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The uncomfortable truth

It's all-too easy for office workers to spend all day at their desks which can be highly detrimental to their health. It doesn't have to be that way as Jorgen Josefsson, Managing Director from Scandinavian Business Seating UK, explains how to be more active.

When important files are available on shared drives and conversations with colleagues and clients are completed via phone and email, it's no wonder that nowadays, office workers are increasingly sedentary. Left unaddressed, this can create serious health problems. According to a recent report by the University of Leicester, prolonged sitting doubles the risk of diabetes and heart disease. The UK's Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, meanwhile, found that nearly a third of office workers experienced physical pain at work at least once a week and that musculoskeletal disorders, including backache, are estimated to cost society and employers around £7.4 billion per year. Thankfully, there are a number of measures businesses can take to alleviate the problem.

Choosing office chairs that encourage better posture can be a great start. Sitting correctly and being able to switch smoothly from one position to another can improve breathing and blood circulation. This “active sitting” actually stimulates muscles, aiding concentration and helping office workers perform better at their desks. Today's task chairs are highly sophisticated, the result of many years of design development, which is why it's important to know how to use them effectively. At XL Insurance's offices in London, ergonomic equipment provider Posturite trained staff on-site in the correct usage of RH chairs, giving people the opportunity to ask questions and gain a proper understanding of how to get the best out of their workstation. Of course, ensuring there are reasons for people to get up out of their office chairs is also important. Providing fewer printers and locating them in a central hub instead encourages people to move around the office to retrieve their hard copies.

Similarly, many firms have found that removing individual litter bins and replacing them with a series of recycling bins at key points on the floorplate has increased office worker activity. These two measures also have the additional bonus of being better for the environment.

Workplaces can promote flexible working, away from the traditional desk, but more needs to be done than simply providing a token break out space. Forward-thinking organisations have really embedded flexibility within their whole company culture, which in turn promotes movement around the office. At Microsoft's Amsterdam office, managers have employed the principle of “activity-based working” work wherever is most efficient for the individual whether that's at your desk, in the cafe or at home. It's said the most reliable place to find the CEO is in the staff canteen. This kind of top-down endorsement of flexibility is really crucial to flexible working.

If organisations are going down the route of not having designated desks for their staff, then any tasks chairs purchased should be able to cater to the needs of a variety of users in terms of things like height adjustability and support for the back. The same rigorous ergonomic standards also need to apply for furniture used when working from home. If your organisation is fortunate enough to be moving to new premises or the current workspace interior is being given a new lease of life, consulting with staff at every stage of the process is a key way for HR to be involved in promoting increased activity. Make sure everyone is acquainted with the booking systems for meeting rooms and how the various touch down areas, private booths or other spaces are expected to be used. Having 'champions' within various departments is a useful way of disseminating information.

Speak to any workplace designer and they will wax lyrical about the importance of “chance encounters'” This buzzword refers to the conversations between employees, especially people from different departments, that might not have happened had they not been moving around the office. Generating fresh ideas and breaking down inter-departmental silos is much easier when you meet face to face and this can of course, have beneficial effects on productivity. Having an office where people can be active is also useful in attracting the best of the next generation of office workers. Graduates entering the workforce today are much more used to a campus-style environment where there is the freedom to work in different settings throughout the day. So there you have it: varying your position at work, whether that's while sat in your chair or getting up and about is good for your employee wellbeing and can have a healthy impact on the company's bottom line too.

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