Humanscale's Chris Gibson talks about the positive benefits of ergonomic office solutions, as well as giving us an insight into the future of the workspace as he sees it.
Pictured above is the Diffrient Smart chair, a self-adjusting task chair with a flexible, breathable mesh back
As the focus has turned increasingly to creating healthy work environments that are conducive to creativity and productivity, Humanscale has experienced significant growth. The brand is a leader in the design and manufacture of high-performance workspace solutions, with a presence in more than 28 countries. It also has some 200 design awards under its belt, which honour the excellence of its simple, human-focused products.
Some of these products were on show in Hong Kong recently when Humanscale welcomed industry professionals to the HK SAR leg of its Global Roadshow. Chris Gibson, the brand’s Vice President of Marketing and Product Management, was in town for the event, and we sat down with him to find out why ergonomic solutions matter in the workplace, and where the company and the industry as a whole are headed.
What sets Humanscale apart?
We focus on the individual, and their wellness, health and productivity, rather than looking at the power of the interior environment. We look at anthropometrics; how people work and live and behave.
Humanscale’s designs are very considered, simple and honest. Plus they’re inherently sustainable – the products are designed to look the same and work as well in 20 years time as they do today.
Two of our products are Living Product certified, which means you’re making a positive impact on the environment. A certain amount of the proceeds go to conservation, they’re made using recycled materials, and the way we build them is based on renewable energy. Our plant in New Jersey is entirely solar powered, and we have facilities for reusing rainwater we collect. Our goal is to ultimately make all our products in the same way.
What is the impact of an ergonomically balanced work environment on the individual, and in turn, the company they work for?
There’s a health and wellness aspect, there’s a productivity aspect, there’s a general psychological wellbeing aspect that’s associated with an ergonomically balanced work environment.
If people are uncomfortable, if they are making repetitive motions, or if they have an ergonomic injury, they’re not as productive. We spend about 55 percent of our waking hours in our office. That’s a long time to be in a position that’s not comfortable, and the issues add up over time.
For a company, there are lost costs due to absenteeism due to ergonomic injuries, as well as medical compensation costs. There are also issues with presenteeism: people are there and they’re clocking in, but they’re not productive because they’re having to leave early to see the doctor, they’re in pain, and so on.
Which Humanscale products do you use in your day-to-day work, and what do you like about them?
I have a Freedom chair, a Float desk, the M8 dual monitor arm with a crossbar, a Disc task light and a 6G Keyboard system.
Niels Diffrient designed the Freedom chair and it launched in 1999. Not only was it the first chair we launched, but it also came out at a time when there was what I call the Arms Race of Task Seating. The more knobs you had on your seating, the better. Whereas our stance was that no one wants to be trained on how to sit.
With Freedom, we created a counterbalance mechanism that uses your body weight to adjust itself. It allows you this consistent freedom of movement. It’s universally designed, too; everyone can use that chair, no matter whether they’re 6’3” like I am, or 5’2”.
Our height-adjustable desk also uses a revolutionary counterbalance mechanism that lets you move the desk up and down instantly. I have one of these and I can’t go back: I now stand 40 percent of the day. When it comes to meetings, productivity absolutely improves if you do them standing. They last half as long and we get so much more done.
What is the future of ergonomic design in the workplace?
In the last five years, Humanscale has doubled in size as wellness in the workplace has become more prominent. People have started to recognise the value of what we do. I think awareness of wellness in the workplace will keep growing, as will awareness of how that can impact on your quality of work and your quality of life.
The more time we spend in the office, the more people are going to realise there are better options than just sitting in a static environment all day. You sit in your office for 10 hours a day and you go to the gym for an hour a day? That balance is so skewed.
I think you’re going to see technology make its way into the work environment more and more. Anything that gives people control, and that allows them to customise their environment.
Sustainability is going to get bigger and bigger too, in the sense of making sure products are responsible, so they don’t contain any formaldehyde, or chrome. Companies are going to have to be much more responsible about how products are built.
As for the sit-to-stand desk trend, I don’t see this as the future, I see it as the present – the height adjustable desk isn’t going away.