This article was written by Mark Foster, Head of Furniture and Interiors at Office Depot.
On the average day, the two things people spend most time doing are working and sleeping, generally for about eight hours each. As a result, it is no surprise that people devote a large amount of time to buying the beds in which they will be spending so much of their lives. Yet, despite the amount of time we spend sitting in an office chair being equivalent to that which we spend in bed, the consideration given to choosing our office chair is often nowhere near what we spend selecting our mattress. The decision over which chairs to buy for an office is often made as a matter of necessity, rather than considering the impact that the right, or wrong, furniture can have upon employees.
The issue is not merely a question of cost-saving – indeed, many businesses are generous in the benefits offered to staff, understanding the resultant rewards for the business of a well-treated workforce. Rather, the reason that selecting office furniture can become a secondary priority is that it falls victim to the misconception that work-related products only need to carry out a functional purpose. Clearly, though, if employees need to sit to carry out their job, when selecting their chairs more factors need to be taken into account than simple functionality. Employee well-being is inextricably linked to business efficiency and productivity, and being comfortable while carrying out daily tasks will have a noticeable impact on an employee’s work rate.
Uncomfortable chairs can have a number of negative effects on those using them. At a practical level, a poorly designed chair can cause back injuries if it is not appropriate for the tasks being carried out, for example if it cannot be adjusted to suit different desk heights. After prolonged periods of use, a minor injury can develop into something more serious which may require substantial time off work. Such losses to workforce numbers can put serious pressure upon remaining staff, but are easily avoided in the first place by choosing furniture that allows people to sit comfortably at their desks. In this respect, there are a range of features that manufacturers can incorporate into their products to make them more adaptable to workers’ differing needs, such as adjustable arms and sliding seats. Some of the best quality products have also gained scientific endorsement for the health benefits they can offer users, and come with backing from physiotherapists and health experts as a guarantee of their quality.
Having a comfortable chair is not only important from a purely physical point of view; it can have a positive psychological effect as well. If employees associate their desks with lack of comfort and adopting awkward positions, they will feel more reluctant to spend longer periods of time at them, and may even look for excuses to leave their desk regularly. As a result, they will be less motivated to work if periods sitting at their desks are uncomfortable.
By contrast, workers are much more likely to spend longer at their desks if they feel at ease whilst sat there. By eliminating the peripheral, negative distractions that uncomfortable furniture can otherwise create, staff are able to remain focussed on their tasks. Recognition of this is clearly of benefit to a business, as furniture that helps, rather than hinders, worker well-being contributes to a more efficient workforce.
While furniture choice should be a priority for staff well-being, it is important to remember that it is in fact only one part of the wider issue of the range of office solutions that can be introduced. Employee well-being can be further promoted by looking into potential replacements for ineffective equipment, such as keyboard and mouse rests, which are designed to prevent repetitive tasks and actions from having a lasting effect on physical well-being. Of course, all of these elements won’t benefit workers successfully if they are not provided with desks that allow them to work easily; poorly designed desks that force users to stretch awkwardly to reach documents, for example, can be as damaging as bad work chairs.
Careful consideration of the ergonomics of your office furniture is not the only way to ensure that it contributes to staff morale, and the best offices will recognise that people are receptive to the visual stimuli that surround them. Stylish furniture can greatly lift the aesthetics of a workplace environment too. A brightly coloured chair, for example, will look much more appealing than a traditional dark one, much in the same way as keeping a tidy desk will.
A variety of different types of furniture can also break up the monotony of standard office interiors. In recognition of this, it is now increasingly common for separate work spaces, such as boardrooms, relaxation zones and general office space, to have different furniture. Purchasing sofas to use during breaks is especially beneficial, as it provides employees with a relaxing environment away from their desks, allowing them some valuable time away from work.
Employers often favour choosing furniture that fits with their brand’s identity and the look and feel of their premises. While this can be a valuable addition to corporate image, it should not be done to the detriment of employees who may require more specialised furniture for their needs. Like many other HR solutions, office furniture does not subscribe to a one-size-fits-all metric, and it is important that individuals are not forgotten about in a bid to create a unified look within an office.
To get the best out of staff, employee workspace should be treated like any other environment we spend time in. By adopting an approach to our office furniture that is more aligned with the way we make such choices on a personal level, improving staff well-being becomes a positive by-product of business performance.