Live Life Well? Then Define your Workstation!
All research indicates that sedentary office work is bad for health. The computer with the backlit display is part of office life and it takes many forms from desktop to laptop to tablet to smart phone.
Most office workers, young and old, suffer from back, neck and knee pain. Doctors call this musculoskeletal disorder (MSD). Some researchers attribute other diseases like diabetes; heart condition etc. also to sedentary work.
Most computer use guidelines require the worker to sit properly (in a 90-90-90 posture) with body erect, knees and arms horizontal and legs vertical with feet flat on the ground. Even in a comfortable ‘ergonomic chair’, such a posture can be maintained only for a short time and this arrangement has not helped people be free of MSD. Since this posture has not helped, the new recommendation is for people to use height adjustable sit/stand tables where people stand and work for part of the time. However, recent European research shows that installation of sit/stand tables in offices has not been able to get people out of their chairs. Other research indicates that it is not sitting but inactivity that is causing problems. Some ergonomists/physiotherapists recommend that people actually should carry out stretching exercises every once in a while.
I believe that an active work environment can be created not by re-design of furniture but by re-design of work itself. Present work patterns require long hours of passive sitting and the furniture is designed for that. Chair design has been about providing comfort (read passivity) when it could be about well-being (read activity). Like ‘taste’ of food – ‘comfort’ has nothing to do with long term well-being. Taste and comfort, both provide only momentary sense of pleasure. Re-design of work requires that people move during the course of normal work. They need to get up and walk every time the phone rings or a printout is required or something is to be discussed with a colleague. It is good for people to get up and walk to the drinking water point or the coffee station and not keep a water bottle at the work table. Work tables can be made smaller and more common areas provided to let people walk around. Short meetings should take place standing up. If possible, meetings should take place walking around in a garden, courtyard or terrace. Even visitors to the office may admire things standing up or walking around and not sitting down in the waiting room.
I recommend a different approach to office design with fixed height (affordable) sit/stand workstations that encourage activity. Saddle chairs work with Pyramid Workstations and promote activity and well- being with limited comfort. These chairs ensure a more open posture with 130 degrees between torso and legs and they work equally well without a back support. I have implemented these design ideas in many offices, including my own office, and they work! A recent survey of people who used such furniture over a long period (8 years) of time showed a 50% reduction in instances of back and neck pain.