Reduce the Stress: Four Elements to Consider in a Modern Office Design

Employees sitting around conference table
In an effort to attract millennials, many companies are looking to incorporate features to improve workplace engagement and decrease stress. It’s an ongoing challenge for many employers, with studies showing less than one out of three millennials being engaged at work. Moreover, workplaces that are designed to be visually appealing can contribute to employee trust and performance.

The more famous examples of relaxation areas in the workplace tend to come from Silicon Valley, where tech companies are known to provide their employees with game rooms, indoor gardens and even in-house bowling alleys. But even if these sorts of perks are out of scope for your project – and they almost certainly are – there are a number of things that you can do when designing your new office workspace to generate a more pleasant working atmosphere.

  • Use natural materials such as wood and stone rather than concrete and laminates. This, plus the use of cool colors and attractive details, is shown to increase creativity.
  • Include indoor plants and/or views of greenery. Exposure to nature can help lower heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol, a stress hormone. Workplace greenery is also shown to improve perceptions of air quality, concentration, productivity and satisfaction.
  • You may not have the budget for a Silicon Valley-style lounge for your employees – after all, very few companies do – but you may very well be able to set aside an area for a relaxation space. Properly outfitted with relaxing furniture and good acoustics, this can give employees a place to control noise and distraction.
  • Put some thought into the visibility and the visuals. Appropriate lighting levels, access to pleasant views such as art and outdoor scenery, and feature installations such as fireplaces have been shown to have highly positive effects on an office environment.

There are additional steps that designers can take, such as selecting the right kind of technology furniture to empower employees to work most effectively.

Putting together a pleasant office environment conducive to creativity can take a good deal of effort, but should pay for itself in short order.

(Source: The Conversation)

Four More Ways to Avoid Computer-Related Pain

Stretching while working on laptop

We recently published a blog post about ways to avoid pain while working in front of a computer. Here’s a follow-up post with some additional ways to keep yourself healthy.

It’s increasingly the norm for people to spend a tremendous amount of time in front of a computer. While office jobs tend to be a lot safer than blue-collar careers, they’re still strenuous in their own way, and unaddressed discomfort can progress into debilitating conditions that can impact your ability to work effectively. Consider taking the following steps:

  • Shake it up. Remaining stationary too long without adjusting your position can result in stiffness and other discomfort. Trying moving around in your chair frequently, or shifting from one foot to the other if you’re using a standing desk.
  • Take a break. If you sit at a desk for more than an hour without getting up, you’re setting yourself up for problems. Get up and walk around for a minute or two: it’s a good way to promote blood circulation and helps undo the damage inflicted by too much sitting.
  • Rethink your computer usage off the clock. If you spend most of your work day in front of a computer, limit your personal screen time in the evenings. You need to give your body a break.
  • Stretch. Regularly stretching your muscles during the day can help relieve some tightness and promote blood circulation.

It’s important to take care of your body while working at the computer. Be proactive about addressing your work habits and lifestyle.

(Source: Elemental Ergonomics)

Four Ways to Avoid Computer-Related Pain

Worker hunched over laptop

As the United States has transitioned into a service-based economy, more people than ever are spending a tremendous amount of time working in front of a computer. This certainly tends to be much safer and less strenuous work than in a factory, but it isn’t without its own set of risks, as various forms of repetitive stress injury, including back pain, neck pain and carpal tunnel syndrome have become widespread issues among office workers. Here are some ways to reduce or eliminate discomfort as you work at your desk.

  • Keep your head up. Spending a lot of time looking down is a good way to give yourself some serious neck strain. Move your computer display to eye level. That means getting a monitor stand to raise it a few inches, or getting a laptop stand and external keyboard to raise your laptop screen upward.
  • Get those forearms level. If you lean on your desk or armrests frequently – which tends to happen a lot with laptop usage – you can run into problems with blood circulation and nerve strain. Adjust your position in front of the computer such that your forearms are parallel with the ground, and your elbows are bent at a 90° angle.
  • Check your wrist position. Your wrists should be straight up and down and side to side when typing, and they shouldn’t touch the surface of the desk.
  • Check your back posture. Adjust your chair height so that your feet are flat on the floor, and your knees and hips are both at a 90° angle. Lumbar support is also helpful here, so if your chair doesn’t offer it, use a small pillow or towel to help your lower spine curvature (generally just above your belt).

There are a range of additional things that you can do, such as getting an adjustable desk, but making some basic changes to improve your posture can make a big difference.

(Source: Elemental Ergonomics)

Is Your Office Job Hurting your Health?

Thanksgiving is right around the corner; and if you are like us, you are eagerly counting your steps and tracking what you eat in hopes of maintaining your diet and health regimen during a holiday season known for sugary desserts, over-eating, and often inevitable weight gain. While you may be focused on your current health goals due to the time of year, we encourage you to think about you and your employees’ life-long health. The way your office is designed, whether in your home or where you work, can make or break a healthy lifestyle.
The majority of Americans spend most of their lives sitting at office desks for their professions. Our day-to-day routines require us to sit in cars to drive to work where we arrive to once again sit at a desk for 8+ hours a day, 5 days out of the week. Unfortunately, engaging in regular activities outside the home is simply not enough; especially when many people come home from work exhausted and want to sit and relax on the couch after a day filled with sitting (how ironic!).
That is why we, at SMARTdesks, believe that we need to rethink the work culture. Many companies and employees with home offices are getting rid of their comfy office chairs. The two most popular replacements are using no chair and creating a standing desk or developing the desk into a fitness station with a customized treadmill or seated bike designed with the workplace in mind.
Why make the change? Research has shown that sitting for the majority of the day is bad for your health, linking prolonged sedentary activity like sitting to being more prone to breast cancer, prostate cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and depression.
The benefits for employers who adopt wellness programs are not only beneficial for the employees, but for the companies themselves. Not only does investing money in employee health allow for lower absenteeism and health care costs, but most companies witness increased employee satisfaction and retention.
A study released by Avner Ben-Ner, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, and Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, found that employees who use fitness desks had an increased level of quality of work, opinion of work and productivity. Instead of feeling physically exhausted or distracted by the movement, employees felt more engaged. Engaging in exercise and movement releases endorphins into your brain, which is proven to improve your mood and decrease your stress level.
This holiday season consider giving the gift of health to you or your employees. To recap, here are the top 6 reasons to make the switch:

  1. Increased productivity
  2. Increase in endorphins giving your brain a boost
  3. Improved focus
  4. Reduced back pain
  5. Increased employee satisfaction
  6. A healthier life that keeps your heart healthy!

Backpain
The Washington Post recently released the following graphic outlining the negative effects of sitting. We encourage you to share it around the office to remind coworkers to get up and move; if not, it could result in a chain of problems!
To find out more, check out these great articles, from Vox and Forbes, that served as the basis for this article.

Announcing our New Line: Fit-at-Office!

We live in an ever-increasingly health conscious world, with fitness bracelets and apps to track calories and weight loss with the click of a button, and SMARTdesks has now joined the trend!
We now offer a complete line of LifeSpan® treadmill desks and bike desk workstations designed for the home and office. Desk options include: electric height adjustment models that can be used collectively by multiple people in the office, manual adjustment models for 1 or 2 people and if you already own a stand-up desk we have available treadmill and bike options that work for you as well. All models include our patented step counting feature “Intelli-Step” to automatically count your steps or pedal revolutions while you walk or bike. Using the standard Bluetooth feature, you can track your progress on your Mac or PC and wirelessly sync your activity results.
Add a traditional seated desk to one or both sides letting you sit and walk or pedal throughout the day. Whether you are self-employed and working at home or part of a large corporation, SMARTdesks Fit@Office products can help you increase physical activity while you work without taking time out of your busy schedule.
treadmill-office-desk1
The entire SMARTdesks Fit@Office product line is designed to bring physical activity back into the workplace with safe, quiet, and reliable activity stations that are proven effective to improve your health and the health of your employees. Our products are equally well-suited for more “recreational” purposes as well — surfing Youtube and scrolling Facebook news feeds can now come with the added bonus of burning calories from the comfort of your home!
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact a SMARTdesks Fit@Office product specialist at 1-800-770-7042. We can answer questions about how others are using our products, discuss the best approach for introducing activity stations in your company or help decide which model is right for you.

Secrets to More Productive Meetings

It’s Friday at 3pm. The clock is ticking, employees are fidgeting, and everyone is glancing at the clock. Voices drone and no one’s listening…
Every businessperson knows the importance of meetings, but most companies don’t take advantage of the time they have with their employees. Long meetings with little productivity result in wasted money and time for the business. Here are three tips to help you maximize your time in the office.

  1. Keep your meeting to 15 minutes, max.

Have you ever been in a 2 hour meeting? Regardless of the topic — which may be crucial to a project’s success — the mere duration can drain your energy. The human brain is not designed to process information continuously for that long of a time span.
Carmine Gallo, a professional coach and personal trainer, recently released an article on “The Science Behind TED’s 18-Minute rule.” TED Talks, a popular webinar series, limit their speakers to a mere 18 minutes.
TED Talk curator Chris Anderson offers his reasoning behind the rule: “By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say.”
Did you know?

  • Most business people spend approximately 25 percent of their working hours in meeting.
  • Studies show 20 minutes is the average attention span before people lose focus.
  • Middle managers spend at least two days out of every week in meetings.

Don’t think you can hold a meeting for 15 minutes and get everything done? It takes planning and efficiency. These famous speeches of history only took about 15 – 20 minutes.

  1. Planning

To get your point across in a shortened amount of time, you must hyper-plan every moment of your meeting. If not, you company could lose money for the time that could be spent elsewhere.
For example, let’s say you have a meeting of 10 people and the meeting lasts over an hour. With 10 people in the room, that meeting is equivalent to over 10 hours of time utilized by the company. A 15 minute meeting, on the other hand, takes just over 2 hours total.
The first step to planning is to make sure you actually require a meeting. Keep the end goal in mind. Does the meeting require action items? You may find that you can accomplish the meeting goals with an email discussion or distributing the news in an email newsletter. Typically, reoccurring meetings are superfluous.
Globalization – If you are planning meetings that require meeting with people in different locations, consider using a conference table with smart technology to bring everyone together virtually. This eliminates travel costs and enables worldwide communication.

  1. Scheduling for Success

Never plan meetings for Monday or Friday. These two days are the most common for employees to take long weekends and and be the least focused on their work.
The online meeting scheduling service “When is Good” conducted a survey of 34,000 events and determined that Tuesday at 3 p.m. is the most “available” spot for a meeting.
Not only are more people typically in the office on Tuesdays at the standard office, but 3 p.m. is early enough not to impede with the average workday and late enough to be after meal times. Moral of the story? Always pick a time that works best for your team.
So, are Mondays and Fridays non-productive days in the office?
They are only non-productive if you allow it. Mondays and Fridays may not be good meeting days, but if you delegate deadlines and tasks for those days, employees will be motivated to get the job done.

It’s called Macbook Pro Retina, but “Retina” or not, it could be hurting your eyes

In today’s world, technology is everywhere. One might even say that it runs our lives. From our computers, smart phones, tablets and gadgets, most people are around technology every waking moment. And, for children, classrooms are becoming outfitted with greater amounts of technology to support teaching curriculum and to serve as a new learning style. It is estimated that 40% of teachers use computers for instruction, and at least one computer is in 97% of all American classrooms.
In honor of Children’s Eye Health and Safety month, we wondered how much technology time children should have both in and out of the classroom.
Don’t Start too Young
Parents should slowly introduce their children to technology. Since 2009, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity (2010) have recommended waiting until the child is at least preschool age, or over the age of two years old, to introduce the child to technology.
After the age of two years old, it is recommended that children have no more than one to two hours of total screen time per day, and this includes all the way up to teenagers. A two hour limit is unrealistic for teenagers, who require screen time for homework tasks, but younger children should prevent straining their eyes for as long as possible.
For youngest technology users (under five years), experts believe that they are not being given a chance to explore the world around them. This could result in a skewed reality and inability to differentiate between technology and the real world. For young children, the emphasis in research has been less about the health and safety risks, although those should be assessed, and more about the development of learning about the world around them.
Digital Eye Strain
According to a survey by the American Optometric Association, almost 1/3 of children use technology for a full hour before taking a visual break. Optometrists are concerned that blue light rays emitted from electronic devices could affect and age the eyes. When technology is used for extended periods of time, the individual could experience what is called Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS).
The American Optometric Association defines CVS as eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer use. The most common symptoms of CVS include:

  • eyestrain
  • headaches
  • blurred vision
  • dry eyes
  • neck and shoulder pain

These symptoms are often caused by:

  • poor lighting
  • glare on the computer screen
  • improper viewing distances
  • poor seating posture
  • uncorrected vision problems
  • a combination of these factors

Combat Eye Strain
Here are a few ways to combat the negative effects of eye strain:

  1. 20-20-20

Children and adults alike are encouraged to practice the 20-20-20 rule to decrease the effects of eye strain. Every 20 minutes, spend 20 seconds looking at something 20 feet away.
202020

  1. Practice good posture and viewing distance.

Whether in the classroom or in an office, you should have a comfortable working posture where your joints are aligned. Optimally, when working on a tablet or computer, the screen should be 15 to 20 degrees below eye level (about 4 to 5 inches) and 20 to 28 inches from the eyes.
Smart phones — probably the singular piece of technology most frequently used with poor posture — should be held up at eye level and approximately 16 inches away from the face.

  1. Remember to blink!

This one seems obvious, but blinking can improve focus and reduce dry eyes. If you are suffering from dry eyes, drops can also help.
For some more eye health tips, check out this article from TIME.
Do you find that your back or neck hurts after using technology? How many hours do you spend watching TV, using your smartphone, or working on the computer?

The standing desk: is it really better for you?

How many hours per day do you spend seated at work? At least 5 days per week, 8 hours per day…it adds up quickly. This BBC article claims that we spend as many as 12 hours per day in idle positions, not including a 7-hour night’s sleep.

We’ve all seen countless articles about how sedentary work habits contribute to depression, obesity, and serious metabolic conditions. This study, published by the US National Library of Medicine, shows that people who sit for 6 or more hours per day are at a greater risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease. We’ve known standing is better for us for quite some time; in 1950, a Lancet study showed that bus conductors (who work standing) versus bus drivers (who work sitting) were half as likely to develop heart disease.
So, knowing that standing is better for us, what can we do about it? Sit-stand desks, otherwise known as standing desks, are the logical, ergonomic choice for anyone looking for a healthier work environment. (But keep in mind, and stand up/adjustable height desk might be the best choice because too much standing can actually be harmful – check out this personal account from the Washington Post).
SMARTdesks offers the Cirrus line of adjustable height desks and sit-stand desks that can help you work in a healthier way. A wide variety of finishes are available as well as floating balance, ratchet, spring pin, and motorized option for adjusting the height of the standing desks and tables.
motorized-adjustable-height-table
And because neither standing not sitting is ideal for extended periods of time, the motorized lift memory function makes it easy to save both your sitting and standing heights.
cirrus-control-panel
For more information and studies from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention about standing at work, click here.
In your opinion…How do you like to work best? Seated, with intervals of movement, standing all the time, or standing and sitting depending on how much strain your feet can take?

Did you know? Standing at work puts you in good company. Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, and Benjamin Franklin all worked at specially-built standing desks.
Courtesy of the Washington Post.
Courtesy of the Washington Post.

Our New Year’s Tech Resolutions

Happy New Year from SMARTdesks! Here are our top 5 furniture and technology resolutions for the New Year.
1. Treat yourself to better ergonomics in 2014. You spend hours in front of the computer and your work shouldn’t be causing you pain. For a guide to optimizing ergonomics, click here.
2. Use the cloud to store your work and share information with collaborators, whether they be fellow educators or employees at your company. It’s safe, secure, and efficient. Here are some tips on using the cloud to the best of your advantage.
3. Find the best organizational apps for you at home and at work. Here is a list of the top 10 for entrepreneurs and startups according to venturebeat.com for entrepreneurs.
4. Keep your email inbox clear of clutter and junk. Seems like a difficult task? Check out unroll.me to get rid of email subscriptions you don’t want and consolidate the ones you do want into just one message.
5. Finally, collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. In the classroom or office, a team-based approach to learning and solving problems is invaluable. Here are some collaboration tips from Tech Republic.
Here’s to a healthy, happy, and productive 2014!

Ergonomics at Work

Think about your workday for a moment. Chances are you spend a lot of it in a seated position, most likely typing away on your computer. 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, 4 weeks per month…that’s 9,600 minutes of work. Contrast that with the average working American’s 10,140 minutes of sleep per month (on weekdays), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (For an interesting global comparison of sleep patterns around the world, check out this Huff Post article). We don’t, in fact, spend much more time asleep than at work. Why then do we pay so much attention to the comfort of our beds, when we don’t give half as much thought to our office furniture, and spend almost the same amount of time there?

How you work influences how you feel. You can improve the comfort of your work environment by considering the ergonomics of your space. Ergonomics refers to the applied science of designing products we use so that we can use them in a safe and productive manner. Unsurprisingly, there are quite a few studies out there about how working in optimal ergonomic conditions can improve productivity and overall health.
Repetitive strain injuries (RSI) are a substantial risk in the workplace — how many evenings have you spent with sore forearms or neck from craning at the computer? According to the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, these injuries cost businesses up to $20 billion dollars per year. Ergonomic furniture products, keyboards, chairs, and adjustable height desks can help mitigate the negative effects of RSI, and are increasingly popular in the workplace.
The importance of office ergonomics is gaining attention in the news, as well. In Silicon Valley, Esther Gokhale teaches posture techniques (check some of them out here, with diagrams). Sitting for long periods of time negatively impacts our muscles and causes in some cases long-term injuries. For a checklist to see if you are at risk for RSI, take a look at this checklist for your workstation and office design.
Check out Microsoft’s guide to help you set up your office design to work in the most ergonomically functional way for you or contact us with any questions! We’re here to help you design your custom office and classroom furniture environments.