06 Jul 2017 15:16 IST

Sit, stand or lounge?

Alastair Stubbs on the new posture debate and more

A typical office worker will probably spend more time sitting in his or her office chair than anywhere else, maybe even bed, says Alastair Stubbs, Country Manager India for Humanscale, a manufacturer of ergonomic products for the workplace. Since sitting is the new smoking, is it worthwhile for companies to invest in standing desks? Stubbs, who has 29 years of experience in office interiors, candidly answers this and more.

Are standing tables really finding resonance at the workplace, or is it hype?

I find this Standing – or should I say Sit/Stand – quite amusing. Both media and furniture manufacturers have been promoting the message that “sitting is the new smoking” and that “going to work is killing us”. Yes, there are elements of truth in both. However, traditional office furniture manufacturers who are now encouraging companies globally to take more responsibility for the health and well-being of their staff by providing height-adjustable workstations are the ones who have successfully kept users still at their desks for the past 50 years! If they supplied office chairs that encouraged freedom of movement, then perhaps there might not be such a great need for height-adjustable workstations even.

I went to a talk last year, given by a professor of ergonomics, and he pointed out that the maximum utilisation of height-adjustable workstations was found to be around 18 per cent, with an actual average utilisation of a mere 12 per cent. That’s a heck of a lot of wasted money on height-adjustable workstations!

Due to this, a lot of companies are encouraging their staff to voluntarily ask for a Sit/Stand solution, so that it’s their choice, rather than giving it to them. This results in a higher utilisation rate. Early adopters end up being the “Sit/Stand champions” and the number of requests grow.

Millennials typically seem to like to lounge with their laptops and employers indulge this by providing beanbags. What do you think of this trend?

Lounging in collaborative spaces, I think, is great for brainstorming and creativity, but these environments are not meant for day-in, day-out sitting, as the type of furniture which is commonly used in these areas does not support the body in a correct way for prolonged sitting. Also, when lounging and using laptops, tablets and such, people get into awkward and unhealthy postures. It’s best to interact with technology when you’re at an ergonomic workstation that promotes healthy posture and movement.

We often see employees crammed into a workplace. Ideally how much space per person should there be?

Many factors dictate this answer. The ideal working space will depend on the type of work, cultural differences, corporate set-up, individual perceptions, age ratio and physical body dimensions. For the vast majority of fixed workers (admin, call centres), the recommended guide per workstation is 60 sq. ft to 110 sq. ft. In the early 2000s it was 250 sq ft.

How are you enabling tech in your chairs to get employees to get moving?

Office IQ is an unobtrusive, lightweight sensor box that is compatible with all our height-adjustable solutions, not just our chairs. Office IQ helps users get the most out of their sit/stand workstations by alerting them to Stand or Sit. Users can set personalised goals and receive real-time feedback on their daily activity, along with a count of how many calories were burnt.

Companies can receive aggregated, anonymous insights into occupancy and utilisation rates, ensuring smarter scheduling, design and purchase decisions. Ultimately, office IQ will help employers realise returns on their investments in developing healthier, happier and more positive places to work.

Which is your best selling workspace solution and why?

Liberty task chair is undoubtedly the best-selling premium task chair in India. The reason for its success is largely down to the sheer size of staff numbers in India. Many companies have at least 1,000 people and a number of them work in shifts. In practical terms, this is a nightmare for facilities when it comes to staff knowing how to operate their task chair. Statistics show that only 2 per cent of office chair users know what the tension control is for. This is a real issue when a gentleman 6’2” tall, weighing 95 kg finishes his shift and a petite woman of 4’10” weighing 42 kg then has to sit in his chair for her shift. The reality is the chair never gets adjusted and so one or both of the users’ health and comfort are badly compromised.

Often the chair mechanism is locked so that the backrest can’t move. The mechanism accounts for a high percentage of the cost of the chair. If you lock it, then you have actually just wasted almost half your money. Worse still, now the chair doesn’t move and so it is now no longer an ergonomic, healthy work tool, resulting in various potential health issues. Remember, movement is health!

On the other hand, the Liberty task chair automatically adjusts to the user’s body weight and provides perfect recline and support, in whatever posture they adopt without the need for manual adjustments,instructions or training.

What are the common ergonomics-related afflictions that employees face?

The main health issues in the workplace today are brought on by the increasing presence of technology. This has led to an increase in musculo-skeletal complaints such as eye strain, lower back pain and wrist discomfort. Studies suggest over 50 per cent of computer users go about their daily work with at least one form of musculo-skeletal discomfort.

With the ever-increasing use of smartphones and tablets, there are now additional issues such as neck strain, shoulder ache, headache and tingling sensations in the hands and arms.

The need to accommodate individual differences within the workplace is the key to eliminating some of the above. Workers should be given control of their workspace, including their hand and wrist position, monitor position, and individual light level. Individual control combined with high-quality ergonomics training will consistently yield safe and productive workers.