Posture Perfect: even the ‘hot seat’ is comfy

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on January 15, 2018

The Brody WorkLounge fuses ergonomics with stunning aesthetics

India Inc’s new seating plan seeks to foster a spirit of collaboration, engagement and well-being

Why are workplaces across India investing in chairs and desks that cost thousands of dollars? From recliners to sofas to pouffes to elevated desks and trapezoid-shaped team workstations, India Inc appears to be on a mission to change its seating plan.

Three trends are driving this change, reasons Praveen Rawal, Managing Director, India, Singapore and SEA, of the $3-billion furniture powerhouse Steelcase. These are an increasing concern about employee well-being, an endeavour to heighten collaboration, and the objective of increasing engagement. As social, spatial, informational contexts undergo a change, the new-look workplace is a reflection of this change. And it’s not just tech mavens like Google and Facebook that want to prevent hunched backs, stiff necks and painful shoulders of coders working long hours on computers; even traditional firms such as Jindal Steel, Asian Paints and Lupin are getting their workers to cosy up.

At the Steelcase WorkLife Centre in Gurugram, Rawal doesn’t let you get too comfortable in the Brody WorkLounge ; instead, he hustles you around to demonstrate how chairs and desks are no longer mundane and have taken on a personality of their own.

Designed for India

Perhaps that’s why Steelcase has introduced a chair called Personality, developed and designed, he says, especially for India. The chair has a hook at the back where the office-goer can hang a coat or a bag, or keep scarves. “In many offices, the space given by employers is limited,” says Rawal, explaining the rationale behind the design.

Or take the Navi TeamIsland desking solution, again designed for India. “It humanises density,” explains Rawal, pointing out the little touches that make this desk a personal island for an employee, be it the lamp on the desk, the storage space built into the desk, the array of plug points at arm’s length. At the same time, it fosters collaboration with team-mates: depending on the team size, the station can be designed for 2, 4, 6, or 8 in shapes ranging from square to rectangle to trapezoid.

Then there is the Think chair, which Rawal terms ‘a chair with a brain’ as it adjusts its back rest intuitively as you change your posture. There’s even a chair for those with plus-size posteriors! And a swivel chair, called i2i, designed so that when somebody pops over for a chat or you move to talk to the person next to you, there’s always eye contact.

Elevated desks, the new rage in offices, also foster eye contact and do not let anyone talk down to you, says Rawal. The elevated desk also increases the space you own as it has a footboard to store things in. “The floor is everybody else’s, but the desk is your own,” he says with a chuckle.

According to Rawal, “Employees are empowered when they can choose their posture, their place and their presence at the office.” With its Gesture chair, Steelcase claims to accommodate nine work postures that it says are commonly seen today, thanks to proliferation of new devices. In a multi-device work environment, as people switch from one device to another, there are postural shifts. “People hunch closer to their bodies when typing on their phones,” he explains. While using a laptop or a desktop, the postures are different. The Gesture chair adapts itself to all these postures.

The hottest seats

Steelcase isn’t the only one researching postures and stances. Herman Miller’s Sayl chair, which marries ergononomics with aesthetics, is one of the hottest seats in Silicon Valley offices, where people are typically plonked long hours in chairs. There’s also the loftier-priced Embody chair for offices with more generous budgets. And the iconic Aeron task chair, a status symbol of sorts during the dotcom boom, has been redesigned for today’s needs.

Most organisations hand-pick the cushiest seat for those in the hot seat. The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottomon, fashioned after the English club chair, is a favourite of the corner office.

But Rawal says that, by and large, Indian offices are very democratic in the matter of seating arrangements. Everybody at Accenture, for instance, sits on the same type of chair, he notes. And at Google, he adds, the best chairs are reserved for employees: meetings and conference areas, where you don’t want people to be seated long, don’t attract that big an investment.

For those choosing to sit out this trend, the chair story is still evolving. Coming up are chairs with tech interfaces, apps fitted into them that remind you to get up and walk at regular intervals. This year, a Dutch designer has unveiled a chair called Moov, which converts kinetic energy into electricity and lets smartphones be charged. Of course you have to wiggle around the chair a fair bit to power it. The tech world was also wowed this year by Nissan’s self-parking chairs. Clap your hands, and the chairs strewn around the office shoot forth and park themselves neatly at their respective desks. Hang on to your seats to hear more!

Published on November 23, 2016

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