"The expert talk on the topic of ‘More than just a seat’, held on 6 June 2013 at the Vienna Bene Office and Showroom Neutorgasse 4-8, was received with great interest. International representatives from design, science, consulting and business discussed the shift in work methods, the culture and furniture of sitting, and the absurdity of operating instructions for office chairs.
"There is now a trend to become more mobile at and during work", is how the evening’s moderator, Rosa Lyon, ORF reporter and former Ö1 journalist, introduced the topic of the culture of sitting. But do we change places at the office all that often? Is there a transformation in the culture of sitting?
Without a doubt, says Sebastian Hackenschmidt, art historian and custodian for furniture and woodwork at the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts. In past centuries, the attitudes towards sitting as well as the furniture itself have changed enormously, as he discussed in his keynote presentation. Goethe, for example, was against all types of comfort, because he believed that comfortable furniture makes one passive and would therefore be counterproductive for work. Today, on the other hand, comfortable office chairs have become very important. Two kinds of comfort have developed over time: mechanism (key words: adjustable sitting machines) + upholstery (plush seat cushions, innovative advances in foam).
These factors still apply today, but how much time should you really spend sitting at the office? This depends on one’s individual disposition, the occupational physician Sigrid Klufa explains. Everyone should certainly be as physically active as possible - and this should already be planned into the office design. If the printer is not directly at the desk, the employee is forced to get up. Binders and even the telephone could deliberately be placed a little further away. A good mix would be spending 50 per cent of the time sitting and 50 per cent engaging in physical activity.
This coincides with the fact that productivity nowadays depends greatly on interaction. While the two traditional poles of "tasks" and "meetings" have existed for about one hundred years, with the corresponding seating furniture, a new landscape has recently emerged, according to Tom Lloyd, designer at the London design studio PearsonLloyd. Informal and spontaneous collaborations are becoming increasingly important - employees more frequently switch places and rooms. Since about 50% of the desks or chairs are usually empty during "regular hours" due to increased mobility, the spaces are shared more often. Both situations require office chairs that adapt to different requirements - either through automatic weight regulations or intuitive operability - like the new models RIYA and BAY. The discussion partners agree that seating furniture no longer has to boast complicated mechanisms – instead, it is becoming more human again, aesthetically as well as in terms of easy and quick adjustment options. Almost no one is reading operating instructions for their office chairs. Anything that cannot be adjusted intuitively is ignored. Not only if you sit somewhere else for a short time, but also at your regular work space.
One factor is the furniture, another the company culture, adds Franz Kühmayer who specialises in work environments. Only when both are combined can one sit comfortably. It is therefore important to optimise the conditions for knowledge workers in both respects. He is convinced that it is worth investing in the infrastructure. This is because the office is developing into a place that will be used for two main reasons in the future: for collaboration and for the infrastructure that adapts to the work methods and makes employees more productive.