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The art and science of office design

The foundation of an office designed to reduce physical pain lies in ergonomics, the science of designing workplaces to fit the contours of the human body

The modern office is evolving into an environment that prioritises employee health. This shift is driven by the growing recognition that physical pain, often caused by prolonged sitting and improper posture, can significantly impact employee productivity and health.

The foundation of an office designed to reduce physical pain lies in ergonomics, the science of designing workplaces to fit the natural contours of the human body. Ergonomics aims to minimise strain on muscles and joints, promote proper posture, and encourage movement, thereby preventing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), a common ailment among office workers.

In the past decade or so, there’s been a paradigm shift in the composition of workplaces, especially for the younger generation. From my experience, most companies want offices that are flexible, promote interaction and are employee-centric–and all of this can be achieve with simple steps and interventions.

Ergonomic workstations: The backbone of a pain-free office

Ergonomic workstations incorporate features that support proper posture, alignment, and movement, reducing strain on the body and promoting overall comfort. That’s why it is important for ergonomics to be considered in the design of everything from office furniture to computer software.

Key components of ergonomic workstations include:

Chairs: Adjustable chairs with lumbar support, adjustable seat height, and swivel functionality are essential for maintaining proper posture and preventing back pain.

Desks: Adjustable desks allow employees to customise their workspace to their individual height, ensuring optimal elbow angles while typing and reducing neck and shoulder strain.

Footrests: Footrests provide support for the feet, reducing pressure on the back and legs and promoting better circulation.

It is important for ergonomics to be considered in the design of everything from office furniture to computer software. Good ergonomics can help to prevent injuries, improve productivity, and increase overall comfort and well-being.

Here are some of the key principles of ergonomics:

Neutral posture: Your body should be in a neutral position when you are working. This means that your spine should be straight, your elbows and knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle, and your feet should be flat on the floor.

Support: Your chair should provide support for your lower back and neck. Your keyboard and mouse should be at a height that allows you to type with your wrists straight.

Variety: Take breaks from sitting and moving around regularly to stretch your muscles and avoid fatigue.

Adjustment: Make sure that your workspace is adjustable so that you can find a comfortable position.

Simple changes, big impact

Beyond ergonomic workstations, simple yet effective adjustments can transform an office into a healthier and more productive environment. These include:

Natural light: Natural light has been shown to improve mood, alertness, and eye health. Maximising natural light through windows and skylights can significantly enhance employee well-being.

Strategic spacing: Intentionally placing workstations slightly apart encourages employees to walk for brief interactions, promoting movement and breaking up periods of prolonged sitting.

Coffee/water stations: Positioning coffee and water stations away from desks encourages employees to get up and move periodically, reducing the risk of physical strain.

Prolonged sitting is a major contributor to physical pain. Incorporating movement and breaks into the workday can significantly reduce the risk of musculoskeletal issues. Strategies include:

Designated break areas: Create inviting break areas with comfortable seating, access to natural light, and opportunities for physical activity, such as stretching or yoga.

Walking meetings: Encourage walking meetings to break up periods of sitting and promote movement.

Activity-based desks: Consider incorporating activity-based desks, such as treadmill desks or walking desks, to encourage movement throughout the workday.

An ergonomically healthy office can’t be built till the time employees are willing to participate and put their health first.

Amit Aurora is partner at the Delhi-based architecture and design firm, groupDCA



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