Ergonomics For The “Unassigned” Workspace
Source : Today’s Facility Manager, John B. Campbell AIA, RIBA, NCARB, NCIDQ, LEED AP, May 2013
During the furniture pilot program, employees who work in various departments throughout GSK participated and provided feedback to the project team. Sit-to-stand workstations were a significant focus during testing, and this type of workstation is included in the facility’s final design. (Photo: Francis Cauffman.)
Good ergonomics is an essential part of great workplace design. The rapidly changing workplace environment and the increase in mobile working—including workspace strategies that employ unassigned seating, known as “hoteling”—call for a broader approach to good ergonomics. To date, the focus has been primarily on the assigned office/workstation, where the ergonomic tools were set up correctly when the employee moved in and then remained static. With unassigned seating, different people can sit at the same desk at different times, so the focus of the ergonomist needs to shift to ease of adjustability. Otherwise, employees cannot easily make adjustments, and the benefits of providing good ergonomic tools are lost.
My firm recently had the opportunity to explore this question for the new U.S. headquarters facility of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, PA. This project provided an opportunity to pilot and prototype furniture solutions that actively address these challenges. More than 1,300 employees would be working in the new facility.
Ergonomic education and training work well on day one when people move into their new offices, but these efforts only go so far. Intuitive ease of use is critical by day two. A case in point is task chairs. There are plenty of good ergonomic task chairs in the market—many of which have seven or more adjustments. In the last few years, the market has seen the introduction of a number of good ergonomic task chairs with only four adjustments: seat height, seat pan depth, arm adjustment, and tilt preference. The advances in mesh technology in these chairs provide dynamic lumbar support and proactive ergonomics. The result is a task chair that can be adjusted quickly and easily; this makes it much more likely that employees will actually make the adjustments.
GSK’s facility is based on an “activity based workplace” with no assigned seating, and desks are provided on a 1:1.2 person ratio. To ensure these goals were met, we implemented a prototype and pilot program with the company’s employees to develop the custom furniture. From an early stage, height adjustable bench style desks were chosen to promote movement in the workplace by provide both seated and standing working options. By collaborating with product engineers at three different furniture vendors, we developed prototypes to test options for electronics cable management, location of power and data outlets, adjustable monitor arms, and worktops with ergonomic friendly front edge details. Options were installed and tested by a group of 60 employees in a “Smart Working” pilot area over a period of several months. Based on user feedback and a thorough ergonomic evaluation, a number of items in the prototypes were modified.
GSK has placed a strong emphasis on promoting movement and avoiding a sedentary work position. With unassigned seating it is important that when an employee arrives at a desk, he or she can quickly make the necessary ergonomic adjustments and get to work.
The final desking solution is a custom modular benching system with full sit-to-stand height adjustability—10% of which are electronically adjusted, with the other 90% crank adjustable. While many people make use of the standing option by raising the desktop, others lower it below the typical industry standard desktop height. In addition to simple and intuitive adjustments to the task chair and desk height, we provided a fully adaptable monitor arm, which can be readily moved or tilted to suit individual preferences.
Movement and customization are promoted in several other ways at the GSK headquarters. Trash bins and pull printers, for example, are centrally located, and require employees to walk to them for use. Each employee is provided his or her own keyboard which, when not in use, is kept in a personal locker. Finally, lighting is an important factor in good ergonomics. As the primary task is computer work, the general lighting level has been reduced to 25 footcandles. When a higher lighting level in required (such as when reading paper documents), individual LED task lights can be used.
GSK at the Navy Yard provided an opportunity to explore ergonomic principles within a non-traditional workplace. The comprehensive design process and evaluation of furniture were acknowledged by the achievement of an Innovation Credit for Ergonomics under a pilot credit for LEED for Commercial Interiors (CI). Through pilot prototyping and collaboration with vendors and GSK employees, valuable insight was gained and lessons learned in meeting the challenges of this dynamic work environment.
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