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Designing an ergonomic office space

Designing an office space isn’t a vanity project. In fact, an ergonomic office can play a huge role in company culture, workplace productivity, and even health and safety. It also communicates efficiency and professionalism to clients. So however you look at it, investing in ergonomic office furniture, accessories, and equipment is just good business sense.

But before you embark on a redesign, there are a few things you need to remember to ensure your new ergonomic office setup is a success, both functionally and aesthetically

What is ergonomic office design?

Ergonomics is where the art of interior design meets the science of human anatomy and behaviour. It considers safety, ease of use, productivity, comfort, and aesthetics to design furniture and workspaces that are comfortable and beautiful productivity hubs.

An ergonomic office is designed around the people who will use it, their movements, and their needs. Ergonomic office furniture is designed to fit both its intended purpose and the person or people who will be using it. Rather than expecting employees to slot in, an ergonomic office considers their capabilities, their limitations, and their daily tasks and is designed to make their day as seamless as possible.

What are the benefits of an ergonomic office design?

In short, the benefit of ergonomic office design is money saved for businesses that use it well. Ergonomics minimises time away from work by reducing workplace injuries and optimising health and performance, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

An ergonomic office can reduce office injuries

An ergonomic office setup keeps employees healthy, pain-free, and happy. Ergonomically designed equipment like ergonomic desk chairs, desks, mouses, and laptop and monitor stands, reduces:

When employees aren’t suffering from any of these, it’s easy to see how their overall well-being and mood are affected! Less pain and discomfort from office work equates to less absenteeism and more people working towards the company goals.

Office productivity increases with good ergonomics

A well-designed workspace contributes to improved health which naturally impacts productivity and performance. But over and above that, ergonomics in office spaces improves workers’ abilities to go about their daily tasks.

For example, desktops are designed ergonomically if they are divided into zones based on how often something is needed. Frequently used items are arranged within arm’s length, with more occasionally used items further back. An optimised, ergonomic-friendly workstation like this makes it easier to focus on the tasks at hand free of distractions and disorganisation. This translates to a boost in productivity and performance.

Good posture equals more confidence in workers

Posture influences confidence and vice versa. It’s why confident people use a power stance. Through ergonomics, you can bring the power pose and the confidence that comes with it to your employees with the help of standing desks or desk converters. You can even boost morale with a good chair. By fostering good posture with an ergonomic office station complete with posture-supporting chairs and desks, you’re indirectly boosting worker confidence. And confident employees mean higher quality work, better communication, and lasting impressions on clients.

Improve staff turnover with ergonomic office equipment

A natural consequence of having your workspace designed around you is that you will enjoy going to the office more. Simply put, an ergonomic office is a better place to work. When employees are comfortable, they are productive, and they feel valued. And this translates directly into favourable company outcomes and favourable client perceptions. This enhanced worker satisfaction leads to an improvement in staff turnover which, over time, saves businesses on HR and recruitment costs.

It costs anywhere from R30 000 to R60 000 to hire one employee when you add up the advertising costs and the otherwise productive time employees use when vetting and interviewing candidates. An R8000 ergonomic office chair is a fraction of the cost of replacing employees who may have left because they didn’t feel valued. Now, we’re not saying a bad office chair makes employees leave, or even that a good office chair stops employees from leaving, but comfort is an integral part of office culture which is what ultimately affects staff retention. Yet another reason why ergonomic office furniture and equipment are a business investment!

Ergonomics makes returning to the office easier

South Africa is still shifting back into office life after the pandemic, and many employees are resistant. Making the office a pleasant place to work, goes a long way towards making the adjustment to office life seamless and enjoyable.

The legal side of ergonomic office design

The South African Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) of 1993 governs workplace health and safety here in South Africa. It explicitly states that employers must provide and maintain a safe work environment as far as reasonably possible. You might think this only applies to high-risk industries like construction or medicine, but it applies to office jobs just as much. But where does the ergonomics of an office work fit into the law?

The OHSA was amended in 2019 with the Ergonomics Regulations with the intention of protecting office workers from injuries sustained at work through unergonomic practices. These newer regulations require that employers are proactive in finding and attending to ergonomic risks for their employees.

What makes a good ergonomic office space?

It’s important to know that an ergonomic office setup isn’t achievable with a laundry list of design requirements. Rather, it’s a continuous and holistic approach to the office, where everything from lighting and ventilation to layout and furniture is conceptualised, implemented, and adjusted for the people who will be using it. This brings us to point number one, the absolute priority when it comes to ergonomics in office life:

A space that works for the people who use it 

Before you design your space, you need to understand workplace dynamics – how your team members move, the nature of their activities, and how they utilise space; what facilities are needed; where traffic tends to develop; as well as potential obstacles that could get in employees’ way.

You need to plan for team culture and the nature of work as well. Consider the need for collaborative areas like boardrooms versus more private workstations or small meeting rooms. Some or all may or may not be applicable to your business and the nature of its workflow.

An open-plan layout

When it comes to ergonomic office layout, workers should have enough space to do their work, but be close enough to colleagues to work together. Businesses, where the nature of the workflow requires collaboration amongst their staff, will benefit more from open-plan office spaces. However, employees may also need periods of privacy and silence. Roles, teams, or projects requiring more solo work can benefit from cubicles or even soundproof booths. 

Workstations for deep meaningful work

Be sure to offer workstations conducive to deep work. These are generally exclusive-use desks or cubicles reserved for one employee but remember: each employee will have their own individual needs that will allow them to work at their best.

Offer sit and stand options as some people will focus best standing, while others might settle into their work by sitting. Opting for sit-stand desks caters to every individual, and their changing preferences and needs.

A clean work environment

Ever caught yourself procasticleaning? That’s because clutter and dirt hinder focus and productivity. When designing an ergonomic office, ensure that you incorporate enough storage for a clutter-free space, and don’t forget to include a cable management solution.

Also opt for worksurfaces that are easy to clean and wipe down, to foster office cleanliness.

Well-lit areas with natural light

Ergonomic office lighting can transform a drab workspace into a dream concentration zone. Poor lighting can lead to bad posture, eye strain, and headaches, so ensuring you provide optimum lighting for your employees will boost your business’ day-to-day productivity.

Start by considering how you can make maximum use of the natural light available in the space as this is the more cost-effective approach and one of the most important factors when it comes to ergonomic office lighting. A 2018 study by Cornell University found that workers in naturally lit offices experienced 84% less eye strain, headaches, and blurred vision as well as a 10% reduction in drowsiness than those with more artificial lighting!

Open-plan workspaces require high illumination, so natural light will need to be complemented by recessed ceiling lights, with additional spotlights or downlights to illuminate any remaining dark spots.

In production rooms, use a cooler light tone to aid concentration, while in communal spaces, a mix of warmer, dimmable lights and accent lights will help create a more relaxing atmosphere. A balance of both tones is necessary for a sense of balance at work.

Good ventilation and air quality

A 2015 Harvard study found that good ventilation is conducive to better cognitive function. The study tested participants after exposing them to various air qualities, and those with the best quality air consistently performed better, scoring 61% higher than those in conventional offices. It’s clear that good quality work demands good quality air.

You can enhance office air quality by incorporating indoor plants to detoxify the air. Avoid using too many plants as this could aid mould or damp, but rather opt for a handful of plants with particularly good purification abilities like peace lilies, spider plants, and golden pothos.

Other ways to ensure good air quality and ventilation in an ergonomic office are installing air purifiers, regularly cleaning the ventilation system, and choosing an office location further away from high-traffic roads, if this is within your means.

Temperature control

Temperature is a big factor when it comes to comfort, but it’s also important for preventing illness and mental fatigue at work. In South Africa, the ideal office temperature for optimal concentration is about 22 degrees Celsius.

Good acoustics for noise management

Another big part of ergonomic office design is minimising distractions and restricting disturbances. This includes sound. Noise can be very disruptive so eliminating background noise and creating good acoustics helps boost concentration.

Incorporating acoustic panels or carpets is a great way to soften sound and reduce how far it travels.

How to design an ergonomic office space

1. Plan your process flow

First and foremost you need to understand your business’ natural workflow and the needs of your employees. This will help with everything from choosing the right layout to deciding the best equipment.

2. Source high-quality ergonomic equipment

Ergonomic office chairs should be customisable with good lower back support and a breathable backrest.

Desks should be height adjustable or have sit-stand functionality. They should be large enough to accommodate a monitor arm’s length away from the user.

Ergonomic office accessories like standing mats and footrests, and monitor and laptop stands help to ensure ultimate comfort and personalisation which is vital when it comes to good posture and avoiding musculoskeletal problems. 

3. Think about business future needs

When starting out with your ergonomic office design, bear in mind how your business might scale. Everything from your office layout to furniture assembly and electrical outlets will be affected as you grow, so choose a design that can morph to your business needs.

Ideally, you should be able to easily add new workstations or convert spaces without having to create entirely new workspace designs. The Vari® range of ergonomic office products for instance is simple to assemble, disassemble, and reconfigure without needing special tools or additional labour. This means that you can easily change your space to reflect the needs of your employees and your business over time.

Also think about your business’ technology requirements so that you can provide easy, fast, and convenient access to electrical, network and auxiliary connections, reduce your wire clutter and improve cable management, now and in the future.

4. Bring the business’ brand to life

Your office space is an opportunity to showcase your brand’s identity. Your use of colour, shape, texture, and tone can communicate volumes about the business while simultaneously creating an ambience that boosts workplace morale and creates a clever brand perception for customers and employees alike.

You’ll want to pay extra attention to the most visible touchpoints of your office, such as the reception area, high-traffic areas, and communal spaces. Ergotherapy can customise your office chairs and include your branding to leave a lasting impression on your visitors and create a feeling of professionalism when they visit your premises.

What are the ergonomic office essentials?

If you’re designing an office space for the first time you might wonder what essentials you need to get started ergonomically. Our recommendation is to start with ergonomic desk chairs. They are the foundation of a worker’s experience since they spend most of their workday seated. Opt for adjustable chairs, and you won’t need to worry about ergonomic desks.

Our ergonomic office chairs are premium quality, long-lasting, and so well designed they are medically endorsed. Each one is also set up and installed by a chiropractor to offer employees seating that is truly customised to them.

If you can’t start with ergonomic chairs, we recommend getting started on your ergonomic office journey with laptop stands and footrests. These make a huge impact on back and neck posture and health, at a more easily achievable price point.

At Ergotherapy, we understand just how important it is for designers to get the right set-up, which is why we offer bulk orders at a discounted price.  

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you create an ergonomic office?

An ergonomic office has several core aspects that make it an ideal workspace for concentration and productivity.

  1. A desk chair with good lower back support and adjustable height.
  2. A desk at the right height for your keyboard.
  3. A height-adjustable monitor that is arm’s length away from you while you work.
  4. Plenty of light, preferably natural light.
  5. Good ventilation and air quality.
  6. Comfortable temperature control.
  7. Good acoustics for noise reduction.

What is an ergonomic office layout?

An ergonomic office layout is optimised for the people in it, so it can vary a lot, but generally an ergonomic office layout also caters to the business workflow. A more collaborative business needs a more open-plan layout, while businesses, roles, and teams that require more silence and privacy may need cubicles to work optimally. An ergonomic office is designed around the employees, so they can work at their best, so a truly ergonomic office will vary from person to person.

How do you design an ergonomic workplace?

1. Plan your process flow. You first need to understand your business’ natural workflow and the needs of your employees.

2. Source high-quality ergonomic equipment for maximum safety and comfort. This includes good lighting and acoustics.

3. Cater to the business’s future needs as much as possible. Ensure there are enough space and electrical outlets to accommodate the business as it grows.

4. Bring the business’ brand to life by incorporating the logo, and colours, shapes, textures, and tones that communicate the brand identity.

Why is office ergonomics important?

An ergonomic office makes employees comfortable and improves workplace safety, reducing absenteeism. It also creates the ideal environment for maximum productivity and staff retention. All of this combined results in big savings for businesses.

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