Sector Analysis: Ergonomics



In the hot seat


by Felicity Francis


As ways of working become more mobile, the products and accessories we use in the office have started to evolve, bringing a wealth of opportunity


How many desks does your office contain? No longer is it standard to conform to the traditional practice of one man, one desk. More and more offices are taking advantage of the fact that employees often work from home or travel for business and ask staff to share desks. In television news production rooms, for example, three employees on three different news shifts will share the same desk throughout a 24-hour period.


This trend is commonly known as hot desking, and has thrown up both challenges and opportunities for those manufacturing and reselling ergonomic products. We cannot assume that the same ergonomic products will be required by offices today as a few years ago.


"Certainly, concepts such as hot desking require more flexibility to get the right fit for each user, as spaces become less personalised and more shared," says Kris Dixon, Director of Business Development at MooreCo.


However, while the use of offices is perhaps pushing fewer people to require permanent ergonomic products, the increased understanding of repetitive stain injuries (RSI) and bad posture has, in contrast, continued to buoy sales of many ergonomic products.


"Ergonomics have definitely become more popular in furniture," continues Dixon, "as employers understand that comfort and avoiding medical discomfort is important for productivity in the workplace. Back pain makes for a long day at the office."


Kylia Garver, Director of Marketing at Brown Medical Industries which owns IMAK Products, has noticed a similar trend: "As businesses continue to put an emphasis on preventative measures for avoidable conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis, they experience lifts in employee satisfaction as well as significant cost savings.


"While more ergonomic products are available now than 20 years ago, the prevalence of RSI continues to rise," Garver continues. "The most recent figures from the [UK’s] Health and Safety Executive show that both the number of new cases and the overall number of people affected have risen.


"There’s a tremendous opportunity for the office products industry to continue to offer ergonomic products that evolve with changes in the work environment."


Taking advantage


So add together the decrease in permanent, personal work stations and the increase in awareness of RSI and it makes for an interesting market. What success boils down to is understanding users’ new ways of interacting with their work stations.


Louise Shipley, Senior European Marketing Manager for Office Productivity at Fellowes, describes the work that Fellowes carries out in order to follow these trends. "As well as focus groups and consumer feedback, we


have recently commissioned an independent pan-European research project designed to give new insights into the way people work, the products they use and crucially the level of understanding across Europe relating to ergonomics and comfort," she says. "This research is part of a new pan-European campaign that we will be launching in March."


By investigating the concept of hot desking, MooreCo has also identified a number of consumer needs. Dixon says: "The trend for sit/stand desking is one specific result of shared workspaces that accommodate a variety of sizes, shapes and work habits. Monitor mounts are a simple way to improve posture and neck position. Seating with multiple points of adjustability, along with ease of adjustability, also fit into hot desking with shared seating."


As well as the people themselves moving from desk to desk, technology is now far more portable. This has called for a change in products such as computer mounts which, as mentioned by Dixon, can now be designed to fit any laptop. Fellowes is one company taking advantage of this trend.


"Ergonomic and functional support for laptops and netbooks is an area which is growing rapidly because a lot of the traditional products or existing products don’t suit the slimmer, smaller platforms available now," says Shipley. "We have launched a new range of laptop and netbook supports that offer a range of different solutions for users, including supports with cooling pads to improve laptop performance and user comfort."


Garver agrees. "Popular products like the iPad continue to create a market for a whole basket of accessories, and that is something we’re exploring," she says. "Our most recent product launch was our Le Petit Cushion, which is a smaller, more colourful version of our original wrist cushion that’s great for laptop users."


So the birth of new technologies has thrown light upon a whole range of new ergonomic products, which the savvy OP manufacturer is embracing. But when we look at a more traditional product, we see the same developments in ergonomics.


"The decision to purchase a pen is no longer based on price alone," says Marion Korbel, International Marketing and PR at STABILO. "We have been continuously building up the ergonomic category for years now and all our important European markets are focusing on ergonomic products."


One of STABILO’s priorities for ergonomic writing instruments is the education and writing instruction market. There has been a growing interest in how different pens affect children’s writing, as STABILO is very aware.


"Our experts give strong warnings that uneasy, uncomfortable writing might cause severe problems such as a tense writing posture or cramped hands," says Korbel. "Children might lose their enthusiasm for writing and their handwriting may become inaccurate and illegible. Recent research has proven that handwriting poses a challenge for almost 80% of pupils across Europe."


STABILO has brought out a number of ergonomic pens designed for this market, as even such a traditional product as a pen has to develop with changing habits.


Looking ahead


Kris Dixon is confident about future trends in ergonomic products. "With the tough economies and costs involved with traditional office spaces versus the virtual office and advancements in mobility in technology, the opportunities will continue to grow," she says.


"The office needs to be designed with hot desking in mind, with appropriate furniture to allow for fast switching between users, applications and equipment."


Fellowes’ Louis Shipley also foresees a number of opportunities arising out of hot desking. She says: "Portable products will continue to be a developing area, with opportunities to introduce ergonomic supports which not only match today’s (and tomorrow’s) technology, but also allow flexibility and mobility. On a similar line, ergonomic support for new technology and new ways of working also present a good opportunity for the market."


It seems that as the pace of the business world continues to increase, office workers just can’t keep still, taking their technology with them. And as Kylia Garver says, we are living in a world where we expect the transition to be smooth and simple.


"Employees must be able to step into a work space and quickly make some minor tweaks that yield noticeable results in their comfort, safety and productivity, all without losing much time or forcing the company to incur significant cost." We don’t ask for much, do we?