Ergonomics Economy: Perfecting the Art of Workplace Design
Human engineering develops from the science of human abilities, limitations and the ethos of suiting every diversity
When you enter the Coca-Cola facade, cascading waterfall coke imagery welcomes you, computer-programmed and controlled to change colors and patterns. From ‘contour bottle’ to the present can, journeyed over 125 years, Coke won the Gensler’s Design Excellence Award to finally collaborate with them. What they call a ‘Mainstreet Experience’ is a reimagination of the courtyard which today is pulsing with effervescence and won Coke another laurel of Fast Company’s Innovation by Design Awards.
Crystal castles from fairy tales are making apparitions into the 21st century of the Gregorian calendar- a perfect paradigm of modernism. Swiss Banking district has thermal envelope system for reduction of energy expenditure, Pinterest leverages mixed materials to play on people’s psychology, and companies are positioning premises to attract most natural light and use less artificial lights. Duo Towers, Paris even have ratings to its credit with WiredScore, a rating system on the internet and mobile connectivity.
What saw 1970s as a strict totalitarian regime- where employees were supposed to have their ‘butts in seats’, couch-surfing was a taboo, and solitariness a testimony of employee loyalty- is seeing the decentralization and democratization of ergonomic workplaces where employees can come to work, sit (or stand) anywhere, stream music, surf internet for personal/professional usage or give the office a miss totally to work from continents seven seas apart. Internet failing the continental drift? (Pun intended).
The IEA- International Ergonomics Association (Yes! there is one) defines ergonomics as:
Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data, and methods to design to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.
Change is good! They say. Certainly. The best of psychology, biomechanics, engineering, industrial design, anthropometry, and physiology have come together to punch in their identities and enter workplaces. It’s a synergic and climactic culmination of social collaboration and technology bringing in transparency, creativity, and thousands of opportunities to get work done in a thousand ways.
Add to it, the demographical transformation from baby boomers to millennials and the au courant generation Z, and you have a buzzing workplace with creative juices and energies consummated to reach the corporate zenith.
Looks like we are talking about workplaces on Mars? Before we become Martians, these earthling steps are an evolution of the ergonomics economy to overhaul the cubicle continuum:
Workplace design maturity: Design comes with a caveat. Going overboard without streamlining it to organizational objectives is never taking you anywhere. Some plans like foosball tables, beer taps, and slides went awry only to be ditched to the lowest order of the organizational gullet. Company culture and brand must be at the forefront of any planning for workplace designing.
Storage facility furniture: Functional and fictional. That seemed to define storage facility. With ample storage lined with immaculate upholstery, now it looks like a dream turned into reality. While organizations are going gaga over space saving mechanisms, employees are goggling at the character, minimalistic designs and style, natural finishes, and handle-less cabinets- such addition brings. Hot-desking with élan?
Viability of virtual and augmented reality: Oculus Rift and HoloLens make possible virtual conferencing, concept editing, and design thinking. Inexperienced eyes which couldn’t envisage how end-result courtyard and floors will look like are using 3D to feel how future feels.
Design that speaks volume (data): Enlighted is providing sensors to be fitted to light fixtures for information collection on how workspaces are used. Humanize has come up with sociometric badges with sophisticated accelerometers, Bluetooth, infrared sensors, and microphones attached to configure how employee movements, speech patterns, posture, and body language- guarantee successful contributions. Deloitte and Bank of America are already using this cross-referencing mechanism.
Sophistication in integrated technology: More power to wireless charging, Dropbox, Google Docs, and GitHub, and shared in-built display tables. Light Fidelity (Li-Fi) offers fidelity of internet connection up to 100 times multiplied to Wi-Fi capabilities. YouGov study affirms 50% businesses doubt their capabilities to scale up advancements in technology. One time investment can’t ensure workplace design defeating future. Monitor-arms are being developed which can be moved to adjust to convenience so are the adaptable furniture.
Biophilic by design: Human Spaces report says, with plants around, productivity increases by 6% and creativity by 15%, yet employees up to 47% have no access to natural light and 55% have no access to greenery. Molecular Diversity Preservation International (MDPI) report says 95 % of the work time is spent in enclosed areas. Hydroponics and bonsai can rescue netizens from this adversary.
Well-being design for presenteeism: Occupational disorders are on the rise. Not just in rhetoric. Stats prove the same. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says over 8.9 million days are spent out of work due to Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSDs) owing to sitting all day before computer screens. The Well Building Standard of the International Well Building Institute (IWBI) certifies organizations on parameters of well-being based infrastructure and plans to reach LEED certification status.
Designs inspired by activity: Need white noise to be blocked out? Not in the way ‘Anechoic Chamber’ of Orfield Laboratories does it (Quietest place in the world which is 99.99% sound absorbent). But quiet only to accommodate hackathons, employee engagement activities, or brainstorming sessions. Different rooms are being designed for flexible and self-indulgent millennials.
When communication has gone from hard documents to real-time channels, how can organization planners and technology futurists agree to old workplace design being extant? Latency is better. But nothing short of superlative degree- in terms of ‘future is happening right here, right now’- can define and shouldn’t define the workplaces of generation wearing technology on them.
And who’s complaining when productivity, quality, efficiency, engagement, and retention comes home or rather ‘home away from home’. Gensler reveals US business houses lose $330 billion each year to lost productivity. With the battle raging far and near- for talent acquisition, to mar the competition (76% regular employees looking for new job opportunities), and to reduce skill shortage- companies aren’t shying from understanding tapestry and terrazzo.