A revolution in office seating set to advance workplace wellbeing

Mark Barrell, design director at The Boss Design Group, advises architects and specifiers of a pioneering breakthrough that is creating a revolution in office seating and is set to advance wellbeing in the workplace.

Office and contract furniture form a fundamental part of workplace design, and task seating is a crucial part of the specification process. Just as the workplace trend for informal, collaborative and soft-seating furniture continues, the partnership between the desk and task chair remains steadfast. As long as technology ties us to a keyboard and screen, the task chair remains a staple of the office environment. They not only support employee performance, they are vital to our health and wellbeing, as quite simply; when we feel well, we work well.

Given that employees are the engines that keep companies growing, adapting, improving and innovating, employee wellbeing is now a key consideration when specifying office and contract furniture. Professional training, regular workstation assessments and the ready availability of occupational health consultations are now all established services throughout most big businesses, and this approach is underpinned by a more thorough and inclusive furniture procurement strategy.

Over the years, it has been broadly acknowledged that specifying more sophisticated task chairs with a greater number of manual adjustments will improve the ergonomic quality of the workplace and support the wellbeing of employees. To this end, office chair manufacturers throughout Europe have spent the last thirty years developing task chairs of greater complexity and increased ranges of adjustability in an attempt to provide a better fit for a larger percentage of users.

However, figures published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – comparing the years 2001/02 and 2013/14 – show that, whilst the adjustability of office task chairs and the associated training have consistently improved over the last twenty years, the number of employees suffering from back, neck and shoulder complaints caused by sitting and postural-related issues has continued to rise.

In an effort to understand these issues and with user-fit in mind, research has been carried out that focused mainly on the backrest and armrests of the chair – as these are two critical elements determining user fit. The research concluded that 79 per cent of the people observed are not getting adequate support from the backrest of their chair because of poor posture, and over 90 per cent keep their backrest in a locked position, which prevents the dynamic movement necessary for the wellbeing of the spine. It was also discovered that 89 per cent of people do not use the armrests of their chair in the recommended manner.

From an anthropometric perspective, good quality task chairs from credible manufacturers, which come laden with manual adjustments, can confidently claim to accommodate or fit over 95 per cent of the population. However, no matter how sophisticated office chairs become, no matter how many manual adjustments a chair provides, and no matter how great a dimensional range these adjustments achieve, it appears that they are simply doing little to improve the way that people sit. A task chair will only ‘fit’ correctly if users have the necessary knowledge on how to adjust it, and if they make the effort to set it up correctly.

Therefore, the gauntlet was laid down to design a chair that would ‘follow the person’, given that the person ‘won’t follow the chair’. This challenge led to the birth of a new generation of flexible task chairs that present an engineering and visual triumph and offer a perfect harmony of simplicity, quality, comfort and ease of use. These chairs provide dynamic support through fluid movement, and more importantly, they do not require user adjustment, multiple components, complex assembly or even training. Also, they have the potential for employers to make substantial savings in time and money by reducing the burden of both training and absenteeism due to back and neck strain.

Essentially, they use the natural flexibility of a single ribbon of material and combine a pivot point and flexible polymer shell to mimic a traditional 2:1 synchronised mechanism. This helps deliver improved levels of support, without the need for user adjustment, and makes them visually unique with an incredibly slim and refined shape that complements the human form.

As well as being suitable for workstations, the chair’s unique and eye-catching design also lends itself to meeting and touchdown areas too. At last, there is now a task chair that may be specified throughout multiple areas of the office and which is more relevant to today’s flexible working environments. With improved ergonomics and support, and with no complex assembly and training costs, this revolution in office seating looks set to truly advance wellbeing for all.