Active Ergonomics – The Future of the Office Space

For the most part, humanity is perpetually in search of progression in some form or other. Making things faster, smarter, more efficient and most importantly improving our daily lives; is what keeps many of us ticking. Furniture design is no different, with the addition of ensuring the end product is also aesthetically pleasing. While we are lucky enough to be able to pick and choose whichever furniture best suites our office space and design, that’s not all that matters. Ergonomic design and active ergonomics is an essential aspect of office furniture, to ensure that the user’s physical needs are met and that their working environment is comfortable, the user is far more likely to be at ease, happy and productive. The investment a company makes into ergonomic business furniture is returned many times over. 

But What is Ergonomic Design?

From the Greek ergon, meaning work and nomoi – natural laws, comes the word ergonomic. The word perfectly encapsulates the science of work and one’s relationship to work. Naturally, ergonomic furniture is created with work in mind and as time has passed we’ve realised that in order to efficiently produce work, we also need to be comfortable. Designing comfortable office chairs is only the tip of the ergonomic iceberg. 

The science of ergonomics doesn’t only apply to furniture, it can also be clearly illustrated in the shape and form of your mouse, your headphones and your laptop stand amongst innumerable other objects we use on a daily basis. Also described as human factors or human engineering, this discipline uses proper posture and body mechanics as the basis of any design for the sake of efficiency and comfort. After all, no one will be doing their best work while they are suffering from back pain or even simple operator fatigue.

image of an old school yellow ergonomic chair
Photo credit: Ettore Sottsass – Synthesis 45 chair

The History of Ergonomic Furniture

As far back as 1850, engineers, doctors and designers were trying to find the best seating solutions to ensure comfort and good posture. Then known more commonly as patent seating (because the designers would patent their chairs), the ergonomic concept was already being adopted. The term ergonomic however came into common use around the 1970s when designers found inspiration in the concept and its principles. A flurry of chic ergonomically inspired office chairs became the latest craze, until the advent of the standing desk that is. 

Further refinements to the basic ergonomic desk and chair will continue but at this point, they are no longer quite so novel and unique as they were in the 70s. Furthermore, it’s common knowledge that standing up and taking regular breaks are in fact key to productivity, avoiding chronic backache and reducing fatigue. This thinking is exactly what spurred the standing desk obsession, alas, our feet too begin to ache. 

bright office space with white ergonomic chairs and tables
Photo credit:

The Ergonomic Office

At the same time as designers were improving chairs and desks, they were also improving the surrounding office accoutrements. We are now less likely to get carpal tunnel from a clumsy mouse, or neck pain from a monitor which is impossible to adjust. It didn’t stop there, however. The office environment as a whole began to change. Open-plan offices allowed for more open discussion and collaboration between co-workers, while standing up, stretching and taking a break became the norm. Still, there is room for improvement. The next step is the adoption of a bigger picture approach, incorporating what we know about ergonomics and the knowledge that movement is essential for the wellbeing of office workers, with the generational shifts in work styles. 

Developing a New Ergonomy 

The world has changed and so does the way we work. The global economy has impacted business strategies. Companies face a growing call for agility and fast adaptation in a world where time waits for no one. Hand in hand with a new generation of creative, collaborative and mobile workers, the workplace has transformed to reflect the way businesses respond to the outside world. 

Today’s office no longer hoards empty offices for staff who work from varying locations, nor does it insist on glueing people to their desks under the guise of efficiency. The most efficient office space is one which promotes freedom of movement (in aid of general wellness), allows office workers to collaborate with ease and doesn’t assign desks to mobile staff. More still, an efficient office is comfortable, easy to use and agile.

The Rise of Active Ergonomics 

The path to this utopian office space is clear, it is paved by a new field; active ergonomics. A comprehensive approach, active ergonomics operates with the intention of applying the established ergonomic principles to the entire office environment. Without focussing on individual work stations, the entire space is designed to be utilised by workers for a variety of purposes. With informal lounge areas, hot desks, quiet spaces and breakout areas, the traditional office is transformed into a fluid, agile and active workspace in which workers are able to focus, reflect, collaborate or rejuvenate. 

Innovation lab auditorium with various types of ergonomic seating examples
Photo credit: Vanke Offices – Shenzhen

The Science of Active Ergonomic Work Spaces

Office furniture manufacturer Haworth details the thought process behind active ergonomics in its white paper ‘Active Ergonomics for the Emerging Workplace’. The concept of active ergonomics is rooted in three principles; anthropometrics, ambients and movement. Used together these principles are able to give us a peek into the future of our workspaces. 

Anthropometrics, also known as ergonomics is the study of the human body in relation to its environment. An item needs to be designed for ease of use, comfort and to best suit its intended purpose. 

Ambients refer to environmental conditions. Fresh air, natural light, controlled temperature and reduced noise have become the gold standard in office ambients.

Movement addresses the ability to adjust furniture as well as, the ease with which one can cross from one end of the workspace to another. 

Implemented correctly these principles do a great deal to improve the performance of teams and individuals while ensuring their personal wellness. Active ergonomic workspaces will quite possibly be more influential than the iconic ergonomic office chair of the 70s. 

There’s no time like the present to step into the future. With agile, active and collaboration-promoting furniture to suit every need, Ukhuni will transform your workspace into a productive and collaborative environment. Feel free to get in touch with us for advice or to book a consultation.

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