When you think about ergonomics in the office, seating often stands out as the most important player. Sure, it's a good idea to have that top-of-the-line, cushy task chair that swivels, adjusts to your body, and looks really, really cool - but what if not using your fancy chair was just as important as using it?
The benefits of alternating between sitting and standing throughout the workday are increasingly lauded in ergonomic and workers' health reports. Because so many musculoskeletal disorders are linked to prolonged, awkward postures on the job, varying between sitting and standing is seen as good medicine, and a lot cheaper than dealing with the consequences of a debilitating, work-related injury. Seating, then, should reflect the need for movement. Work stools for standing-height workstations make the transition from sitting to standing that much easier and could be the best option for a unified, healthy workstation.
While electric and manual height-adjustable worksurfaces are increasing in number, having an adjustable work stool at a fixed, standing-height worksurface is potentially easier than having to raise/lower a surface supporting many objects (computers, piles of paper, your half-eaten bag of M&Ms, etc.). But, are work stools appropriate for people other than architects and security guards? "[Work stools are] probably least appropriate for multi-tasking," explains Gretchen Gscheidle, lead research at Herman Miller Inc., Zeeland, MI. "Unless you're dealing with one single small pile of paper, you probably need to engage your entire body to float from the far left to the far right ... and that's just a little bit hard to do when you're dealing with the smaller platform that is the footring, as opposed to the floor." However, these limitations can also be opportunities.
Human Factors and Ergonomics Manager Scott Openshaw from Allsteel Inc., Muscatine, IA, takes a larger view of the situation, stating, "Stools are appropriate for all types of office work - computer, typing, filing, desk work, etc. If the individual's filing cabinet is low and close to the floor, the individual may need to get off [his or her stool] in order to reach the file. This movement can be beneficial in allowing the individual to regularly move since [he/she] will not be stationary throughout the day."
Work stools are suitable for many tasks, but can they compare to the ultra-comfortable task chairs that boast a bevy of adjustable features? "There are some task stools on the market that have limited functionality, usually in the recline function," says Openshaw. "Obviously, no one wants people to tip backwards while reclining." However, some companies have made stool versions of their most popular office chairs that include the exact same features, allowing office workers to gain the advantages of having a sitting/standing workstation without losing any of the comfort or ergonomic features of lower seating.
But, why bother with standing if your chair is comfortable? "An ergonomist once told me that movement is the unsung hero of ergonomics," says Gscheidle. Striving for a healthier workspace should be important to office managers and their employees. If the risks of not varying your posture throughout the day (fatigue, back pain or injury, varicose veins, neck pain, etc.) aren't enough to get you standing, perhaps having a standing-height workstation and comfortable work stool will be.
Jenna M. Lassen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is new products editor at Buildings magazine.