Office desk ergonomics – a guide

What is desk ergonomics?

Desk ergonomics is the study of the interface between the user and the built environment.

How do space-pod use desk ergonmics in our office design services?

We work with industry partners who have specialist knowledge of human anatomy, biomechanics, physiology and psychology to the process of product design in order to ensure that the ergonomic products that we supply provide the user with optimum comfort, safety and efficiency.

This enables us to integrate ergonomics into our designs and deliver solutions, which maximise comfort, safety and efficiency – minimising risk of injury or discomfort.

Why is desk ergonomics important in office design?

New technologies and work demands have a direct effect on the way we use office space. Employees once completed most of their work behind a desk; today they use space more freely as they go about activities such as short meetings, brainstorming sessions and private conversations. They also spend a lot of their time out of the office.

How can desk ergonomics help you be more productive and more comfortable?

The challenge of modern office design is to foster communication, encourage learning and innovation, stimulate creativity, speed up decision-making and improve work processes.

We use ergonomics to respect people’s different work needs and ways of working, designing the workstation for the individual. This will improve your people’s health and well-being, and ultimately empower your company to perform better due to higher productivity and lower absenteeism.

Ergonomics – The user-centered approach

Today there is more diversity than ever in the workspace. Differences in gender, physique, age, ethnicity, culture and personal taste all place a unique demand on the modern office environment.

We’re all individuals

Research shows that when sitting, people who have the same height and weight, can have totally different builds. As well as being tallest, the Dutch men are the thinnest, with an average weight of 76 kg. French women have the lowest average weight and height!

That’s why we have a user-centered approach to the workspace. Everything we do is designed to empower people in their diverse work styles by meeting their ergonomic requirements and personal preferences. No two people are the same. Differences in sex, height, weight and geographical origin all affect each person’s physical shape and build. What’s more, in Europe we’re getting taller and heavier, and at a faster rate than you might think. Since 2002, the average EU citizen has increased by 1 cm in height and up to 2,7 kg in weight!

The human body – designed to be dynamic, supple and flexible

Human beings are not designed to remain seated for long periods of time. We are equipped to be dynamic, supple and flexible. A prolonged static seated position affects several critical areas of the body… be mobile!

We all have experienced the importance of movement without realizing it. When you sit in a chair, you are constantly changing positions.


  • allows the spinal discs to regenerate themselves and to remain elastic.
  • is important for stress distribution.
  • allows good blood circulation and avoids pressure points.

The power of shared workspace design

When it comes to the workplace, age plays a crucial role. 19% of the youngest employees think an open, shared workspace is a priority for exchanging information with colleagues, and choose companies offering this over those that don’t.

In today’s office you’ll find four different generations working alongside each other, each with their own attitudes, expectations and behaviours:

  • Traditionalists (born before 1945)
  • Boomers (born 1946-65)
  • Generation X (born 1966-77)
  • Millennials (born after 1978)

Most organisations have large numbers of Boomers, a smaller group of Gen Xers, and small numbers of Traditionalists and Millennials. But the mix is shifting: the first Boomers are turning 60; some have already retired. A recent study co-sponsored by Steelcase showed that the youngest members of the workforce, Millennials, are forming strong relationships with the oldest. It’s a complex but symbiotic relationship: rather than performing student and teacher roles, they tend to form strong bonds based on learning from each other.

The human spine

When standing, the spinal column has a natural ‘S’ shape that gives our body its balance. The vertebrae are parallel to each other, meaning the intervertebral discs, acting as cushions, are subject to evenly distributed stress and pressure.

When we sit down, we often lose that ‘S’ form because we hunch forward, sagging the lower back. This applies uneven pressure to the intervertebral discs, causing pain. It is important to maintain the natural ‘S’ shape of the spine using the backrest support and rotating your pelvis forward.

Designing a spacious work environment

Most European employees want a work environment with spaces for team, in-between and formal meetings. In-between spaces are very important: 29% of European employees want more opportunities to share work with their colleagues.

Mobility and applications

New technology tools like Wi-Fi, smart phones, PDAs and laptops allow people to work anywhere and at any time they please. And just as each person has their own particular work style, today’s office has a role to play in managing these needs.

To concentrate or collaborate?

A modern workspace should accommodate both concentration and collaboration – and effortless switching between them – through a diversity of spaces that give people control over their environment. Mobile workers need access to a diversity of workspaces, such as meeting, individual or teaming spaces, and in-between spaces for informal interactions.

Each of us has different physical and psychological needs, and this has as much bearing on health in the workplace as the type of work we do. We have identified three types of workers:

A HSE compliant office space

Sedentary people work alone and have clear goals, such as using the computer, talking on the phone, concentrating, analysing, reading and storing information. They need to be really comfortable, and have their work tools, IT equipment and information within easy reach, as well as being able to personalise their own work place.

85% of European employees often work in an assigned workspace; the three countries where this is most common are Spain (81%), Italy (76%) and France (69%). Sedentary workers spend most of their time in processing tasks. Their work is characterised by:

  • Static and prolonged seated positions
  • Repetitive movements.
  • A dedicated workstation.
  • A dedicated work chair.

Sedentary workers are at risk from repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) like carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful loss of dexterity in the wrist caused by poor posture at the keyboard. They’re also at risk of headaches and loss of concentration caused by visual fatigue and dry eyes. They can suffer from back pain through poor posture, screen position and workstation organisation.

Reduce visual fatigue and dry eyes:

  • Position screen to avoid direct light in the eyes • Keep eyes level with the top of screen.
  • Decline vision line by -10°/-20°.
  • Maintain a distance from the screen of 500 to 700mm.
  • Choose a low contrast screen background.

Highly adjustable task chair

A task chair should fit a high percentage of users, allowing them to select their personal preferences with intuitive controls. It should also encourage and support the small, unconscious postural changes throughout the day that reduce the onset of muscle fatigue and discomfort.

Organise your workstation to save your spine – and time

Bending and twisting in your chair can cause neck, shoulder and back pain. Prevent awkward posture by placing common work tools like telephones, pens and printers close at hand. Good storage solutions also help foster healthy work habits, saving time and optimising your space. Studies show executives waste an average of 30 minutes a day searching for essential papers.

Posture tips for sedentary workers

Here are some posture tips to help sedentary workers avoid eye and muscle strain, taken from European Directive 90 / 270 / EU.


Form an angle > 90°.
Place feet flat on the floor or on a footrest.


Support lumbar and thoracic regions Adjust back or lumbar height.


Keep straight, eyes at top of screen.

Decline vision line by -10°/-20°.

Maintain a distance from your eye to the screen of 500 to 700mm.


Keep forearms parallel to the floor and form a 90° angle.

Keep wrists straight.

Rest palms on a soft surface when not typing.

These people perform a variety of tasks and regularly interact with colleagues or clients. Their needs vary between concentration tasks, informal and spontaneous collaboration and teamwork.

47% of European employees own laptops and 26% of buildings are equipped with WiFi networks; together these greatly increase flexibility in the workplace. Project-driven semi-mobile workers typically juggle demanding tasks and diverse activities throughout the day.

Their work is characterised by:

  • Use of wireless technology like laptops and mobile phones.
  • No dedicated workplace in the office.
  • Mobility and flexibility in work habits.
  • No attention given to posture, due to no dedicated workstation.

Take steps to reduce the risk of neck strain, or cervicodynia. Unfortunately, the repetitive movements associated with these work habits cause semi-nomads to be prone to cervicodynia, a fatigue due to excessive strain on the muscles supporting the head and shoulders.


Use a laptop support and separate keyboard to improve posture.


Maintain a comfortable eye-to-screen distance.


Use a telephone headset to reduce acoustic disturbance and keep your hands free for other tasks.


Perform regular stretching exercises during the day.


Do not overwork the cervical area and maintain a proper posture, even when resting.

These people are heavily network-oriented, and work away from their organisation up to 90% of the time. hey constantly switch between concentration and collaboration tasks, and need to be flexible at all times. Technology is key to their work style.

External mobility is increasingly important in the workplace, with 22% of European employees often working away from their company building, and 46% of British employees often working from home. Network-orientated mobile workers think on their feet more than any other kind of worker. They require easy access to their personal stuff plus easy access to information and communication technology. What’s more, the workplace itself must be of sufficient quality materials, design and technology to ensure they’re willing to drop in at all.

Solutions for mobile, network orientated workers


Supply benches for individual or teamwork. Provide shared desks equipped with work tools such as laptop supports, keyboards and docking stations, so mobile workers can plug in and start working at will.


Caring for the quality of the workplace – in terms of materials, design and technology – helps to compensate for the reduction of dedicated workspaces and ensures that nomadic people are still willing to come to the office at all.


If you’re a mobile worker, choose a bag that doesn’t place a heavy or asymmetric load on your body. Carry peripherals in a separate bag, or consider a wheeled case over shorter distances. Wear a backpack on both shoulders to reduce uneven pressure on the back.

A correct ergonomic approach to layout, lighting, acoustics and thermal comfort is as vital to your workplace as technology, seating, desking, storage and space division. They can all help your people be more comfortable at work.


You can structure an office using desks, colour, daylight and even sound to create different zones, an activity-orientated ambience and help with navigation. Structure your space to ensure that people have easy access to their things, and that every desk is close enough to a window to get daylight. You can also place desks to help shape traffic circulation, directing people-flows through central areas whilst keeping private spaces free from disturbances. Colour helps create atmosphere. If you want to foster concentration, neutral shades such as pastels and natural tones are best. To relax and reduce stress, cool and soft colours are recommended, like blues and greens. To stimulate creativity, use touches of strong colour in corridors or on chairs.


Today’s work practices make the office a much nosier place, and research shows that this can cause serious loss of productivity, as well as contributing to absenteeism, illness and staff turnover. Acoustic design is the key to balancing privacy and collaboration in an open office. You can achieve non- intrusive privacy by judicious use of ceiling systems, sound masking systems, carpeted floors and systems furniture. Just remember the ABC of speech privacy: Absorb, Block and Cover.


85% of the information we receive from our environment is visual, and it goes without saying that good lighting is crucial for an effective work environment. But did you realise that correct lighting also improves people’s physical and mental comfort? In a recent Steelcase Workplace Index study, 86% of workers reported that their energy levels and mood were improved in a well-lit environment. Daylight is an extremely important component of good lighting: the best lighting is a mix of artificial and natural light.


To optimise thermal comfort, you’ll need to observe an ideal temperature of 21°C, with an acceptable range of 2-3°C, warmer being better than colder – but not more than 24°C. Also ensure humidity is a minimum of 30% during the winter and 40% – 60% during summer, and air speed is less than 0.2 metres per second.

Having purchased or leased your premises, why not maximise your internal volume by installing a mezzanine floor?

‘Out of hours office churn’ means moving, re-fitting or relocating occupied offices at a time when they’re not being used.

Collaborative working can speed up productivity and the generation of new ideas.

The right use of space can make as much impact on your business as the right choice of people.

Space-pod accepts our responsibility to work safely, cleanly and in a way which is caring to our staff, our customers, our community and the environment.

We have introduced a number of initiatives designed to continuously improve our quality, health & safety and environmental performance, to ensure that our staff are safe and give our customers confidence and peace-of-mind that we will act responsibly at all times. READ MORE >

Posted in Company News

Kevin Parker

For over 30 years, Kevin Parker, Founder of space-pod, has been a champion of productive and inspiring workplaces. As designer and industry leader, he starts by getting to know his clients, their business, vision and culture to produce working environments that support agile working and employee wellbeing. Kevin is passionate about the detail and delivering workspaces that are resilient to change, harness growth and, above all, where people collaborate, focus, rejuvenate and thrive. Specialties: Creative Interior Design, Specialist in improving space utilisation and productivity, Champion for implementing new ways of working and collaboration spaces, Change Management, Project Management, Acoustic Interiors Specialist