The increasing popularity of “remote working” has converted many professionals into passionate disciples of a healthy office ambience.
Previously, working from home meant spreading out on the dining table, perching uncomfortably on a low-backed and flimsy wood-framed chair, trying not to be distracted by your children sitting opposite you, doing their homework. Plus, don’t forget the overly-boisterous pet cat who’d scatter your paperwork in all directions!
Today, we’re acutely attuned to the benefits of a salubrious work environment, especially when spending longer hours away from the more traditional communal professional space. We are keen to create workstations that are conducive to optimum concentration and comfortable for extended periods seated. (Of course, there’s still not much we can do about the cat!)
Whether in a relatively informal setting at home or in a larger more rigidly-structured coworking hub, there are several steps we can all take to make the experience more pleasant, relaxing, and physically undemanding.
Cutting-edge ergonomics for correct posture
Arguably, the first priority is choosing the right chair. Even if this is not within your personal remit (as a non-executive employee, for example), any caring (and sensible) manager will be concerned about the well-being of their staff and open to suggestions if seating is considered inadequate. Many of us spend just as much time sitting in a chair as we do sleeping on a mattress, so settling on the right design is of paramount importance.
Sitting in an office chair for prolonged periods can cause or aggravate back pain, as most people have a natural tendency to slouch over or down in their seat – which almost invariably results in poor posture and subsequent back problems.
For Corrigo Design, who are specialists in workplace ergonomics, one size does not necessarily fit all, but having an ergonomic chair is universally beneficial across the broad spectrum of office seating scenarios.
Sitting comfortably throughout the day, Corrigo Design asserts, enhances productivity, enabling you to adopt a better working posture, protecting from potential back problems and, for those already suffering issues, reducing tension and easing the frustrating cycle of pain.
Gaining an edge in professional creativity
With vast resources at their disposal, global giants such as Apple and Google have been at the forefront of devising 21st century work facilities that enable their teams to optimize creativity and contentment. These have ranged from fairly coherent coffee shop-style spaces to more bizarre children’s playgrounds (and even a treehouse at Microsoft!)
As Microsoft’s chief storyteller, Steve Clayton, revealed to Wired earlier this year, he once engineered the construction of a meeting space in a treehouse, resulting in a positive reaction from employees:
“That treehouse showed us that the environment where you work can have a real effect on the work you do… Technology, culture, and, crucially, workplace – if you get all of those three things together, you really start to see how to encourage creativity and a networked way of working.”
If a treehouse seems one branch too far in your case, Ideo Alum’s Neil Stevenson polled designers who offered several other tips for supercharging spaces with a jolt of creativity.
These ranged from providing rotating desks to encourage collaboration to a rooftop garden where staff can keep bees and plants. Another idea is to keep chocolate in a drawer to trigger moments of joy with a “Milky Time” – and hiding clocks to allow staff to have a break from “cruel Master Time.”
According to Stevenson, “Many businesses are getting wise and ditching the one-size-fits-all, flannel-suit approach to the workplace.”
Lighting up your work day
On a more general level, basic office elements – such as wall colors, lighting, and ceiling height – can have a significant effect on a worker’s state of mind.
Dulux, for example, completed a makeover of a home office that avoided customary lighter shades and instead focused on intense blues and greens, which “have been found to focus the mind and create a sense of balance and calm.”
The aim, with their color-combination of soft maplewood (ceiling), bronze (front wall) and veiled violet (back wall), was not only to have a positive effect on concentration but also to add an opulent mood to the space.
As for lighting, this vital element for efficient office operations is making great strides in tune with the evolving requirements of modern-day work areas.
“From flexible working to personalized control,” notes Thorn Lighting, “the need to save energy, and putting people at the heart of lighting design, the priorities and practices of office lighting are in flux.”
These, they say, are essentially the five key aspects we need to focus on…
- Flexibility: “Laptops, tablets, and phones with backlit screens are everywhere in the modern office, so glare that could make these difficult to use must be avoided.”
- Saving energy: “The efficacy of LED lighting is such that LEDs are replacing fluorescent in offices, and smart controls are getting energy consumption even lower.”
- Control: “Giving workers more control over their light has been shown to increase job satisfaction, and controls can prevent light being wasted.”
- Light: “To strike the right balance, we need to light not just the task but also the space and the face, so people can feel comfortable and communicate.”
- Making the most of daylight: “People like having access to daylight in offices, and it has been shown to be good for us. It’s also free.”
Reaching the heights of professional satisfaction
A 2017 study on “The Influence of Ceiling Height” concluded that people tend to think more freely and abstractly when working in a space with a ceiling height of over three meters.
According to the study’s author, Joan Meyers-Levy, “Ceiling heights bring different kinds of concepts or thoughts to mind. Those concepts then influence the actual way that you process information. If a ceiling is high it activates the idea of freedom, or the lack of boundaries. When you experience low ceiling height, you activate concepts of constriction or confinement.”
Making intelligent and multi-purpose connections
As one of the world’s premier décor and design exhibitions, the twice-yearly Maison & Objet (M&O) in Paris showcases a widely diverse array of latest trends – including design trends for the office.
M&O’s expert team of designers are clear about the priorities in this area: “Furniture and objects that are intelligent, nomadic, modular, connected, or multi-purpose… such are the needs of the offices and open spaces of today.”
In the end, of course, the bottom line is that – while it is wise to address all these issues – personal touches and habits are just as essential. The simple matter, for instance, of getting up from your chair and moving around on a regular basis is key. Merely visiting the water cooler or stepping outside for a longer break to enjoy some fresh air and “me” time while catching up with personal social media can invigorate your time in the office and, most importantly, ensure you enjoy a healthier, professional lifestyle.