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BUSINESS SERVICES: Revolutionizing Home and Office Work Spaces

Investing in ergonomic solutions

Alaska has some of the highest injury rates for administrative and professional personnel, according to the U.S. Department of Labor and Bureau of Labor Statistics. What was once thought of as a relatively safe industry is proving to be more costly to employers with increases in workers’ compensation claims, lost time and insurance premiums.

Research has proven that prolonged sitting shortens life spans, increases the likelihood of diseases such as metabolic syndrome, and greatly contributes to excessive weight gain. But office functions are a critical component to modern life and eliminating the office is near impossible in today’s fast-paced technological world.

“Unfortunately, a lot of companies expect people to get their jobs completed with the tools of yesterday,” says Marc Giampaoli, sales manager for Scan Office Interiors in Anchorage. “The standard World War II desk with the drawers down both sides were designed before computers. People try to make them work by utilizing creative solutions—like using phonebooks as monitor stands—but in the end they are just too inefficient and do not meet minimum ergonomic standards.”

Statistics show that people who have worked over the years in offices are suffering today with more health problems. Common complaints from office workers range from poor posture, debilitating pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, joint stiffness, musculoskeletal problems, headaches and general body discomfort. “You shouldn’t have to take pain relievers to have a normal life,” says Giampaoli. “Work stations can be designed to suit a person’s body mechanics.”

To address the health concerns of their staff, many companies are turning to more ergonomic solutions.

 

Ergonomically Speaking

Ergonomics, the study of efficiency in work environments, focuses on neutral body positioning and creating a comfortable working posture where joints are naturally aligned so as to avoid strain on muscles, tendons and the skeletal system. Considerations for proper body positioning include ensuring the top of monitors are at or just below eye level, the head and neck are balanced and in-line with the torso, feet are resting flat on the floor, shoulders are relaxed, elbows are close to the body and supported, the lower back is supported, wrists and hands are in-line with forearms, and there is adequate room for the keyboard and mouse.

Thomas Harris, workspace consultant for Capital Office in Fairbanks, says he has seen an increase in ergonomic workstations across the state in recent years. “Customers today are looking for highly adjustable seating, computer support tools such as keyboard trays and monitor arms, and more frequently, height-adjustable workstations,” Harris says. Adjustable workstations have electric motors that range from 21 inches to 4 feet high, allowing individuals to sit, stand or do both with the push of a button.

“Companies across Alaska have office needs that vary from location to location. We have clients all over the state in every market, including federal, state and local government, healthcare, education, mining and the oil industry,” Harris says. “With locations in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, Capital Office is able to bring a full line of office solutions to every corner of Alaska.”

Advances also have been made in the area of office chairs. “In order to allow you to sit longer without being harmful, chairs have become more supportive by adjusting to the curve of your spine and allowing blood to flow more easily,” Giampaoli says. “Having an adjustable chair is key to ensuring pressure points are being supported. This combined with the advancement in cushions and cool foam technology has gone a long way in increasing blood flow and comfort.”

 

Get Up, Stand Up

The concept of standing while working is growing in popularity. “People who stand at a desk are more efficient and more productive over the period of their day, week, month and year,” Giampaoli says. “There have been studies conducted by University of Missouri and John Hopkins University that indicate people who stand while they work can save a company up to $30,000 annually by increasing productivity while minimizing health costs and time away from work.”

At first, standing while working may take some getting used to. “People who convert from a sitting to a standing workstation sometimes complain of lower back pain initially as their muscles become used to the newer configuration,” Giampaoli says. “The body adapts quickly, however, and people find they have less pain overall and can actually get more work done because they don’t have to frequently get up and move around to loosen up stiff muscles. Adjustable work stations also allow people to choose when they want to sit and when they want to stand.”

 

Walking While Working

For those wanting to take the health benefits of standing while working a step further, Capital Office carries a line of office furniture from Steelcase that incorporates an adjustable work station with a low-speed, commercial-grade treadmill.

“Walking while you work helps burn calories and feel healthier while accomplishing the work you’d normally do while seated,” says Harris. “The Walkstation and Sit-to-Walkstation combine a fully integrated height adjustable workstation with a low-impact workout.”

Certainly trying to work while exercising at the same level as one would attempt at a health club or outdoors isn’t feasible for most office workers. Steelcase Walkstations, however, operate at a maximum speed of two miles per hour and are exclusively engineered to provide a comfortable walking pace while working.

 

Office Space Design

Designing an office space goes beyond selecting a comfortable chair and the right desk. “When you think about it, people spend a great deal of time at two places—in their bedroom sleeping and at work. Offices today are more colorful, comfortable and adaptive,” Giampaoli says. “People who incorporate their personality and their passions in their office design are generally happier and more productive at work.”

Scan Office Interiors built their business bringing contemporary Scandinavian furniture to Alaska. The simple approach and clean lines proved efficient in designing smaller working spaces. Over the last 30 years, Scan Office has expanded its business lines to include comfortable and space saving designs from manufacturers like ConSet, DBi, Jasper Office and Tvilum Scanbirk.

Space planning computer software combined with the efficiency of modern furniture allows for the maximization of office space. “Whether we are designing a small home office or multiple offices for a large company, we start by identifying the needs of those who will be using the office,” Giampaoli says. “People often have multiple monitors, computer equipment, books, manuals and file storage needs that require consideration when planning a space.”

Technology today allows for furniture to be built less expensively while incorporating features that save space and increase productivity. “It is amazing the advances that have been made in furniture design,” says Giampaoli. “China is actually leading the way with designs that incorporate state of the art materials and renewable resources such as bamboo.”

Bamboo is a durable hard wood that is increasing in popularity because it is inexpensive and grows quickly, renewing itself every two years, according to Giampaoli. “Our customers are often looking beyond the traditional furniture that was popular in the 1980s and seeking out solutions that are not just comfortable and efficient, but reduce their carbon footprint as well,” he says.

 

Investing in Upgrades

Wood components that put out carbon emissions are being replaced by furniture made of glass, steel and aluminum, which are not only sleek in design, but are more cost effective to build as well.

Replacing old furniture with updated designs can prove to be expensive, but worth the investment. “You can’t put a price on your employee’s health and while the initial outlay may seem cost prohibitive, in many cases, the expenses associated with not providing a safe and healthful workplace can far exceed the price of upgrading your furniture,” Giampaoli says.

It’s not just large offices that can benefit from a furniture makeover. “At Scan Office Interiors, we work collaboratively with our customers to design workstations that meet their individual needs, whether it’s a home office project or an entire building,” adds Giampaoli.

One company that made the commitment to provide adjustable workstations to its employees with a creative twist was Alaska USA Federal Credit Union. “Alaska USA’s offices are mostly furnished with oak and since our line of adjustable furniture doesn’t utilize that wood component, we were able to retrofit their existing desk tops with adjustable legs,” Giampaoli says. “This not only saved them money, they were able to provide modern ergonomic technology to their employees without compromising on the look of their offices.”

This kind of solution is just one of the ways furniture companies across Alaska are bringing ergonomic technology to their customers.

 

Paula Cottrell is an Alaskan author.

 

This article is a web exclusive to the December 2012 edition of Alaska Business Monthly.

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