I was delighted to be asked earlier this month by a local legal firm to go and check the lighting in their new building in the Christchurch CBD. They have chosen rails of lighting in part and wanted to make sure that the rails themselves were in the right position to provide enough light before putting peoples’ desks in place, and also that the hanging lights were in the right position.
They made such a wise choice. Before you install your new lighting is just the right time to ask these questions; electricians are still working on the project, walls are yet to be finished or furniture put in place. It provides the perfect opportunity to get everything right before tradespeople disappear, contracts are signed off and everyone moves in.
As it happened in this instance, the legal firm also had the opportunity to check that their halogen light bulbs are those with a wider angle of light – to ensure enough of the desk area is covered – before installation.
I am often engaged to conduct workstation checks for everyone once (or after) the business has already moved in. I frequently find at this point that a lot of money has been spent on the new build. New furniture has already been purchased, relocation costs have been covered and with the budget more often than not blown plus the disruption of it all, everyone just wants to get the business back into gear. The last thing anyone wants to hear is that the lighting is inadequate, or is overly bright in one area and insufficient in another.
Staff members may feel that something is not as good as it could be, for example, morning sun coming through a large window without a blind, can be lovely for the first week, but after a while it becomes a nuisance and then, physically painful. Because it’s a new office, no one wants to say anything, feeling that they should simply be grateful to have the new office. Sadly, this reluctance does not help with maintaining a healthy workplace.
The main challenges I find in new offices are these:
- Desks are non-adjustable and too high. These ACC/WorkSafe Guidelines to Computer Use give desk heights of between 670 – 710mm for fixed desks. Many people in New Zealand are better at the lower range of 680 – 690mm. This reduces the need for footstools.
If you expect people to move around their work areas (in shared spaces/desks) you will need height adjustable desks.
- If there are height adjustable desks which move up to standing height available, firstly, congratulations if you do have these desks because it allows your staff much more flexibility of working positions. Do be mindful however that not everyone will know how to set these up for themselves, so may not do so. Others may avoid using them as they are averse to change, or they may have a physical issue which makes it too hard to stand to work.
- Chairs which are too hard to adjust, or that have limited adjustment (often designer look mesh chairs) and which prove to be uncomfortable for some people.
- Lack of advice on equipment and furniture set up.
- Patchy lighting – very bright near the windows and then dark spots. The use of LED lighting has been interesting as the spot LEDs are very bright and can cause spots of light in front of the eyes. Few people like the idea of having to use a desk light in a brand new office, but sometimes that’s the only way to improve the light in the darker areas.
- Reception areas with desks that are too high (around 740mm to the desk top) and lights which hang over the reception shelf rather than onto the screen of the receptionist. Reception desks are one of the most expensive items in a new office and are there to create an impression on customers, so why not ensure it is a piece of furniture that also works well for the person who works there?
- Lack of light control. If there are large windows (very much the trend in Christchurch), even if these face south with no direct sun coming in, the amount of light coming in will still be bright and glary on some days. There needs to be some way of controlling the light, either by good window tinting, or blinds.
Some of these issues can be addressed through training sessions and having people in your business who are trained to set up staff when they have moved into their new work area.
The areas like furniture purchase, lighting choice and positioning and assistance with reception desk design are all areas which benefit from getting input during the design process. It is a move likely to save you money not cost more, not only in the purchasing stage but also longer term as staff are less likely to be off work or have reduced productivity due to musculoskeletal issues from poor positioning, tired eyes and headaches.
So, remember to bring in some ergonomic design into your new or redesigned office or workspace at the beginning of the design process. It will save you a lot of money in the long run.