In the 1950’s and 60’s, employee health was seldom factored into office design.
Clerical staff in the central typing pool worked under flickering fluorescent
lights and did not enjoy either privacy or access to windows and views. In the
coveted corner office, a long day was likely to be fueled by coffee, cigarettes
and the infamous 3-martini lunch—and there was no company gym, volleyball
court or cocoon-like break room to relieve stress. At the same time, people at
work frequently left their desk and walked across the office to deliver a memo,
retrieve a file or set up a meeting. Incidental exercise—walking—was routine.
And office workers rarely worked more than 10 hours a day. By the end of the
20th century, that was no longer the case.
An awareness of health in the workplace emerged in the 1980’s with a focus on
air quality. With the advent of LEED in 1998 and GREENGUARD certification
in 2001, “green” building practices began to be widely adopted, contributing
challenges to health as workers spent long hours seated at computers and
began to experience aches, pains and disorders of the musculoskeletal system.
Computer-intensive work began to drive the design of highly adjustable work
chairs, height adjustable tables and other tools designed to alleviate workers’
discomfort, fatigue or injury. Ergonomics became a key tenet of design.
Today, the risks associated with sedentary work are widely acknowledged and
fortunately, mobile technology has opened the door to a workplace in which
people are free to work in a variety of settings—choosing to sit, stand or even
recline. One can move and shift one’s posture at frequent intervals to relieve the
intensity of any single position and moderate its effects. In this way, the body
maintains comfort and its potential for good health. “Active design” strategies are
now an essential feature of the modern, sustainable workplace.
Released from spending all day at our desk, we are able to work in a more
flexible, open-ended way and the workplace itself has become more open,
eliminating the barriers to movement and interaction. At Cisco, for example, a
“Connected Workplace” plan includes open spaces called quads, plazas where
employees can meet informally, a commons for breaks, and enclosed offices