Furniture is often the part of your office design that creates the biggest impact. The colour, design and materials can communicate the essence of your brand leaving a lasting impression on employees and visitors. The type of furniture not only reflects the style of your business but can also offer a variety of working settings for your employees.

Giles Dooley

Head of Furniture

27th Nov 2016

Aesthetics vs. Function

Ironically, the aesthetic and functional role of office furniture can sometimes seem at odds with the ergonomics. Guidelines suggest the correct postures when working at a desk, but workplace trends are seeing more informal work spaces like sofas or benches take precedence. How about all those Googley-bean bags to slouch around on? What is the right balance between selecting office furniture that is aesthetically and functionally right for your business versus furniture that will ergonomically ensure the health and wellbeing for your people?

One thing is for certain. Those health and safety stalwarts do have a point. Back pain is the leading cause of long term sickness in the UK with the most common causes of back pain is strained muscles, wear and tear and poor posture. While we have known for many years that being slouched at your desk is bad for your back, studies now suggest that sitting is as bad for you as smoking. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity all result from a more sedentary lifestyle.

Furniture and Employee Wellbeing

Furniture can play a role in alleviating these health concerns. Ergonomic seating can provide lumbar support and encourage a more beneficial posture. A footstool can allow you to create the right angle for your legs, and adjustable stands for your computer monitor will ensure your head and neck do not tilt downwards when working. Companies have been working for years to encourage people to sit with perfect posture but now it seems that even this isn’t enough. If your job requires you to be working at a desk all day then no amount of seating or desk alignment will negate the damage done from sitting.

Furniture companies have responded with standing desks, sit-stand workstations and even treadmill options. Some of these are ergonomically encouraging but for many companies the cost of implementing such solutions, particularly on a wide scale, is prohibitive. With the amount of research citing ‘sitting is the new smoking’ trend, it seems paradoxical that companies are increasingly adopting more of a ‘coffee shop’ or ‘homely’ feel to their working areas. Comfy sofas, benches, stools or even bean bags are increasing in popularity as an alternative to the posture-conscious desk. So, is this trend a reflection of businesses showing greater consideration to aesthetics and functionality over ergonomics?

This paradox of office furniture trends is easily explained, and is in reality two sides of the same coin. As a business, you have a responsibility to provide a working environment that is conducive to your employees’ good health and wellbeing. But conversely, as an employee you have a responsibility to not put yourself at risk. So what this means in essence, is that a company cannot only provide bean bags to work on and you as an individual should not choose to only work on a bean bag.

The best thing a company can do for employee wellbeing is provide a variety of settings that encourage people to move about the office throughout the day so you are not 100% sedentary. Yes, an ergonomically designed workstation may be a part of that but so might a stool, standing desk or even a sofa. Individuals have a responsibility to make a choice that benefits both the task and their own wellbeing.

Your furniture says a lot about you

Once that ergonomic consideration has been met you can then move on to the fun part – the colours, fabrics and style. Your choice of furniture will communicate to employees and visitors who you are as a business and what you value. Will your sense of fun and flexibility be reflected in the ping-pong tables used as desks or will walnut wooden side tables and Chesterfield sofas reveal your traditional, high quality values? Whatever ‘look and feel’ you go for, you can ensure that your standards are met with furniture that also meets your needs functionally and ergonomically.