In comments about CDW2016, I noted that ergonomics is an essential subject for some, a relevant topic for others and a misunderstood and inconsequential distraction for the rest! In this short article, I shall be expressing my subjective observations about how this is evolving in wider workplace attitudes as reflected during CDW2017.
In 2017, there are still many who fail to really understand ergonomics. Despite that, the common theme throughout Clerkenwell was Wellbeing. Office furniture manufacturers, designers and architects have all realised that the most productive workforce is happy, healthy and engaged. Since finding, employing and retaining talent is the highest cost for any business, this makes sound commercial sense and puts human factors and ergonomics (HF&E) at the centre of good workplace design.
Not that ergonomics was overtly discussed at Clerkenwell! As usual, there was plenty of talk about sit-stand furniture and reducing prolonged sitting, as well as lots of information about agile working, acoustics, light, product design, colour, texture and living walls. These all address HF&E issues yet there seems to be a need to ‘dress it all up’ with buzzwords and catchphrases. Clearly, ergonomics is just not interesting enough on its own!
Most workplace furniture manufacturers approach the wellbeing issue from a perspective of offering variety: give employees plenty of different ways to work, design them into bright, comfortable and inviting spaces and the talent will come – and stay. That is how the thinking goes. Your choice of supplier will dictate how much science or research is applied to this thinking and how it is described. The conversation may be about Smartworking, Creative Spaces, Future Office, Clever Workspace or another, similar, name. Activity based working (ABW) fits into much of this thinking but our own simplified approach is to break down activities and the needs of personnel into the 4Cs: Collaboration, Communication, Contemplation and Concentration.My own view is that mental health is now a crucial consideration and workplace design is only part of the issue. As well as more open discussion about mental health, there is a growing understanding of how to manage the needs of individuals and teams where stress or depression is an issue. If we want to discuss Wellbeing, we must go beyond describing different ways of working and look at both mental and physical health to optimise individual performance.
Despite the appearance of a growing number of Wellbeing Managers, there is no formal qualification nor, indeed, any particular career path. There is also plenty of debate about what we actually mean by Wellbeing. We must take care that the really important issue of keeping staff mentally and physically healthy is not hijacked by marketing buzzwords and thereby devalued.