Workplace ergonomics enhancements can simultaneously help reduce risk factors that lead to musculoskeletal injuries while providing better human performance and productivity.
Now that so many people work from home, ergonomic workspaces, furniture, and design have become a key concern when setting up a home workplace or company offices of the future.
Alongside this demand is an escalation of online sales in the home furnishings industry.
The E-Commerce Times spoke with several ergonomic and e-commerce experts to get their perspective on this trend.
“I think the interest stems from the changes everybody has had to make during COVID,” Karen Loesing, a certified ergonomic assessment specialist and owner of The Ergonomic Expert, told the E-Commerce Times. “Many people had never worked from home before and were ill-equipped.”
People are, essentially, having to rethink how and where they work.
“Many have only a laptop or pad at home,” explained Loesing. “When the average employee is going from two large monitors at work and suddenly finds themselves on the dining table with a laptop, it’s a shock.
“While some businesses have allowed employees to take home some of their computer set up, some have not been so generous. Many companies have given a stipend, which can often include getting a remote ergonomic evaluation, which has been helpful.”
Demand for New Products
With a new awareness of the importance of ergonomic furniture and design, there has been an increased demand for new ergonomic products.
“The most popular product has to be the height-adjustable desk,” said Loesing. “Although, it may have seemed trendy at one time, I would say it’s a rarity for someone not requesting to have the chance to work standing. Everybody is suddenly in the height-adjustable desk business.
“Prior to COVID, finding a height-adjustable desk under $500 wasn’t really an option. Furniture dealers are coming up with all shapes, sizes and a range of prices to attract customers they might previously not have had.”
In addition to adopting standing desks, people are also reconsidering other office essentials.
“Another hot product is probably the vertical mouse,” said Loesing. “A vertical mouse places your arm in a handshake position, which is much easier on your entire upper extremity, especially if you have a painful shoulder. This position also alleviates compression to the carpal tunnel region in the wrist, which has always been an issue for intensive computer work.”
Rethinking Business Environments
Businesses, too, are rethinking the design and layout of their spaces in an attempt to make them more ergonomic as well as more easily sanitized.
“Creating a work environment that is comfortable for all promotes healthier and happier employees and consumers, as well as making them feel that the environment isn’t one size fits most,” Kate Orara, marketing engagement manager for SpacePole, told the E-Commerce Times.
Some of these changes involve accounting for the extra demands placed by social distancing and other COVID-19 mitigation guidelines.
“With the current status and overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic, store operators are looking for solutions that protect their employees as well as their customers,” explained Orara. “[One of] our most popular solutions is the social-distancing payment paddle arm, which mounts a payment device to a lightweight extension arm that is great to use for payment at a drive-through or other curbside checkout.”
Though many of the changes afoot have been prompted by the pandemic, increased attention to and awareness of the importance of ergonomic design will likely remain even after the pandemic is over.
“I hope future offices have spaces designed by function — how people work,” ergonomics expert Deborah Read, president of ErgoFit Consulting, told the E-Commerce Times.
“This would include quiet private spaces for head-down work at dedicated height-adjustable desks, sound-proofed collaboration rooms with write-on walls/screens that aren’t wrap-around see-through glass, and sound-dampened rooms for sales teams or others who are on phone and video calls frequently.”
It’s important, however, for consumers and businesses to understand what counts as truly ergonomic — and what does not.
“Consumers are interested in ergonomic products because those products are more comfortable and easier to use — if they actually are ergonomic,” explained Read. “Often that term is used in marketing falsely, so buyer should beware, which is unfortunate. I would advise consumers to ask themselves, is this ergonomic for me?”
With increased attention to ergonomic office design, there is likely to be more attention paid to the need for individual spaces in the business environment, as well.
“COVID-19 reintroduced panels between people, and frankly I think people like that sense of individual space,” said Read. “So I predict that trend will continue and that most people prefer not to feel like they’re being watched all the time, so solid panels may start showing up.”
With increased demand, ergonomic products and design strategies will continue to evolve.
“I think the future of ergonomic products will continue to improve,” predicted Loesing. “There are still some products that I look at and think, ‘if only it did this and this,’ I’d love it.
“Although ergonomics is all about working safely, there will be more emphasis in the near future on partitions, smaller meetings, and there could be an end to the open-office concept that has been so popular the last few years.
“I also believe that ‘hot desking‘ will become a thing of the past. It’s possible that many businesses will go back to a hybrid style of working — maybe two or three days in the office. The future of workstations might become more portable, compact and lightweight, but ergonomic, of course.”
Home offices themselves — and the ergonomic redesigns they require, are likely to also remain even after the pandemic is over.
“The combination of the shift to work from home and interest in health and wellness will accelerate the infusion of ergonomic design into many product categories,” Josh Walter, CEO of BrandJump, an e-commerce marketing and merchandising company in Los Angeles, told the E-Commerce Times.
“Comfort and well-being are top priorities today, and people have a renewed interest in this due to work-from-home conditions as a result of the pandemic. Even in a post-COVID era, the home office, for many, is here to stay,” Walter concluded.