There is an unseen force that shapes many of our office layouts – Historical Accident. Do you kick the waste bin under your desk every time you swing your leg? Are you constantly leaving your seat to visit a printer on a distant shelf to clear paper jams? Does your writing hand cast a shadow across your work? Do piles on your work floor force you to slalom rather than walk in straight lines? Often, the culprit for all these inconveniences is Historical Accident.
When office layout decisions are made, there are usually very practical reasons for them. Historical Accident is the result of uncoordinated practical decisions made over time. The solution can be simple, a little joined-up thinking. You just need to stand back and consider your environment as a whole.
Have you thought about the ergonomics of the way you work? What about those three much maligned words: ‘health and safety’? Are there tangles of extension cable in a dusty corner – or worse, jutting into a walkway or catching your chair wheels? Innocent equipment situated poorly can become a risk – or an obstacle. Equipment also becomes out of date. An office tool may have served you well for years, but has a better solution appeared on the market? If there is more than one person in the office space, are they having to shout to be heard – or, worse still, shout over some poor ‘piggy in the middle’?
Chairs are central
Are the chairs comfortable? Many people spend years of their life in an office chair. Getting your posture right is not just about comfort. Back pain is very debilitating. If you don’t get your posture right, it can hit your wallet. You run the risk of spending long periods of time away from your desk. Around half the population of the UK suffer some form of back pain each year. And 15% of those sufferers will develop chronic back pain, according to a report published in the British Medical Journal. Take the time to research the type of chair that is right for you. Don’t make a decision based, purely, on how a chair looks. Sit in it. Is it the right height for your desk? Will it allow you to get close enough to your desk? What positions must you take up when you work? Trying out does not mean that you have to buy. And if you buy online, the issue will be can you return it easily if it proves unsuitable for your spine.
After you’ve picked out your chair, you should consider one additional upgrade for your desk area. Chair mats for your office floor make it easier for you to slide your chair in and out from your desk. Chair mats also provide carpet or wood floors with some protection from the constant action of chair wheels.
Peripherals for work comfort
Consider whether you would benefit from a few accessories for your computer. An ergonomically designed keyboard can help eliminate wrist cramps and other pain. If you are constantly stretching forward to reach your computer’s mouse, would a wireless mouse reduce the stresses? If you’re still using an old computer monitor, should you consider an upgrade? Modern computer monitors often have a sharper, crisper image with better colour control. The fact that they are easier to read may be reason enough for you to upgrade.
One other tip on monitors: If you find you are constantly dragging documents to the side of your screen or minimizing and maximizing them, it may be that your screen space is too cramped for the work you need to do on it. Consider using two monitors simultaneously – most PCs can facilitate this. Not only can this reduce your hand and body movements, spreading all the required documents out across the two screens may actually improve your decision-making.
Sound and pictures
Finally, functionality is not all you should consider. A boring office space doesn’t inspire creative ideas. Adding a few personal touches can make a space more inviting – and that might keep you happy at your desk for a little longer. Are the walls, doors and furniture a pleasant colour? Could the paintwork do with a freshen up? What about images? Photos of friends and family might remind you of why you are working so hard. A pot plant or two can help the most artificial space. How about a desktop aquarium?
There is one area that is too rarely considered when office spaces are assessed – sound. Would some insulation against traffic noises improve your comfort? Perhaps you could hear the birdsong – if the window wasn’t screwed shut!
Making a few simple changes to your office can have a positive influence on your ability to work hard and productively. If you plan your office carefully and embrace new technologies, your efforts can help boost your effectiveness at your job.