How to design and maintain a healthy work space
Goals, figures and productivity are still important, but the human factor is now the main priority.
The current situation has highlighted the even greater need to design all-purpose, versatile spaces which will ensure the health and safety of the people occupying them, where living, working and enjoying leisure time is possible. As the aesthetics and comfort associated to more domestic environments have flooded corporate and work spaces, now homes too with their new home office role must take on new functionalities and encourage ergonomic, hygiene and safety conditions. These new humanised and digital spaces must combine design, functionality and, above all, health standards regardless of where they are.
Flexibility, ergonomics and technology are the terms to best describe these new spaces, whether they are group spaces designed to respond to a large variety of users and needs, or domestic and more private spaces. These are ergonomics that, besides avoiding incorrect postures, encompass aspects such as posture mobility, possibilities for customization and adapting to different activities. Choosing customized versatile furniture that will improve the worker’s relationship with their surroundings and boost their physical and mental well-being is essential, regardless of what their work place is like.
Wherever possible, the work station needs to be spacious enough to allow for easy access and free movement around it. Large tables in soft tones with matte surfaces to avoid reflections and a low heat transfer in contact areas; adjustable chairs, with a seat and back support in breathable fabrics and height-adjustable foot stools are the minimal requirements in order to guarantee user comfort. It is also important for the worker to be able to stand up, to take their eyes away from the monitor to give their eyes a rest. So it’s clear that regardless of the environment, the work station must adapt to people and not the other way around.
Having the right furniture and equipment is necessary but it’s not enough. More than ever, maintaining and cleaning surfaces and materials properly is key in any work environment in order to preserve our health and increase the service life of any product. The right cleaning products and methods for each piece of equipment, or how often the surfaces need to be disinfected and the spaces ventilated are some of the key concepts to ensuring the workers’ health. In order to achieve this, and besides taking into account the instructions from the manufacturer, we need companies and workers to include habits such as cleaning and disinfecting tables, chairs, desks and shelves, as well as the objects on them, into their day-to-day. Organizing, sorting and recycling documents is another measure that helps to avoid sources of dirt and infection.
Other preconceived intangible aspects such as ventilation, orientation, lighting or thermal and acoustic well-being, are also essential in achieving healthy work environments. Furniture with in-built technology, soundproof materials that mitigate the noise from conversations or phone calls, views outside, appropriate air filtration and ventilation, good lighting or the use of suitable colors depending on the task are some of the aspects that could improve the workers’ well-being, as well as boosting their productivity and creativity. Using anti-bacterial cloths and coatings or opting for furniture free from toxic agents such as formaldehyde also increase comfort.
Getting back to normal after Covid-19 is going to undoubtedly involve a change in paradigm in work and life styles which must adapt to the new situation. Restricting the capacity of spaces that until recently were occupied by crowds or keeping a safe distance will be key aspects to ensuring everybody’s health. We don’t need to build new spaces, but rather adapt those that already exist to these new requirements, by way of flexible and versatile solutions such as self-supporting protection panels or separating screens, where work areas can be cordoned off without making the space less human or isolating its users.