Holistic Workplace: The Future of Ergonomics
What do forward-thinking organizations like Toyota, Google, Bank of America, Teledyne and Sony Pictures have in common? Working in partnership with Joy Boese at E3 Consulting they’ve delivered leading-edge office ergonomic programs. We sat down with Joy in this Workplace Unplugged Interview to find out the insider tips for you to do the same.
President of E3 Consulting, an office ergonomic & design consulting firm, Joy Boese has over 20 years of experience providing cost-effective and innovative solutions aimed to increase employee productivity, health, wellness, and comfort, while improving the organization’s bottom line. With an impressive portfolio of work for many Fortune 500 companies, we asked Joy where it all began.
JB: My background is actually in design. I went to USC and I had an emphasis in Design, primarily around office interiors with a major in Communications and a minor in Business. So I kind of came from that perspective of office design out of college. I was fortunate to work with a really nice office design firm where I learned a ton about real estate, furniture layout, and corporate environments.
In 1996, Joy started E3 Consulting. She also went back to school to get her Certification in Ergonomics in order to deepen her focus on human factors. She tells us how she wanted to design work environments around people rather than office space and facility requirements.
JB: In 2000 I incorporated and was fortunate to land my first client which was EarthLink Network, designing their future space for office ergonomics and call center environments. I really built my business around ergonomic principles, focusing on office design, ergonomic evaluations and looking for ways to improve through better design which would help alleviate and reduce workers comp costs and medical costs. That was a big driving factor in the early 2000’s.
Since E3’s inception, Joy’s focus has been on switching the paradigm from ergonomics to wellness and wellbeing. And over the past decade, many companies have welcomed this shift in the workplace, becoming more aware of how to be preventative.
JB: At E3, we help companies put together wellness initiatives where we integrate nutrition, fitness, and mindfulness consulting approaches. A lot of the companies I am working with are very forward thinkers, like Toyota and Sony Pictures, and they see the value of improving employee engagement, reducing employee absenteeism and improving employee satisfaction. So it is a huge shift. Ten years ago I would talk about it and people would just roll their eyes.
While many of Joy’s competitors are still tracking workers compensation and medical, E3 excels by approaching it from a much different perspective – from a wellness perspective.
JB: On payroll, we have nutritionists, mindfulness consultants, and exercise physiologists. So, we are able to provide a whole gamut of services as well as ergonomics consulting and design services. And the benefit of that is we are no longer working in a siloed environment. We are working across the company where we are talking to HR, Facilities, Procurement and IT and they are coming to us in all different facets and we are kind of the glue, if you will, to the program because they rely on a lot of the data we collect to initiate these programs internally.
When integrating ergonomic initiatives, Joy’s advice for facilities managers is to bring in an ergonomic expert in the planning phase. By incorporating ergonomics when a company is getting ready to either build a new space, move or even consolidate – rather than after a move – companies will find the most success.
Joy shares 5 tips for facilities managers to keep in mind when configuring office spaces for workplace optimization.
Tip #1: Select furniture that has some sort of adjustability built-in.
JB: Create some type of flexible space that the work environment can be independently adjusted from the other workstations. Have furniture that you can adjust in increments – the optimal increments would be 24 to 48 inches in range. If the furniture isn’t able to do that, aim for at least within 28 to 32 inches in range. That will at least accommodate people that are short so they can still have their feet flat on the floor. Or people who are tall that don’t want to hit their knees on the table. You never want to have a work environment that is at one fixed height and you cannot raise it or lower it.
Tip #2: Watch out for what is above or below adjustable furniture.
JB: If you are raising or lowering the furniture make sure it is not going to hit an overhead bin or it’s not going to be limited in height range due to a work bin underneath. Be aware of your storage so that if you are going to raise or lower the furniture it won’t hit it.
Tip #3: Provide ergonomic chair options.
JB: Make sure you are providing ergonomic chairs that have variations to them. I am not saying you need to get three types of chairs. But it is important to have seating that can easily be retrofitted to a higher or lower chair cylinder. Or that possibly the chair itself has a seat pan that can also be wider or narrower to accommodate different leg lengths.
Tip #4: Make sure you know your long-term technology requirements.
JB: It is important to know what your technology requirements are. A lot of times companies don’t really talk to IT. Not that they don’t but they don’t know what their IT plan is six to twelve months out. For example, at a large company E3 is working with right now, they have furniture that is designed for one monitor, one keyboard, one mouse and we were just told recently that they are going to be getting two monitors, two keyboards and two mice. So, we are now in a scenario where the work environment doesn’t support the technology. Really being a part of the technology process and understanding those requirements before anything happens is super key.
Tip #5: Talk to HR!
JB: I feel that HR has been a really helpful part in this process. Facilities really rarely talks to HR people but they know the trends of what’s going on. Whether there is going to be a lot of hiring coming on in the future, or downsizing – it could be a great opportunity if there is a downsizing. We do a ton of ergo repurposing where we get equipment back quickly and we get it put back in good condition and we repurpose it for other cases in the future without spending more money.
With flexible working on the rise, we asked Joy to recommend a few of her favorite vendors that support adjustable environments.
However, with the surge of sit-to-stand desks being at an all time high, Joy tells us how this isn’t necessarily good news for facilities managers.
JB: We get doctors notes, we get like 10-20 a week from different companies and we have to be very cautious that we don’t keep those doctors notes – those go straight to HR – but people are basically asking their doctors to write them a prescription to get them a sit-to-stand desk. And that really puts facilities in an awkward position because they can’t turn down a written doctor’s note. If there are certain accommodations that facilities has to do based on a doctor’s note, these facilities managers are in a real tough scenario because they are trying to accommodate but they don’t have the money to make the correction or improvement. That is happening everywhere. And the requests are coming in like a tidal wave – requests are up 30-40% in the last five years.
And for the small to mid-sized companies that can’t afford sit-to-stand furniture? Joy tells us how there are less expensive solutions that you can install onto an existing furniture setup that doesn’t cost a lot of money and can achieve a high percentage of the requirements when it comes to allowing people to sit-to-stand.
JB: There are inexpensive solutions that are under $600 that we also recommend for small to mid-sized companies. Some of the products are Ergotron, Varidesk and Health Postures. Those are the three manufacturers that we work with that are retrofittable onto a furniture system.
Because no job exists without its quirks, we asked Joy to share a few bizarre experiences in her role. One that stood out was the surprising nature of return customers.
JB: In the LA market, people in the entertainment industry – we do a lot of work in the entertainment industry – a lot of the people, they jump around, and in Silicon Valley it is the same way. In the last three years, we have seen a couple of ergo cases that we’ve had, they’ve switched companies two to three times and they come back to us through the ergo process when we are working with a different company. That to me is very bizarre. Like Suzie worked at Sony, then she was at Paramount and now she is at Fox and she has always asked for requirements of ergo evaluation assistance in all the three companies she has been at. And that is kind of where it is trending. We get a lot of repeat customers.
Joy sees this phenomenon as her industry’s 80/20 rule.
JB: I feel that in ergonomics that 80 percent of it can be corrected and prevented quickly, but you got that 20 percent of people – and I find that it is kind of the same in facilities – that no matter what you do that 20 percent of people are still going to complain. So that to me is very interesting. And sometimes people get to us where it is not even workstation or ergonomic related – it is an HR issue. They are not happy with their boss, they feel that they were passed over for a promotion – they are just mad and they are very disengaged in their jobs and they come through us as a way to try to take advantage.
The other challenge she sees for companies today is how to deal with ergonomics for employees working from home.
JB: I am getting a lot more requests of people working from home, so a lot more remote workers, and that’s been an interesting change and shift of events. Certain companies will pay for a home office work environment, so they will provide them a chair and a desk and monitors. Other companies feel that that is the employee’s responsibility. So I think that’s something that in the future is going to shift. If you tell an employee they have to work from home three days a week, is it up to the employer to make accommodations? I think that’s a very controversial thing right now that companies are trying to work through.
Understanding the complexity of the issue, we asked Joy for her two cents. Should companies pay for remote workers to retrofit their home office?
JB: I personally feel that if that is part of your job description you should be put in an environment that is going to help improve your overall health. They only caveat is is that you don’t hand the employee a check for a thousand dollars and say ‘okay go ahead retrofit your office’. I feel that there should be an industry expert like somebody from our team to walk the employee through and ask them ‘what are the tools you need to get you job done?’ and then we help them design their home office, knowing that we have a better understanding of how that would look.
What does the future of ergonomics hold? Joy tells us her predictions for an automated workplace optimization solution.
JB: If I am really looking five to ten years out in the future – and I know the technology is out there it just hasn’t been used in a home or office environment – but you could actually take a picture and it could scan your room. Then as the room is being scanned, we could create something that would allow us to make instantaneous recommendations of how to make overall health improvements in your current setup of your office.
So, eventually I envision somebody will have a special device to scan the room, or maybe somebody will scan the room with them in it, and then we will be able to come up with instantaneous information. Maybe they will have a sensor on their body to collect data on their breathing, the room temperature, their current BMI and their stress levels, and the environment will adapt based on how they are feeling in that moment.
Joy alludes to the very real possibility of a smart workplace, a fully automated environment for workplace health optimization.
JB: I know in Singapore they have something that is doing that, it’s called a Smart House. So, as you are wearing this device the room before you walk into it will adjust itself according to your preferences. So the lights will go on a little dimmer, the room will be a certain temperature, maybe your desk will be set at a certain height because that’s what you like. It will start tracking patterns and behavior and the room and the environment will adjust itself. I see it going that direction and that to me is how I am planning for the future. And I don’t think we are too far off.