst possible times. Here’s a Duke University ergonomics expert with advice on how to effectively use your laptop at work.


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