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Take Comfort in... Your Work

In his infamous novel Generation X , Douglas Coupland captured the post-80 's generation of office victims, trapped behind grey felt faux-walls, gawking at the green glow of trading indices. Coupland appropriately called these cubicles veal-fattening pens. We're in a different age now; the open office design today is all about symbiosis. Gone are the walls. Gone are the huge mahogany desks piled with papers; gone is the ability to kick your shoes off without fear of exposing the holes in your socks. These days everybody's on display and easy-to-reach. Unimpeded information flow has superceded privacy.

In our Internet age, real estate, the full-time employee, and costly office space are under transformation. The veal-fattening pens have been replaced by bee-hive clusters of octagonal work stations designed to optimize space use. Fewer people have their own desks; portioning is optional, with foldable semi-transparent mesh dividers, and curvaceous roll-away walls. The new millennial office is on wheels —a sophisticated combination of efficiency and the suggestion that the employee might become disposable. Your work station can actually be transported to the conference room on the seventh floor, a meeting on the other side of the office, or back to the supply closet. Interestingly, as job permanency becomes more uncertain, companies have recognized the necessity of making their people as comfortable as possible. Ergonomics is the buzzword these days.

Ergonomics? What 's that? A grueling weight training program? Does it involve problem solving or math? No... just sit back, or stand, and relax. We'll leave the multiple equations to the designers and engineers. According to the International Ergonomics Association, the fifty-year-old science of ergonomics—or human factors—is defined as “the interactions among human and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance. ”It's a tall order for science: Make It Fit Me. From the length of the vacuum hose to the distance from hip to gear shift in the cockpit to the graphic user interface, ergonomics is where engineering, physiology and psychology meet to make people productive and happy.
ACI Ortopedic surgeon Dr. Zoltán Detre
Ergonomics fans like to recount the tale of one of the earliest versions of the lathe. Someone eventually studied its design efficiency and realized that the ideal sized operator would be just over four feet tall. Just imagine the lower back pain complaints! Through design, ergonomics addresses such practical matters as the reduction of repetitive stress injury to the hands from typing or alleviation of chronic lower back pain. The overall economic benefits to the employer are obvious.
Work related illness, the bulk of it lower back injuries, costs close to £11 million annually in the UK alone. Dr. Zoltán Detre, an orthopedic surgeon with American Clinics
International, regularly treats back problems caused by sitting in front of the computer all day without an adequate chair. “Lower back pain, that's a 21st century problem,” he says, also mentioning shoulder and neck pain due to improper positioning of the computer screen. Stress injuries to the wrists and hands are less frequent today than in the golden age of the typewriter, according to Detre, since keyboards are softer and sponge wrist rests are common. Statistics also say that we spend a third of our lives sitting—that's more time in the office chair than in bed. It follows then that the ergonomically-concerned spend a lot of time thinking about chairs.

Adrienne Almási is the Managing Director of Office Art and Design, a Hungarian furniture importer that provides consulting, design planning, and custom fittings. She uses phrases like “hot desking solutions”— work stations with just an IT hook-up that belong to no one. She says many multinationals are globalizing design according to ergonomics and the open office. As far as chairs go, Office Art and Design recently fitted one major multinational in Budapest with top of the line Aeron chairs, designed by internationally acclaimed American furniture supplier Herman Miller. You want a good chair? Think lift, tilt, vertical and lateral movements of the arm rests, a selection of lumbar cushions for the back, and a patented stretchy breathable fabric. If you swing into work on your rollerblades and sit down without taking off your backpack, the chair will absorb its shape. The chair has wheels, naturally, and just like clothes, it is available in small, medium and large sizes for 230,000 HUF +ÁFA.

Cost is an obvious reason why the bulk of the top-of-the-line clients are big multinationals. But, cautions Kimmo Sirviö, Managing Director of the Budapest offices of Finnish furniture supplier Martela, “for 6000 HUF,it's impossible to buy a quality chair. ”To surround yourself with Martela's smooth Scandinavian designs would cost between $1200 and $3000 per work station. However, Sirviö offers this practical advice for the ergonomically-aware, but price-sensitive chair shopper: “If you want to buy a cheap chair, buy one without arm rests because it's better than the fixed ones. ”Fixed arm rests, he says, do not encourage movement, and freedom of movement could be the single most important factor in ergonomic design. Even Martela's 1.5 kg stackable wooden conference chairs—ergonomics is easy lifting too—allow for rocking to ease the backs of fidgety conference goers. The best design houses still acknowledge that Dr.Detre is right when he says, “a $3000 chair is not the only solution.” (The doctor's practical advice is as xpected: exercise, use proper posture when sitting or lifting, take care in sports.) This is why the designers have moved on to the electric table, a gift for the lower back, and a blessing over varicose veins. You can stand at your desk—while say, talking on the phone—and not have to bend over to type or access files. Standing meetings are now common in Scandinavia, says Sirviö, noting that Nokia Networks has a standing board room equipped with a high table and bar stools to give the option of sitting, standing, or switching back and forth. It keeps folks on their toes too, a consideration in psychological ergonomics. 'Normal desks have not disappeared, but they've been divided into separate segments each fixed with hand cranks, so that the monitor, for example, can be elevated or lowered, and the keyboard table elevated, lowered or tilted. May that be the envy of the boxy mahogany monster as it enters the antique market...

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