What Your Work Space Looks Like
Many people aspire to that quintessential corner office, the one with the windows and the spectacular view. To them, such an office signals achievement and status, regardless of the furnishings.
Some people relish working in a large, communal space where collaboration is instinctive, pet dogs roam freely, and the surroundings spark creativity and brainstorming.
Other people need to work unconstrained by the limitations of walls or furniture. Thanks to cell phones and wireless electronics, jobs that once had to be performed at a desk in an office can be done just as easily in a coffee shop or on a beach.
Whether your milieu is an old refurbished factory building or a glass-walled skyscraper, filled with music or as quiet and stark as a monastery, you will be happiest if your surroundings help you do your best work.
Silence Is Golden — or Is It?
Large numbers of technical, creative, factory, and even management workers listen to music during some portion of their workday. But there are few things less conducive to optimal work than having to listen to someone else's music that you dislike. Many workplaces still have piped-in tunes bland enough to offend no one, or inspire anyone, for that matter. Today you're more likely to find individual MP3 players in each cubicle because there are tens of millions of them in use.
The people who use MP3 players say they blot out background noise and help them stay energized. They may be on to something. Advanced Brain Technologies found that listening to some types of classical music actually makes people more productive, attentive, and on task (
A few companies have taken an innovative approach to the MP3 debate, using downloadable audio programs instead of meetings for training or using audio or video podcasts to keep employees updated.
The freedom to play music and podcasts may not be a deal breaker when it comes to accepting a good job, but it's something to find out about when you're researching a potential career or employer.
Body-Friendly Work Spaces
Someone once called Leonardo da Vinci the “Father of Ergonomics.” If that's true, the design of furnishings and equipment to reduce human discomfort or fatigue has been around a long time, which makes it all the more surprising that it hasn't progressed further by now.
Fifty years ago, anyone with a desk job probably had a phone and perhaps a typewriter. If an uncomfortable chair gave you a sore back, or if typing reams of memos cramped your hands, or if cradling the phone all day made your neck sore — they were necessary evils associated with doing your job. Repetitive-use injuries, eyestrain, backaches, and stress just seemed like part of the package called “work,” but they sometimes felt more like physical punishment.
It may be counterintuitive, but some of the twenty-first century innovative technologies that make so much work easier and faster can be even worse for the body. In 2003, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 56.1 percent of adults in the United States used computers at work. Compare that to just 25 percent in 1984. Multitasking computers have become so useful that workers have even fewer reasons to leave their desks at all. A memo that once would have been walked up to the fifth floor is now e-mailed with a keystroke. Meetings with clients in another country can be conducted via videoconferencing. Sitting still for long periods of time causes muscle fatigue that can lead to injury. Staring at a glowing monitor for hours at a stretch provokes eyestrain and headaches. Improperly positioned chairs, desks, and keyboards encourage poor posture, neck strain, and aching backs. It goes without saying that people perform their jobs better and enjoy their work more when they're comfortable and free of pain. It helps if your work environment doesn't feel like some sort of medieval torture chamber.
Studies show that an ergonomic office environment can result in fewer sick days, fewer hours of muscle fatigue, and a greatly reduced chance of chronic disability. One furniture manufacturer asserts that in a yearlong study, people who used their chairs and received ergonomics training increased their productivity by 17.8 percent (
Adjust knee and hip angles for comfort.
Support wrists on a padded surface, parallel to the floor.
Use an adjustable chair with lumbar support.
Slope the seat slightly downward to improve circulation in lower legs and feet.
Wear a headset if you combine telephoning with hand work, such as keyboarding.
Make sure the top line of text on your monitor is slightly below eye height.
Eliminate glare on your computer screen.
Look away from the screen periodically to reduce eyestrain.
Remember that even a few adjustments can help make the difference between stress and success at work. Watch out for the unintended consequences of using your laptop. In 2003, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 9,200 nongovernment workers missed one day or more of work because of keyboarding-related injuries. That number is bound to go higher as more and more people work full-time on nonergonomic laptops instead of desktops. It pays to take precautions early by using peripherals, such as separate keyboards and positioning the monitor at the proper height.