The top 10 worst ways to use your office Featured

10:04am EDT July 22, 2002
The perfect office exists. Somewhere there is an edifice that houses only corner offices, offering breathtaking views, furnished with elegantly designed and ergonomically correct components. It's a place where form and function, efficiency and ease blend naturally.

Perhaps the vision is illusional, but it's what most of us would prefer.

Instead, verity brings a maze of tiny cubicles, buzzing lights and "syndromes" like carpal tunnel. A common misconception is that spending more is the only way to "fix" these universal problems. More money isn't always the best solution. You can start by better using what you already have. Here are 10 things you're doing wrong:

1. Not knowing how to use what you have

Ergonomically designed furniture is great, but few can or choose to afford it. Even if your office has well-designed components, are your workers trained in how to adjust for a proper fit?

An $800 chair isn't worth $8 if the person sitting in it doesn't understand how to use it to its full potential.

"When I worked with Ameritech, the company gave everyone one new, adjustable chair, but no one ever showed the employees how to adjust them," says Stacy Kaplan, president of Workwright Ergonomics Consulting Services, based in University Heights.

If your furniture owner's manuals were lost along with the missing Watergate tapes, contact the manufacturer for more information or call on local office-furniture stores. Many have trained ergonomic professionals and interior designers who are educated on how to make simple, inexpensive adjustments to existing items.

2. Forgetting a basic necessity-sunlight

Natural light is best, but not always readily available. In many buildings, private offices line the outside walls, consuming all the sun's rays. Interior cubicle dwellers are often left with the artificial glow of fluorescent bulbs.

Gary Whitmer, owner of Whitmer's Lighting Inc. in Akron and Montrose, says fluorescent bulbs can actually cause headaches-an obvious deterrent to productivity.

"Fluorescent tubes don't reflect the natural color of things," Whitmer says. "Color-corrected tubes for fluorescent lighting fixtures give things a more natural color and are easier on the eyes."

Brian Eichler, corporate furniture sales manager for Costigan's Furniture Group, says lowering panel dividers and adding windows to the interior walls of exterior offices also allows natural light to enter a larger work area.

"It's important to bring the natural light in from outside and let everyone take advantage of it," Eichler says. "Instead of everything being like a mice maze with tall panels dividing areas, now we have panels with glass and shorter panels. It's more comfortable for intercommunication for employees and helps bring in natural light."

3. Cables? What cables?

For every computer, printer, telephone and fax machine; there are enough cables to circle the earth three times. Well, it only seems that way, but a new term is surfacing in office systems design known as "intense cable management."

Paige Glass, interior designer for Morris Office in North Canton says specially designed panels are replacing the typical cubicle through systems management.

"The entire interior offers environmental solutions that run cabling up through columns and entire panels," Glass says. "Now you can literally walk into an office and plug a lap top into any vertical structure."

The new panels allow cables to run at desk level or higher. No longer will IS personnel be forced to work on their hands and knees to make adjustments and repairs.

A cobweb of wires winding around desks and along the floor is not only unattractive, but it can also pose physical danger as well as fire hazards.

4. Believing in equality in the workplace

No two jobs are the same, so neither should the equipment.

Eichler says it's a waste of resources to purchase the same amenities for every workstation.

Keyboard platforms, for instance, mount under any flat surface and allow the user to adjust the height, angle and rotation of the keyboard. The average cost is $150.

"If we're going in to design 50 or 100 workstations, we would be doing an injustice to the client to recommend such an item for every station," Eichler says. "We recommend moving into the new environment and letting people work off the new station first, then purchase extra items where necessary."

5. Thinking size matters

Not always. The square footage of an office does matter to a certain extent but allowing for flexibility in usage probably matters more.

No room for an open work area and a conference room? Consider the new 3.5-inch thick, "stackable" cubicle panels. Desk-high panels allow for an open teamwork atmosphere but can be adapted to allow for privacy by stacking temporary panels to the ceiling.

New, adjustable-height work and conference tables can be raised from a seating height of 26 inches to a standing height of 48 inches.

"What people are saying in a teaming area where people are conversing and coming up with ideas, if they sit for along time they're still not gathering all the best thoughts," Eichler says. "If they adjust the height of the conference table, they can easily stand and lean, walk around and have a better interaction."

6. "Just do it!"

A great slogan for exercise but not for office planning. Whether buying a few new furnishings or a complete office system, it is possible to see it before you buy it.

"It's difficult to visualize how things will be when an office is finished," Eichler says. "But now with [computer aided design] technology, we can show them 3-D drawings of their whole office space and how everything will look once the product is installed."

7. An outside expert will always know what's best

That may be true, but in most cases, the employees who use the furnishings, equipment and space on a regular basis will have plenty of efficient and cost-saving ideas.

"It's important to talk to the employees," Kaplan says. "Employees who have been doing the job for a long time often come up with great ideas. I've often heard employees say, if they designed their office space, it would be different.

"If a company has engineers on their staff, they could utilize their skills in coming up with ideas as well."

8. Tenure equates to privacy

In a purely traditional sense, tenure earns four walls, a door and sometimes a window. Modern views, however, discount an employee's service date in favor of those who require quiet seclusion to perform well.

Glass says she sees more offices moving toward a teaming concept with little or no privacy.

"Who really needs privacy is a question companies must address," Glass says. "Computer programmers often need to be off by themselves to do their jobs effectively. People are having to adapt to not having as much privacy as before."

9. One size fits all

For anyone who's knees have hit the underside of a desk or for those who are "vertically challenged" and often find their feet dangling above the floor from a chair built for a giant, it is painfully obvious that one size does not fit all.

"You can't get the same chair or desk for each person," Kaplan says. "There are probably people over 6 feet tall in the same office where there are those under 5 feet tall. It's important to realize the range of heights so furniture can be as adjustable as possible."

In addition to adjustable work surfaces, keyboards and monitor platforms, a new breed of office chair is entering the market.

Not only can the arms, back and height of a chair be raised and lowered but also the depth of the seat.

"There are many different types of task seating to meet the needs of the individual," Eichler says. "An asynchronous mechanism in a chair allows the user to position and lock the angle of the back rel ative to the seat and the angle of the seat to the floor."

10. Give me a break

No matter how comfortable a workstation is, nothing can replace a quick stretch or walk.

"If someone is working at a station for a long time, they should get up and move around even if it's just for a minute or two," Kaplan says. "It helps get the blood supply moving. No one should sit more than two hours. It's very important to take a break."

How to reach: Costigan's Office Supply (330) 376-8156; Morris Office (330) 499-1030; Workwright Ergonomics Consulting Services (216) 321-1559