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Our A line of office furniture, Knoll, has developed an informative infographic and report that looks at “holistic ergonomics”.

The time has come for Holistic Ergonomics

In addition to looking at what most people consider ergonomics, the physical aspect of work, holistic ergonomics also examines the mental and social aspects of your work environment.

According to Knoll, ergonomics is defined as “improving the fit between the person and their immediate environment.” Over the last 25 years, office ergonomics has emerged as an important force in the workplace. It helps create healthy and productive work environments.

Yet, in recent years the focus of office ergonomics has failed to evolve with the collaborative nature of work. It is not taking today’s variety of workspace types and locations into account. Knoll’s new report starts to change the focus of ergonomics in the evolving workplace.

The First Practitioners of Ergonomics were Engineers and Psychologists

The field of ergonomics was originally called “human factors”. It began in World War II when engineers and psychologists examined soldiers’ physical and mental capabilities. Engineers studied body size, reach and strength to make weapons easier to handle. For example, the ease of using the standard issue rifle.

Psychologists studied how pilots gathered and processed information when operating complex aircraft. The Air Force wanted to improve the layouts of instrument panels and reduce accidents.

Today, the principles of ergonomics are applied to the design of an almost unlimited variety of products. They include software interfaces and physical settings for human activity. The design of every type of setting imaginable, from children’s playgrounds to the interior of the space shuttle, is influenced by ergonomics.

Ergonomics also considers the needs of special user groups. For example, the elderly, visually impaired, and people with differing mental abilities. Ergonomics is built into the design of work, play and learning spaces.

Traditional “office ergonomics” has been practiced for decades.  Most efforts focus on the individual in their workspace. This area of ergonomics emerged from the engineering and psychology approaches developed during World War II. In fact, much of the data that influences office ergonomic standards comes from a military database of soldiers’ body dimensions.

Engineering ergonomics

Engineering ergonomics (also known as “anthropometrics”) focuses on the body size and physical capabilities of people. This focus aims to improve the fit between them and their workspace.

Engineering ergonomists are often trained as an engineer or in health and safety.  They work with office environments to develop workstation design specifications. They also develop training for how to use seating or work tools to minimize injury.

While this approach plays a significant role in determining design and furnishings in the office, it focuses only on the body mechanics of work. The engineering approach is limited because it leaves out the “mental” part of work.  Things like decision-making, work process, and other issues.

Cognitive ergonomics

Cognitive ergonomics seeks to optimize the fit between technology, job design, and mental capabilities.

Cognitive ergonomists are usually trained in psychology, and focus on “job design” issues. They address issues such as mental workload, decision-making, and work processes.

In an office setting, a cognitive ergonomist’s role could be to develop training programs. For example, to help call center agents best use software systems to provide the best service to customers. They might even to redesign the agents’ jobs. Cognitive ergonomics is limited because it does not consider the physical context of work.

For 25 years, these two traditions have dominated the practice of office ergonomics.

The scope of concern has been limited to individual computer work in the primary office workspace. The desired outcome is reducing discomfort or preventing injury. It also aims to increase individual work efficiency.

Both engineering and cognitive ergonomics narrowly focus on the “micro” work environment. They deal with the immediate space around the worker and computer. And in practice, both approaches operate in isolation from the other.

Holistic Ergonomics

As The Concept of “Office Work” Broadens, the practice of office ergonomics must evolve to embrace a holistic perspective.

A “holistic” approach to office ergonomics integrates the engineering and cognitive perspectives.  It also expands the range of issues and workspaces addressed by the ergonomist. This broader range of issues includes informal and formal collaboration. It examines the social aspect of work such as learning and mentoring and group productivity. It looks at other concerns of today’s interactive knowledge work as well.

Holistic ergonomics applies to the design of a much wider range of workspaces. It goes beyond the individual workstation. These include the large scale interior work environment and the planning and furnishing of all individual and group spaces.

Knoll’s report goes into much more detail on all of this and why it is important for you. So please check it out.

See the report

See the infographic fullscreen

The benefit to you: embracing the ergonomics of your workplace from a holistic perspective lets you be happier, healthier and more productive at work.

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