Warning: Collaborative Workspaces May Be Bad for Your Health

I first experienced severe repetitive strain injury working in a collaborative workspace. In one room, we all sat at big communal tables, sharing from a pool of laptops. The office design was supposed to encourage spontaneous interactions and brainstorming. For me, it was noisy, invasive, and frantic, particularly on the days when I was unlucky enough to be the last to arrive in the morning and there were no chairs or laptops left.Guy sitting in airport working on laptop It was pretty typical to spend about 20 minutes every morning scrambling for a laptop and then a seat as in some bizarre version of musical chairs. Then we would all crawl around on hands and knees trying to plug in to the shared outlets and pulling leads up through the holes in the middle of the tables.

Music was another big part of the space. We had a sound system that we took turns plugging our individual iPods into. When it was my turn, I’d ask if we could have no music, but eventually someone would plug in, thinking I’d just forgotten it was my day to play DJ. It was supposed to be a paperless office, so the only storage space we were given was a tiny pigeon hole which was open for all to see inside. I never fully appreciated the value of a desk drawer until then.

People were always squirrelling away paper files wherever they could find a hiding place. I regularly found notes on projects I had nothing to do with stuffed into my pigeon hole. It would not be an overstatement to say that I found working there totally stressful. And I know I wasn’t the only one who struggled with the setup of this office, as people were always hiding away in the meeting rooms when they were “trying to get work done.” My feelings toward the environment combined with long hours on laptops with no information about safe workstation set up, ended up having a devastating effect on my health.

At first, I tried to work through the pain in my hands, arms, neck and back, telling myself that it was all part of work or attributing it to other factors, eg, sleeping funny, lifting something heavy, or overdoing it in an exercise class. There was always a reason other than long hours in static, awkward postures compounded by the stress I felt working in an office that felt more like a circus to me. In the end, I had to stop working completely for several years due to the physical pain I was in. I sought (and continue to seek) advice and treatments from a long list of doctors and practitioners. But the best advice I ever got was from a massage therapist who told me: “find what works for you.”

Although he was talking about treatment options, I believe this is true too when it comes to deciding on the physical environment in which we work. Now I know the importance of a good computer workstation set up. This is not only important to your physical health, it can also have an impact on your mental health.

Research conducted by Leeds Metropolitan University shows a direct correlation between poorly-equipped desks and musculoskeletal disorders, which can lead to serious long-term conditions such as mental health problems. I’ve also learned that work environments need boundaries. Employees should have access to quiet space as much as needed, whether it’s at the office or the option to work at home. It’s important that we learn to trust ourselves and listen to our bodies (and mind) when something feels wrong. Good workstation set up is really important, but so is a work environment that fits with the way we work. Our good health depends on it. Laptop Raquel Baetz helps companies keep their employees healthy and safe from musculoskeletal disorders. She is an independent computer workstation risk assessor, qualified via the British Safety Council. Raquel draws on her personal experience with chronic repetitive strain injury to inform the advice she gives. She works in the US and the UK. For info, visit http://safehandsdse.com/wp/ For your daily ergonomic tip, follow Raquel on Twitter.

Top 10 Ergonomic Chairs

Your best choices…

How do you sit through the day? If you sit in your chair more than you should, this post is for you. These chairs of choice follow a series of compulsory ergonomic principles for people who spend most of their day sitting in a chair:

  • They encourage proper posture and appropriate use of muscle groups, while maintaining safety and comfort in multiple positions;
  • They offer superior joint support, taking care of user’s spine, arms, neck, etc.

Transparence Aeron by Herman Miller

Transparence: Aeron by Herman Miller

  • Designed by: Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf
  • Birth year: Aeron is a classic. Winner of multiple design awards, this chair came into existence in 1994.
  • Concept: Inspired by Biomorphic art movement, Herman Miller’s Aeron is a manifest of the transparency and permeability of design. Even if the design is somehow dated, this chair is now highly imitated and has come to represent a line of designs.
  • Special features and materials used: The Pellicle suspension system is a brilliant alternative to common upholstery.
  • Pluses: Aeron’s excellent warranty includes all parts. The chair ishighly adjustable and customizable. It comes in three sizes. It is recyclable.

Thoughtful Design Think by Steelcase

Thoughtful Design: Think by Steelcase

  • Designed by: Glen Oliver Löw
  • Birth year: 2006
  • Concept: The strategy behind Think chair features the integrity of the design. Think is an intuitive concept: “the chair with a brain and a conscience” is meant to anticipate and follow body movements.
  • Special features: Back flexors, power mechanism, and preference control are meant to ensure comfort and illustrate the principles of functional integrity.
  • Pluses: The chair has numerous adjustments, comes with a good warranty, and is customizable.

Elastic Generation by Knoll

Elastic: Generation by Knoll

  • Designed by: Formway Design
  • Birth year: Generation is a multitasking chair, winner of multiple awards in 2009.
  • Concept behind the design or the design strategy: Generation design is about movement, malleability, and flexibility. The idea behind this Generation chair is that different people assume different postures and also move a lot in their chairs. The concept of elasticity also includes that of the extension of the workplace.
  • Special features and materials used: The chair is made of high-tech elastomer, and features an extremely comfortable zigzag back.
  • Pluses: Generation chairs are green, sturdy, offer excellent lumbar support in every position, have a great shape, and offer long-term warranty.

Liberty by Humanscale

Liberty by Humanscale

  • Designed by: Niels Diffrient
  • Birth year: 2009
  • Concept: The unique3-piece mesh back tracks the sitters motions without the need to for manual adjustments.
  • Special features and materials used: This chair uses Form-Sensing Mesh Technology, and is unlike other mesh chairs. It has the body-fitting contours that single-panel stretch mesh chairs simply don’t.
  • Pluses: The dynamic adjustment mechanism is one of the best on the ergonomic market. Effortless adjustment along with different size cylinders to fit everyone’s size and shape.

Mirra by Herman Miller

Mirra by Herman Miller

  • Designed by: Herman Miller
  • Birth year: Circa 2000
  • Concept: Mirra automatically shapes itself to each user, while a few simple adjustments fine-tune the fit and feel.
  • Special features and materials used: The chair’s next-generation innovations, including the upholstered backrest, all work together in a fresh-looking chair that’s easy to use.
  • Pluses: Adjustable lumbar support, armrests, seat depth, and a tilt limiter.

Allsteel by Acuity

Allsteel by Acuity

  • Designed by: Bruce Fifield of Milan-based Design Continuum Italia
  • Birth year: Unknown
  • Concept: This chair hits all the ergonomic sweet spots, with a tilt and recline back, adjustable seat rest, and eight-way armrests.
  • Special features and materials used: Made from eco-friendly materials.
  • Pluses: Acuity is designed and manufactured to have minimal impact on both the physical and social environment, and is made with no PVC components.

Diffrient World by Humanscale

Diffrient World by Humanscale

  • Designed by: Niels Diffrient
  • Birth year: 2011
  • Concept:  Features the perfect combination of cutting-edge design, simplicity of use, and component sustainability.
  • Special features and materials used: Patent-pending form-sensing mesh technology coupled with a light frame and unmatched ergonomic design.
  • Pluses: Weighs only 25 pounds, with only 8 major components, using nearly 100% recycled materials.

Xten by Pininfarina

Xten by Pininfarina

  • Designed by: Pininfarina, the esteemed Italian design firm that creates the sculptured beauty of Ferrari and Maserati
  • Birth year: Unknown
  • Concept: Designed to be the best office chair. Both in style and ergonomic comfort.
  • Special features and materials used: Uses Dynatec fabric utilized by Olympic athletes for durability, comfort, coolness and range of motion, and Technogel that forms to the contour of the body and reduces seating pressure and fatigue.
  • Pluses: Comes in four color options, among them the famous Ferrari Red & Maserati Blue.

Verte by Anthro

Verté by Anthro

  • Designed by: Development for over 10 years by a team of over 100 engineers, designers, doctors and manufacturers.
  • Birth year: Circa 2000
  • Concept: Molds itself to your spine’s unique shape, fitting and holding you perfectly.
  • Special features and materials used: It comes standard with a gel-filled full grain leather seat and back, and eleven torsion spring-loaded bearing joints with brushed aluminum back supports.
  • Pluses: The cylinder has a Lifetime Warranty, parts have a 12-year warranty and fabric has a one-year warranty.

V200HRBLK Raynor V2 by Ergohuman

V200HRBLK Raynor V2 by Ergohuman

  • Designed by: Unknown designer
  • Birth year: Unknown
  • Concept: Designed to offer a progressive design with improved adjustments and added comfort.
  • Special features and materials used: Includes four-way adjustable arms, 5-position tilt lock, refined seat design and a higher weight capacity.
  • Pluses: Available in 6 different models, including the new fabric upholstered models.


Don’t take this sitting down.

It’s highly probable that you sit when you read this article. It’s also probable that you are one of the many who spend more than 40 hours a week in front of the computer. Actually, it’s more, but let’s not count the weekends.

Let’s assume instead that you have a minimal interest in your health and you exercise four times a week, for one hour. In most online guides, you’d be referred to as an active person, which is correct, but bear in mind: for every one hour of exercise, you sit ten.

What Are the Risks?

The health problems related to sitting are more complex than you may initially think. This happens because the sitting position affects a great deal of your body, having direct repercussions on your circulatory, musculoskeletal, respiratory, digestive, and neuroendocrine systems. The signs are obvious, but even so most of us tend to ignore them: regular pains in the lower back; light numbness in legs and rear thighs; fatigue; breathing difficulties; neck pains; etc.

Such corroborated conditions trigger a number of diseases. Most of them are irreversible or difficult to be kept under control:

  • Obesity – your body can’t exchange fats correctly when you sit. The more you sit, the closer to obesity you get, and it doesn’t really matter if you’re slim or slightly fat. Your body feels it, even if you don’t.
  • Heart problems – especially related to hypertension. People who sit a lot don’t do well in stress tests.
  • Blood conditions – there are many: increased level of triglycerides in blood, high blood sugar, low HDL cholesterol, etc. These values affect the correct functioning of your heart, as well as your ability to focus during a regular day.
  • Posture – when you sit, you bear your weight through the pelvis and spine, even if this is not the natural way of your body. This affects your muscles and your bones altogether.

And Who Is to Blame?

First, it’s the incredible large amount of time you spend sitting. Then it’s the type of chair you use. Third, it’s your posture. The best image to help you understand how you can diminish these risks is to compare sitting with learning a foreign language: 10 hours of intensive learning or exercising at the end of the week are nothing compared to daily training.

You can blame your chair if you want. However, a good ergonomic chair combined with a correct daily posture decreases these risks significantly. If you add hourly breaks (during which you walk or simply stand up) you can further minimize the risks, but in the end one thing is certain: you won’t be able to completely remove the possibility of getting sick from too much sitting.

More reading regarding chairicidal dangers

  • What are the risks of sitting too much?Mayo Clinic
  • Confirmed: He Who Sits the Most Dies the SoonestThe Atlantic
  • Sit in an office all day? Your health may be at riskTampaBay.com

Is Your Spine Trying to…

Tell You Something?

Sciatica represents the entire set of symptoms related to the compression of the human body, which influence the spine. There are various gravitational forces that act against the condition of our spine, depending on our posture, work habits, genetics, and accidents.

The Most Common Symptoms

For professional advice, consult your physician. But if you want to determine signs of sciatica at home, look for one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Back pain – This is the most common of all, and it generally indicates a real medical condition. Don’t ignore it, or it will get worse.
  • Pain that travels down the legs – It occurs after regular back pains and it’s a very serious symptom.
  • Feet weakness – There may be other factors involved that can contribute to feet weakness, but this is a condition normally associated to sciatica.
  • Feet or leg numbness – If you sit a lot on a regular basis, and you feel your legs numb when you get up, you’re likely to have two conditions: bad circulation and spine problems.
  • Tingling – It’s a sign that your sciatic nerves don’t work well. If it happens often, you need to consult your doctor.
  • Poor tendon reflexes – This is the subtle way in which your body tells you your sciatic nerves are compressed.
  • Weakness in your muscles – Actually, this weakness may be related to other conditions and may not be a sign of sciatica. In some cases though, when it occurs regularly and is followed by back pain, it may be.

Bad Habits

More often than not, symptoms which indicate a spine condition are vague. You may not feel it in the first place, or you may consider it a contextual discomfort. However, if you don’t have a perfect posture, you’re over forty or you repeat a certain movement (such as when working at an assembly line), it’s most likely that you already have a spine-related problem. And, even more, if you’ve reached this article and you’re interested in the medical condition of your spine, it’s almost certainly a fact.

Prolonged sitting and standing are the most common habits associated to spine conditions. You can’t actually blame it on the gravity: the continuous compression of your body exists, but you can easily fight it by alternating postures. From an ergonomic point of view, you need to help your body by correctly distributing your weight. When you sit, your weight is on your pelvic area (and this is far from ideal). So the best way to reduce the effects of sciatica is to shift often between standing and lying down.

And Good News

Even if spine problems are common, they are usually not threatening. To keep them under control, you need to exercise by stretching or using inversion tables. And, of course, watch your posture and correct it as often as you can.
Sitting on Ball at a Computer

5 Steps to Improving Posture

Many online guides come up with specific suggestions on how to improve your posture, but few mention the key role body awareness plays in this process. The secret is not actually adopting a certain position or set of positions; it’s to be able to stick to them minute after minute.

In order to do that, you need to follow a few general rules that can be easily integrated in your everyday life. However, if your condition is serious, it’s advisable that you consult your physician before taking any action that could jeopardize your health.

  1. It may take some time to become fully aware of your body and you may even experience discomfort (physical and psychological) when you do it, because you mistake a contextual comfort for a healthy posture. This is the main reasons why the first step to improving your posture is body awareness. So to begin with, try to be aware of your body all the time.
  2. Stand up and assume a correct posture; this should be done in a relaxed manner and it should be followed by short intervals of complete relaxation (that is, assuming your “normal”, unhealthy posture). In general, this includes, but is not limited to: rounded shoulders, weak abdominals, pelvis alignment, forward head, and tilted hips. Make sure you exercise more than one hour every day.
  3. Once you feel you have increased your control over your body, it’s time to bring it in your everyday life. Do not presume this is going to be easy. It requires a great deal of concentration and regular checks every time you remember (the smaller the increment, the better). Take it easy, but be tenacious: this is a difficult process and it may take a few weeks until you begin to feel comfortable in a healthy posture, depending on your initial condition.
  4. Use a mirror and determine the positions you haven’t been able to master up to this point. You may have been too careful with your shoulders and forgot about your hips; or you haven’t probably been able to correctly retract your forward head. Make this examination as thorough as possible and repeat it as many times you think it’s necessary. Integrate the results in your normal healthy posture and repeat step no. 3.
  5. If you’ve reached this step you’re basically very close to a healthy posture. However, body awareness is just as important at this point as it was in the beginning: keep a close eye on the position of your body, because the way back to an unhealthy posture is much shorter than you think.

Leaning Tower of Pisa