Interior design and layout: Interior architects Gullstén & Inkinen Ltd

Sit, stand and walk!

A project leader at Unilever Finland’s new offices was greeted with spontaneous applause when she told everyone they would get desks that could be raised and lowered. And the ergonomists agree: variable work positions really are best!

Unilever Helsinki is housed in a large and attractive industrial building from the 1930s that used to accommodate both a car workshop and Volvo’s main office in Finland.After a complete renovation of the premises, van loads of furniture were moved to the 3300 square meters of airy office space over a week-end in January. Four months later, the new office was inaugurated with pomp, ceremony and a party for both customers and the 140 employees.

Two things are particularly striking apart from the attractive architecture and the light flooding in through the windows. The first is the text that adorns the walls of both the main and staff entrances - ”Feel good, look good and get more out of life” – the company’s mission in a nutshell. The second is the large number of desks that can be raised and lowered in the light and airy office landscape. In view of their benefits, might these desks also contribute to this mission by helping to increase the well-being of their users? Perhaps not automatically, but being able to change one’s work position during the day definitely helps to improve both ergonomics and the work environment consequently leading to a feeling of increased well-being. That’s certainly the view of Anita Storgård at Unilever, project leader for the move and responsible for the corporate brand in Scandinavia.

“The move gave us the opportunity to make an extra investment in our employees when we chose our new furniture. I had worked on a desk that can be raised and lowered for a long time and was really pleased with it, so I wanted to give everyone this option. I was greeted with spontaneous applause when I told the employees the news!”

In competition with products from other suppliers, these Kinnarps desks were seen as the most suitable thanks to a mix of good product features, attractive price, high quality and good service.

“More and more people are becoming aware of these versatile desks as the ergonomics aspect becomes increasingly important for customers”, observes Henrik Slotte, CEO of Kinnarps Finland. This view is shared by a specialist in the field, ergonomist Tone Petrelius. She works at the Swedish occupational organisation TCO Development, which aims to promote better office workplaces, not least by assessing the properties of various products on the basis of various aspects such as ergonomics, ecology and materials. Apart from furniture, they also assess monitors, computers, keyboards, headsets, printers and mobile phones.

Tone, who is a physiotherapist and ergonomist with many years experience in corporate healthcare, has witnessed the entire computerisation process that has made a huge impact on our way of working. “As regards general developments, corporate managements have increasingly realised that the well-being of their employees affects their financial results. More and more parts of the workplace have become ergonomically optimised from the user’s perspective. Key aspects of this process are the adjustment options of an office chair to allow varied ways of sitting, minimised electromagnetic radiation from the computer, desk motors and cable management, and ensuring that the desk contains a minimum of substances that are harmful to the health and the environment.

“If we look specifically at the desirable ergonomic properties of a desk, we at TCO Development feel that it should be simply raised and lowered by electric drives and that its dimensions, safety, stability and firmness should comply with European standards.The height of the work surface should be 650–1250 millimetres and the desk should be able to lift at least 80 kilograms. Apart from that, the supplier should always include fittings for mounting the cables and computers as well as the user information.

Many surveys of how an optimal workplace should be designed have shown that variable work positions mean a lot. Sitting and standing, taking an occasional break and moving about benefits the circulation, increases the supply of oxygen and reduces tiredness.AndTone Petrelius adds a number of helpful tips.

“Instead of cluttering up your desk with stressinducing mountains of files and paper, they can be placed a little to one side in a suitable storage unit, and the same applies to the printer, giving you the opportunity to change over more often between sitting, walking and standing. It’s also important for the size and shape of the desk surface to be adapted to specific needs and tasks. A clear and transparent work surface promotes a feeling of creativity. Store more things on your computer and print out less to maximize your options while at the same time reducing the environmental impact. I would like to see more companies taking both time and advice in developing individually adapted solutions, because we are all different as regards both our bodies and our needs. But desks that can be raised and lowered as well as adjustable office chairs for everyone are certainly a really good start.

A statement with which Anita Storgård certainly agrees.

“I could never go back to my old furniture now that I am used to both sitting and standing. My body would protest!”