The interactive work place
The way people work in offices has been changing and the notion of change in work culture makes one think of balancing life with work (hours of work, facilities); the gadgets one uses (typewriters, computers, phones, mobile devices like PDA, laptop and phones); relations between people in the office (hierarchical or functional); place of work (home, office or hotel); office layout (cellular or open plan). Though many changes have taken place in work culture, there is one thing that has remained constant. When working, one needs to sit at a table, and therefore, one needs a table and a chair. These two artefacts have survived since the time the modern office came into being. Systems furniture, modular tables and ergonomic chairs are available but the idea of sitting down to work remains fundamental to office culture. Even the so called Action Office of 1970s was no different from any other, as far as sitting down to work is concerned.
Contrary to what we might believe, chairs have not been with us for very long. Although Egyptians used chair like thrones, they were not meant for common use and certainly there was no accompanying table. Modern chairs are a recent Western invention followed, but only partially accepted, by the people of Eastern countries. When sitting, the majority of Indians still squat or sit in the lotus position on the ground, or recline, or simply stand. The Chinese and Japanese too have their own squatting postures. It is only the modern Western office worker that uses a chair all the time.
Doctors are clear in their view that the sitting posture puts extra pressure on the discs in the vertebra, 30-70 per cent more than that when we stand! Ergonomists often say that all chairs are bad for human health and the least bad chair is the best. It is well known that the risk of a person developing low back pain is increased by jobs that require the worker to sit or stand for long periods of time. Seated workers increase the chance of developing pain by sitting for prolonged periods in an upright position or leaning forward in their chairs.
These postures concentrate increased pressures on the inter-vertebral discs. Since the health of the discs depend on the pattern of loading and unloading of body weight, a constant posture can also lead to the development of low back pain.
Most chairs make people sit with the spine in an unnatural curve and some chairs stop blood circulation in the legs by biting into the flesh of upper thigh. The more comfortable a chair is, the more passive it makes the user. The alternative to sitting is standing and the problems associated with long term standing include pain in legs and knees, varicose veins, etc. There are other time tested sitting postures. Japanese sit balanced on knees and toes in “seiza” posture. Indians and Chinese squat while balancing on their feet with their bottoms hanging behind them. Indians also sit in the lotus position for long periods of time.
Computer Related Health Problems
The combination of computers used with office chairs and tables causes a whole lot of other physical problems. Repetitive stress injuries for office workers include carpal tunnel syndrome and stiff neck. Working on the computer without break causes computer vision syndrome that include eye strain, dry eyes and even double vision at times.
Office Chairs: Common office chairs have height adjustable soft seats with waterfall front edge, swivel base with castors, adjustable back with support for the spine, armrests and tilting seat and back. Most chair designers believe that the chair has to be designed to provide comfort.
Users believe that a good chair has to be comfortable. It is also understood that chairs must have castors for mobility, gas lifts for height adjustment, soft seats and armrests for comfort and adjustable backs for lumbar support. The more adjustments there are in a chair, the better it is considered to be.
Ergonomic Chairs: A range of ergonomic chairs are also available. These have harder seats, adjustable lumbar support and adjustable arm rests. Some ergonomic chairs allow forward tilt also. These include standard chair, kneeling chair, rocking chair and tilting stools.
Standard chairs have lots of adjustments that come in two or three different sizes according to body weight. Aeron chair by Herman Miller is well-known. These chairs can make the user feel very comfortable. Nearly everything can be adjusted to suit the individual. However, the different adjustments make the chair complicated and the user does not know if the adjustment is merely comfortable or healthy. Such chairs are too expensive to be used widely in offices and there is nothing in the chair that ensures a good sitting posture.
Kneeling chairs have small front tilting seats and shin support, such as the “Balans” chair from HAG. Originally designed without castors, kneeling chairs promote good back posture. The seat inclines forward and the shin support stops the user from sliding down. This posture puts pressure on shins where it is not welcome and these chairs are hard to get in and out of. Newer versions of the chair have either rockers or castors. The latter make the chair more mobile but these require unnatural movement of feet and toes.
Rocking chairs with a hard seat and back, such as the “Actulum” from HAG, promote good posture and movement on the seat as it is firm. They are primarily designed for passive use at home and are difficult to use in offices. They take up a bit more floor space, are difficult to get in and out of, and they have no height adjustment.
Tilting stools – such as the “Move” from HAG are good for casual use and activity. They promote mobility, but they cannot ensure good posture.
The Perfect Chair
If none of these ergonomic chairs is perfect, it is because the problem of the chair cannot be solved on its own. The common sitting posture is bad for the back, while standing and reclining are better than sitting. Active professionals like doctors, nurses, hair dressers, beauticians, waiters, flight stewards and store clerks work mostly while standing. Well-known people like Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, Vladimir Nabokov, Leonardo Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon chose the standing position over sitting for working. In the modern office sitting seems to have become necessary for working. There is a long standing European ergonomic movement that desires to change the height of the work table so that people can stand and work but this has not gained momentum as seats that support this kind of table height simply do not exist. Tall saddle chairs do allow height adjustment from sitting to nearly standing but they suffer from most of the problems of common chairs. Castors on these chairs make the tall seating unstable. Medical professionals warn us of the long term effects of standing, but they are very sure that the key to health is mobility. Not the kind of mobility that happens in chairs with castors, but the kind that happens when we walk. Sometimes people who are used to squatting or sitting in the lotus position, want to know why office work cannot be done sitting on the ground. However, these postures are even less mobile than the common sitting posture.
Many offices now have a gym that is meant to allow people to exercise their tired muscles (they do get tired of sitting) and to de-stress. A basic question must now be asked, if it is good to be mobile, why do furniture makers design the work environment so that people can stay in one place and work? Even ergonomic chairs are designed for continuous sitting down.
The issue, therefore, is not simply of finding a good ergonomic chair, but of redesigning the work environment and that involves the design of table, chair and location of things that are used in the office all the time. A good combination of chair and table should: Promote a good working posture and disallow a bad posture; allow a good fit for tall and short people; and promote mobility and an active work style.
A system which does that is the Pyramid Seat and Pyramid Table that together make an interactive workplace. The basic elements of this unique design consist of a tall table with split levels, one for the computer monitor and another for the computer keyboard.
The lower table top has two settings for height. The Pyramid Seat is completely different from any existing seat. It has a narrow, firm, contoured seat with a bump in the middle. The seat tilts forward only and can be adjusted for height even though it has no gas lift. It has no castors or swivel base. It is light enough to be moved around easily.
The combination of tall table with an adjustable height and a chair with a forward tilting seat, without castors offer a very healthy posture and ensures mobility. The Pyramid table top is high enough (88cm) to be used standing up and can be tilted down to 83cm for shorter people. The Pyramid Seat is surprisingly stable even with its small base. The minimal base is designed for ease in getting on and getting off the seat. The seat pan tilts forward and requires the user to balance himself properly, keeping back muscles active. During normal sitting postures, these muscles are slack and they lose their elasticity.
The firm seat forces the user to move and shift his weight around and the stable base allows this to happen naturally and easily. This cannot be done on any chair with castors.
An apt description for the Pyramid posture may be sit-stand but in ergonomic circles, “sit-stand” is a term commonly used for seats that change height from a sitting posture to a standing posture and the Pyramid Seat is not about that. Hence, the posture in the Pyramid Seat may be called “sitting tall”. The sitting tall posture allows one to put 100% of weight on the hip bones or allow as much as 20% of body weight to be shifted to the legs and feet. The controlled angle of the seat pan in the Pyramid Seat does not allow a horizontal position or backward tilt, removing the possibility of slouching. This eliminates the root cause of back problems.
Most work environments are designed for sitting down, but the Pyramid Seat is designed for mobility- to make the user get up and move. People believe they need to lay back (slouch) to rest. A better way to rest your tired muscles is to get up and move. Pyramid Workstations ensure mobility. This kind of mobility is actually what medical professionals recommend for getting rid of computer related health problems of eyes, neck, wrists, back and legs.
The idea of “sitting tall” in a healthy posture as against the standard “comfortable” sit down posture may be intimidating to office workers and needs to be moderated by providing alternative sitting places. There can be places for lounging, squatting or even lying down. The tall interactive office requires up to 20 percent less space than a sit down office and it definitely has space for special features like alternative resting places.
The interactive Workplace
An immediate benefit of the tall table is for collaborative work. The high position of display screen allows standing discussions around it. This creates the ultimate interactive workplace where people move around instead of sitting down in one position.
The Green Work Place
Can an office arrangement reduce greenhouse gas emissions? The computer is a paper guzzling machine. So called “Paperless offices” depend upon a huge number of working paper prints for internal discussions. These printouts are not stored but thrown away. A fresh print is taken out when the same thing is discussed another time. The number of such temporary printouts depends upon the level of collaboration required in the office.
More the need for collaboration, the greater is the wastage of paper. The Pyramid Workstation with the possibility for stand up discussions has the potential to save paper even in Paperless offices.
Can an office arrangement reduce the space needed for the office without taking it away from the individual worker? The Pyramid Workstation takes up 20% less space than normal sit down workstations. Because it allows internal meetings, it also reduces the space needed for meeting rooms. It has the potential to make “green” offices and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
According to international surveys, 80% of office workers suffer from back pain – more than workers who engage in laborious work!
Ergonomists say it is not good for people to sit in an office chair for long. They want people to keep moving.
Chairs and work places are designed so that one can sit down comfortably and work without moving very much. “Ergonomic” chairs are meant to be so comfortable that users never need to leave them.
People who design their own work programme- the big bosses -arrange their work day in a way that allows them to be active. They do not sit and work in one place all day.
So called ergonomic chairs come with so many adjustments that users don’t know how to adjust for the right fit. Most users do not know the difference between a comfortable posture and a healthy posture.
Ergonomists say standing is better than sitting in a chair. But people know standing is tiring and it feels good to sit down.
The seemingly conflicting requirements of a workplace have been reconciled in the “Pyramid Workstation”. The self-adjusting “Pyramid Seat” and the high “Pyramid Table” create a work environment where people can sit tall and be active.
“Pyramid Seat” changes the sitting posture to one recommended by Ergonomists and one that people familiar with the Alexander Technique immediate recognize as a very healthy sitting posture.
“Pyramid Seat” requires a single adjustment – for height of user – and everything else adjusts itself. Unlike common office tables the height of the “Pyramid” table can be adjusted by user. The combination works for a wider range of short as well as tall people.
“Pyramid Seat “makes people move at work and takes care of many computer work related health problems.
“Pyramid Seat” will never damage a woman’s saree or dupatta as it has no wheels.