Is the Future Office Bad for Your Health?

Back pain

The ‘future office’ is a hot topic, and one that frequently makes its way onto our daily posts on OfficingToday. It’s been dubbed as the ‘age of screens‘; it will be collaborative and extrovert; it will fit seamlessly into the sharing economy; and of course, the rise of smart mobile technology means we’ll be able to work virtually anywhere.

All of these predictions point to a future of greater collaboration, more mobility and fewer desk-bound workers. We’ll get up and move to the place that best suits our work for the day. We’ll gravitate towards people with whom we need to collaborate. In place of meetings, we’ll ‘huddle’. And when we need quiet, we’ll move to a hushed corner or pop on some headphones.

More movement is better for the health. But what about all this perching and huddling? Office furniture ranges are geared increasingly towards the mobile worker, with cupboards that double up as stools and soft chairs on wheels. As activity-based working takes off and hot-desking becomes the norm, will more workers find themselves perching on bar stools or leaning over their laptops for hours on end?

The Osteopathic Practice in Leamington, U.K., has expressed concern over the hot-desking trend, which they believe leads to various neck, back and shoulder issues. The practice has even billed it ‘Hot Desk Syndrome’.

Any office worker already knows the pitfalls of spending long hours at the desk. It’s all too easy to become engrossed in a task, hunched over your keyboard, bashing away at the keys. It’s no wonder office workers often feel so stiff and groggy at the end of a long day. Sound familiar? Then maybe you’ve already got some symptoms of Hot Desk Syndrome. Here’s the lowdown:

“Unfortunately, laptops are poorly designed for use as the main work interface; if the laptop keyboard is in a good position to type, then the screen is far too low to view it properly. If you sit with your head bent forward looking down at a screen it will, in time, cause chronic neck pain and headaches.”

The practice offers some straightforward tips on how to combat this problem. Among them, they recommend asking for a laptop stand which will raise the screen to a comfortable viewing height. If you don’t have a stand, prop it up with a pile of books or magazines. The practice recommends using a separate keyboard and suggests using a footrest too.

You should also request a trackball mouse to help prevent another health issue, known as ‘Mouse Shoulder’. This isn’t limited to hot-desking, and can indeed affect any office worker, particularly those who are stationary in front of a computer screen for long periods of time. The practice has posted 8 tips on how to deal with Mouse Shoulder – find out more, here.

Hot Desk Syndrome might sound a little over-dramatic, but it’s a potentially serious issue that could throw a spanner in the works of the future office. The upshot is, it’s important to use the right furniture for the job. If you intend to use a desk for long periods of time, make sure there’s a comfortable chair, and don’t settle for a ‘perch’ or a bench.

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Business centre operators should take note. If you’re going down the coworking route, be sure to offer a variety of furniture to suit various needs. Soft chairs and stools enable collaboration, but if you want to encourage long-term workers, remember to provide quality (ideally, ergonomic) desk chairs. While you’re at it, why not provide laptop stands too? It all adds up to a healthier, more productive and more beneficial future office – and that’s somewhere more people will want to work.

Image source: David Castillo Dominici,

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