#wtrends liveblog3: blood, sweat and backache

If its #wtrends, it has to be Mark Catchlove from Herman Miller with an attempt at providing science behind making employees happy. What – you’re not happy? Oh, come on. It’s the first exposition today of the balanced office – between passion and profit, and being alone or in the company of others.

Mark says he has seen a lot of data and asks ‘so what?” which takes us back to the infrared bleepers under the desks.

HM have been working with Paul Zak (“Zakula”), who has been measuring oxytocin which is a mammalian neurohypophysial hormone produced by the hypothalamus and stored and secreted by the posterior pituitary gland. It acts primarily as a neuromodulator in the brain. Right. They are trying to get to the nub of how we feel about space, not just how we claim to think about it. They wired people up, set them to work on individual and group tasks in a plaza, cove and touchdown space, swabbed sweat and drew blood. So nothing unusual there, very Taylorist. Out of the lab came some counter-intuitive results, and a lot more questions than answers.

Mark had an important message – don’t design an office to win an award.Perhaps there should be awards for spaces that actually work well and support people in their work, rather than how it looks. But that wouldn’t make for much of a magazine splash or a chardonnay-fuelled night at the Grosvenor House. The conclusion – space matters. But we trust ourselves to know that, don’t we?

Tony Dickens from Hassell came all the way from Melbourne to speak today. The case study was Medibank so one could have been forgiven for expecting more swabs and syringes. By most standards at 26,000m2 it’s a huge project. As you would hope, the organisation sought a “healthy” workplace as an overriding objective. The space looks beautiful so not sure what Mark would make of it – but we have greenery, we have light, we have a semblance of calm (possibly because the pictures don’t have any people in them other than the photographer’s mates), and a lot of stairs. But with Veldhoen preparing the brief its no surprise to find 22 space types and layers of complexity that add – well, layers of complexity.

All of the people in the video loved it. That always happens, doesn’t it?

The feedback against the health objective is commendable though, which is encouraging. It would have been great to have seen more reference to this – perhaps as the story unfolds.

Tim Hanwell from Officeworks is an osteopath, whose patients have back, neck and musculosketal problems, many resulting from or exacerbated by sedentary office work. Did he mention his company was Officeworks? Tim uses the marginal gains approach to reducing absenteeism through his top 10 osteo issues (and fixes) – hip flexors and hamstrings (stand up, move around, stretch), thoracic spine stiffness (same again), carpel tunnel syndrome (keyboard and mouse aids), eye strain, so today’s slides wont have helped most (give your eyes a break), disc bulge leading to sciatica (chair with lumbar support, stand up, maintain good core strength), RSI (right mouse size, and mini keyboard), tension headaches – from physical stuff and stress (right chair posture, less noise, keep hydrated), lower back pain (lumbar support, move around, core strength), neck pain (screen position, posture) and[drum roll] No 1 – levator scapulae pain (you saw that coming, didn’t you? – support arms on desk). Good practical stuff, at last. If you remember, its what we were looking for today.

Just in time for me to talk the Elemental Workplace.

My total, unqualified respect for the speakers – and my thanks. Its been fun.


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