With 40 per cent* of Australian workers expecting flexibility and having a say in the hours they work, the traditional office space is being reshaped to offer employees the ultimate in digital connectivity and freedom to work in either formal or relaxed settings, but what does this mean with regard to the employees’ health?
Rising rental costs, lower operating profits and perhaps improved productivity (no real figures are available on this dynamic) are encouraging the corporate industry to embrace the new dimension of flexible office fitouts. Multiple connectivity points allow employees to work from anywhere in the office and not just at their allocated work point. They might sit at a desk one day, work on a table in a breakout area on another day or even work with a laptop or tablet in a casual seating area. Each area will probably have different lighting, different air quality and certainly different seating. The flexibility to work anywhere in the office sounds great in theory, but what hasn’t been considered too closely is the very real physical and mental impact this may have on workers.
Jeremy Keane, accredited Physiotherapist and Managing Director of leading corporate health management organisation,Injury Treatment, lists five ways in which un- assigned work points could potentially be harmful to your employees.
- If workstations, desks and chairs are not adjusted appropriately to suit the individual user, this can increase the risks of postural strain and subsequently, serious longer-term injuries.
- Workers with particular needs, such as petite or tall statures, or workers with pre-existing injuries or conditions requiring particular ergonomic equipment are disadvantaged, as flexible work spaces do not generally provide the specialised equipment they need.
- Un-assigned desking usually requires the use of mobile equipment, such as laptops and tablets, but these are often not the best devices for prolonged work periods, as they aren’t easily adjustable.
- Environmental factors like noise, glare and reflection, can be vastly different from one side of the office to the other. This means that employers should take into account these changes in the office fitout and manage their employees’ needs accordingly. Some workstations may be uncomfortable or unsuitable for some workers.
- At times, workers can experience a loss of identity as a result of losing their own assigned desk space. There can be an emotional impact, with workers being deprived of the bonds of camaraderie and familiarity that come from being exposed to the same colleagues each day. Un-assigned desking can strain these bonds and make it more difficult for workers to build strong relationships with their colleagues.
However all is not lost. With some careful consideration, un-assigned desking can be possible without putting staff at risk. Jeremy Keane provides his top tips to minimise negative health effects when implementing an un-assigned desking regime.
- Ensure workers are fully trained on the importance and principle of safe ergonomic set-up.
- Provide workers with self-help strategies to reduce risk of injury, such as stretching and regular breaks.
- Invest in chairs for all the different spaces in the office that comply with the minimum standards and are easily adjustable to suit the majority of the workforce.
- Supply a range of specialised ergonomic equipment – height adjustable screens, document holders, hands-free telephones and adjustable desks – so that there are work points suitable for every employee.
- With workers using mobile devices more often than ever, employers should consider upgrading to specialised accessories, such as laptop raisers, external keyboards and docking stations to minimise the risk of workers injuring themselves while using these devices.
- Identify workers that may need specific upgrades to the general ergonomic equipment that’s provided and be prepared to be flexible. Un-assigned desking may not work for all employees, so be willing to provide those workers with their own space if required.
*Taken from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Working Time Arrangements