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The ergonomic hazards of hoteling stations

Experts explain how to ensure the safe use of increasingly common shared desks
Thursday, January 21, 2016
By Catherine Smallman and Dr. Linda Miller

Hot-desking. Hoteling. Shared workstations. Non-territorial offices. Flexible workspaces. These are a few buzzwords that have entered the office design vocabulary recently, yet it may still be unclear exactly what they entail. In simple terms, this up-and-coming trend is the sharing of one physical workstation between multiple employees who are there at different times and who may be performing very different work tasks. Employees are not assigned a designated workstation and instead are free to sit down and work from any desk available.

Hoteling has become more popular as technology has enabled employees to work from anywhere and stay connected to the workplace. In a recent study of 220 different workplaces, data revealed that the typical occupancy of dedicated workstations is 40 to 45 per cent of the work day, on average, and even less for field workers1. This could be explained by multiple reasons; employees may be working from other locations within the organization or from home, meeting in conference rooms, sick or on holidays. Hoteling helps cut back on real estate costs through a more efficient use of space.

As with most things in life, hoteling has not only its benefits but also its challenges. Some of these challenges have implications for an organization’s ergonomics program. What follows is an overview of three common challenges.

1. Size and stature

To support comfortable working postures, it’s important to provide adjustable furniture and equipment to accommodate employees of varying size and stature. At minimum, a work surface should be height adjustable to allow employees to position their input devices at elbow height while still allowing the shoulder to be resting in a comfortable position. Additionally, the monitor(s) should be adjustable in height and distance. Finally, provide simple work tools such as a document holder to accommodate paper and a task light to meet a variety of task and employee needs.

While some chairs are highly adjustable, it is very difficult to achieve a proper fit for everyone in an organization with just one chair. It may be wise to consider providing two chair types, one to accommodate small-to-average individuals and another to accommodate average-to-large individuals. Consider specifying each size of chair in a unique colour to help employees distinguish the difference and determine which chair will provide an appropriate fit for them. All chairs should meet BIFMA standards2, and the key features that all chairs should have when accommodating multiple people are:

  • Height-adjustable seat
  • Depth-adjustable seat
  • Backrest angle adjustment
  • Lumbar support — height and depth-adjustable
  • Armrests —  height and width-adjustable

2. Job task demands

Before establishing desk sizes and configurations, consider the employees who will be using the multi-user workstations to ensure adequate space is available for the tasks they perform. Remember that the number of monitors used will impact workstation depth. A minimum of 30 inches in desk depth is recommended to provide an adequate viewing distance between dual monitors and employees’ seated position.

3. Individual needs

Consider providing all employees with a personal keyboard and mouse. Not only will this help to control cleanliness for the tough-to-clean input devices, but it will accommodate individual ergonomic needs. Employees who require alternative keyboards or mice will then already be encouraged to bring the devices with them when setting up at a workstation. Keep workstations well-stocked with antibacterial wipes and create policies to reinforce the importance of wiping down the work surface and chair armrests. If phones are required to complete job tasks, assign employees their own headset to bring with them to each workstation. Also consider providing a small space, such as a locker, where employees can store their personal items.

Even the best furniture and equipment will be of no benefit if employees are not aware of appropriate workstation set ups. Ensure all employees have easy access to manuals that show how to adjust all furniture and equipment. For a visual reminder, post a diagram illustrating ergonomic setups at each workstation. While providing reference materials is a good start to encouraging proper workstation setups, employees must want to set up the area appropriately. Raise awareness about musculoskeletal risks and injuries with short online courses or in-person ‘lunch-and-learn’ seminars. Establish this knowledge base and run annual refresher courses to increase adherence to furniture and equipment adjustments.

Hot-desking allows designers to use space more efficiently, reducing overall real estate and operating costs. With hot-desking new challenges exist for employers to ensure the health, comfort and productivity of their employees. Providing adjustable equipment is not enough. Employers need to ensure that their employees understand the importance of proper work station adjustment.

References

1. Flexibility.co.uk (2009). Shrinking the office – how to provide more space for work using less property.

2. BIFMA G1-2013 (2013). Ergonomics guideline for furniture used in office work spaces designed for computer use. Business & Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association.

Catherine Smallman joined EWI Works in 2013 with a Master’s of Science in Kinesiology specializing in occupational biomechanics and ergonomics from Queen’s University. Catherine provides office ergonomic assessments at an individual and group level, delivers educational training sessions, develops ergonomic design guidelines for facility planners and is involved with industrial ergonomic assessments.

Linda Miller, OT (c), OTD, CCPE, president and certified ergonomist for EWI Works International Inc., Associate Clinical Professor of Occupational Therapy, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Alberta Medicine. She can be reached at [email protected]

2 thoughts on “The ergonomic hazards of hoteling stations

  1. Are you looking at standing desks? very interested to know your thoughts on the applicability as well as physiological impacts of this new design we are seeing.

    Tracey Poulin

  2. Having done Ergonomic Consultation for companies over many years, it has been my experience that the facilities manager, area manager, or contract furniture vendor supplying the equipment should personally train each employee on how to adjust their ergonomic chair, keyboard tray, and monitor lift. This can be stipulated in the purchasing contract under installation and service. I have seen a lot of lumbar cushions on highly adjustable seating, because the occupant did not understand how to make adjustments even when chairs feature a “pull out” adjustment instruction card.

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