June 2, 2015
If you believed surveys and the news they generate you would soon come to regard the modern workplace as something of a death trap. Now this is somewhat misleading because statistically the most dangerous professions are still far and away those such as agriculture, forestry and construction which employ people in the open air, doing what used to be considered the core functions of work, namely making things, destroying things or moving them from one place to another. Nowadays most of us are in no danger of being hurt by this sort of work. But we can come to harm in the office and your workplace has it in for you in a number of ways. But, as opposed to truly dangerous jobs, it’s unlikely you will be caught out by surprise and there are plenty of things you can do to ensure you not only come to no harm at work but can find ways to become more productive and healthy. Here are just a few examples:
The problem of what to do about our noisy neighbours at work has been highlighted in a report from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), people enjoy a 38 per cent improvement in their ability to perform many tasks if they work in a workplace where acoustic conditions have been optimised. The same survey also reported that people perform 16 per cent better in memory tests and 40 per cent better in mental arithmetic tests, when they aren’t disrupted by undue noise. Other reports go even further. A study published in the British Journal of Psychology has highlighted the role that ‘irrelevant noise’ plays not only in disrupting work, but also in increasing stress levels and decreasing job satisfaction. As an alternative to strangling a colleague, it’s no wonder there’s been a resurgence of interest in acoustic products from the workplace that range from acoustic ceiling kites, traditional screens, acoustic furniture, piped music and white noise.
It is estimated that even in a typical office each person and their computer equipment generate some 1500 Watts of energy per hour, the equivalent of a fan heater. The risks to workers in conditions that are too hot and badly ventilated include dehydration, fatigue, increased heart beat, dizziness, fainting; and heat cramps due to loss of water and salt. Hot, dry air can increase the risk of eye and throat infections, and breathing problems such as asthma and rhinitis. While building systems are essential in dealing with these problems, help is at hand in the form of plants. A yucca might help but you don’t want the office to end up too 1970s so a more contemporary solution is the plant wall or vertical garden. Fashion brand Diesel is one company that has specified a plant wall. But it’s more ambitious than most. The firm’s HQ incorporates what is claimed to be Europe’s largest plant wall, with an area of some 250 square metres which dominates one side of the lobby and is left deliberately to nature. The wall consists of some 9000 plants of 30 varieties it forms a green lung for the interior, helping the building to breathe and cooling the air.
Moving around is rarely a bad thing and it turns out that office workers can burn an extra 144 calories per day by standing rather than sitting at their desk, according to a leading expert on exercise and health. Dr John Buckley, from Chester University’s Department of Clinical Sciences and Nutrition, has calculated that working at a standing desk for three hours a day will burn eight pounds of human fat in the course of a year. However, you don’t have to resort to using a lectern, as specially designed sit-stand desks are readily available in the UK. Sitting and standing, taking an occasional break and moving about benefits the circulation, increases the supply of oxygen and reduces tiredness.
The best products become a shorthand for cool. And when it comes to the office there’s none cooler than the Aeron Chair. According to Don Chadwick, who along with Bill Stumpf designed it in 1994, the brief they were given by Herman Miller was to ‘design the next-generation office chair’. Easier said than done but who could deny that the product they came up with not only met the brief but came to define the market for office seating. Its iconic status means that is has often been used a short hand for a particular type of cool. At one point it was so closely linked with the pre-millennial dot com boom that when the bubble burst, one of the symbols most commonly associated with the time was the sight of thousands of Aerons being taken from the offices of bust tech firms to be sold on.
And yet it is a measure of the truly iconic status of the Aeron that it is just as ubiquitous now as it has ever been. It is a product that has transcended fashion to become timeless. That is one reason why you are now able to see an Aeron chair as a permanent exhibit in both the Design Museum in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
How many designers does it take to change a lightbulb? Two. One to change the bulb, the other to hold the Eames chair he’s standing on. Or alternatively, the one who designed the low energy lightbulb that recently won a Brit Design of the Year. The fact that this product won such a prize is a sign of the times, partly because the low energy lightbulb is the standard bearer for energy efficiency and partly because they are perceived as – well – a bit rubbish. Ugly, dim and (initially) expensive.
Not so the Hulger Plumen 001, which might sound like a supercar, but is in fact a product that has helped to change the way we view lighting products and enjoys the advantage of not being an LED. Designed by Samuel Wilkinson of Hulger Design, the Plumen was lauded by chairman of judges Stephen Bayley as ‘a good example of the ordinary thing done extraordinarily well, bringing a small measure of delight to an everyday product’.
You could argue that it lacks the functional simplicity of the lightbulb as we once knew it, but it’s certainly more elegant than existing energy saving designs although it does follow the same principle of using a bent tube of glass. In terms of its functionality, it claims to use 80 per cent less energy and last eight times longer than a traditional incandescent bulb.
Justin Miller is the sales director of office furniture and ergonomics specialist Wellworking.