• Lisa Barday

Social Ergonomics - Can a Space Make Us Feel Better?

In the previous blog post, I explored the definition of ergonomics and indicated that its essentially comprised of three elements: physical, social, and cognitive. I think most people have even a light grasp of the concept of physical ergonomics, but it seems that social can be the toughest to get your head around as it might be perceived as somewhat abstract.

Social ergonomics, as defined by Ergolink and others, is “everything around us, affecting our behavior at work. The design of the office, the people within it and the culture of the organization all play a part. When designing a workplace, it's important to promote relationships between colleagues, but also give staff a little privacy.” Its really about how a space makes us feel and the social experience we have while we are in it.

Think about the places you worked in your career and the type of desk you occupied, your office environment, its aesthetics, etc. I bet you can recall both unpleasant and pleasant environments where you worked and how those spaces made you feel, although you may not have realized it at the time. I have the good fortune of working in environments that were pleasant for the most part but not all of them were ideal. As a design student, I worked for an office furniture dealership as their resource librarian. Unfortunately for me, the library was in the basement of the building so there were no windows, it was a bit dreary being surrounded by literature and material binders all day and the basement, as most are, was a dumping ground of miscellaneous stuff that no one knew what to do with. However, my time there was short, and I was able to enjoy walks around the neighborhood for lunch and worked with a helpful and kind team.

In contrast to this, later in my career, I worked for an office furniture manufacturer and had the privilege of traveling and working in comfortable and beautiful showrooms, many with epic window views and all with great furnishings, lighting, and creative elements. What a vast contrast this was to the basement, and I really appreciated being able to choose the furniture arrangement where I wanted to work for the day, to suit my needs and enhance my productivity.

When you have access to a workspace that is comfortable, has furnishings that offer you choice and adjustability, great technology, views of the outdoors, convenient access to nutritious snacks and beverages, great conversation with team members, a positive company culture and an overall beautiful aesthetic, you are experiencing the benefits of social ergonomics. In spaces like this, we feel better, are calmer, experience enhanced productivity and communication and perceive that our employer cares about us and our wellbeing. Environments like this enhance retention of great employees and can attract new ones.

If you are looking for a new job and have choices, do you want to work in a space that has old cubicles with outdated colors and lack of natural light or poor technology function or would you rather work somewhere that offers flexibility, comfort, a relaxing and productive environment and the latest in technology. I think this is an easy decision having experienced a wide range of workspaces in my career.

When we think of ergonomics as a three-leg stool, you need all three of the legs to keep the stool stable so its critical to not just focus on the physical aspects of the furnishings and technology but to also put equal planning into social and cognitive ergonomics as well. The outcome of good planning will reward your employees with a workplace where they want to be instead of one that they can’t wait to leave each day. Look for an upcoming blog post that explores what cognitive ergonomics is and how you can plan effectively for it.

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