WELL Story: Comfort at the Allsteel Los Angeles Showroom
Global furniture brand Allsteel recently became the first retail showroom to achieve WELL Certification at the Gold level. We caught up with Dr. Lauren Gant, PhD, CPE, WELL AP, Human Factors and Ergonomics Manager at HNI and Courtney Moline, WELL AP, LEED AP ID+C, Sustainability Manager at Allsteel, to explore how they addressed WELL’s Comfort concept for their project and beyond.
How does your team approach the concept of occupant comfort?
LG: Comfort is certainly a core design pillar for Allsteel and informs a lot of what we do, but we know that optimal worker health is a much broader picture. That is where we found WELL’s philosophy aligned with our approach of thinking more holistically about what it takes to create a safe and comfortable space. The structure of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs provides a great example of the path companies can take for ensuring their employees can thrive – first by providing a safe workplace, then empowering employees with the flexibility to use their workstations in the ways they need and finally by optimizing the physical environment to actively promote healthier behaviors.
We are passionate about making products that fit the user, promote productivity and are intuitive to use; utilizing anthropometric data and human factors research to inform how we design our products and how we advise our clients throughout the selection process. For example, the orientation of a handle should indicate to the user how it is used. Consistency of location is another example, such as the industry standard for chair height adjustment to be on the right side of the chair, jokingly referred to as “righty-heighty.”
How do employees and visitors experience these comfort principles in the WELL Certified showroom?
CM: A key element for our employees, whom we call members, was providing flexibility and choice of spaces they need to do their best work, specific to the task they are completing. We have spaces for privacy, focused work and collaboration, for example larger, taller tables for spreading out. It is important to the psychological well-being of our members to have a sense of control over how they spend their time.
Visitors to our showroom are encouraged to test, touch and explore the space so they can compare products and experience what it's like to use the products personally. Our members often provide additional information about ergonomic features, as well as education about the various health impacts of certain products, ranging from the materials declarations to acoustics criteria.
How has the practice of ergonomics evolved from your perspective?
LG: Older design styles of ergonomics involved too many complicated adjustments which can be difficult to understand and use. Complicated seating has become outdated, in favor of more intuitive elements like weight-activated recline tension adjustments and automatic lumbar support. Our data-driven approach to product design has allowed adjustability to become far more user friendly.
Ergonomics training, in addition to wellness education, continues to be prevalent in the workplace. Unfortunately, a lot of people wait until there is an issue to properly address their musculoskeletal concerns and often resort to responding to symptoms with wrist pads, neck pillows, wrist braces, etc. We provide this education to our clients so we can do more to help prevent these issues in the first place. If we can act proactively, the fixes are often simple. We also like to share this knowledge with as many as people as possible by taking a train-the-trainer approach or providing workstation orientation packets.
Are there any trends in the field other projects should be aware of?
LG: One popular topic today is height-adjustable desks and I feel this is often misunderstood, likening this product to a magic bullet or thinking that it has some inherent health benefits. We know that it goes beyond just providing a height-adjustable table, but being thoughtful about how the space is designed to promote use and providing education to users regarding when and how to use the standing option. We also need to understand that standing is likely not a suitable replacement for other full body movements like moving or walking around.
Another trend we see gaining traction is hospitality and residential design influence entering the workplace. When Allsteel thinks about bringing these elements into the office, we want to be cognizant that, at the end of the day, these products need to effectively promote and support work tasks. We think about the geometry of the seat recline, the availability of support surfaces, firmness, etc. to provide an optimal user experience when performing work in a variety of seating types. Companies should take care when selecting this type of lounge-style furniture to think of the optimal ergonomic and comfort experience, in addition to design aesthetic.
Do you have any advice or tips for how occupants can improve their comfort levels in their workplaces?
LG: In ergonomics, we like to say the best posture is your next posture. Occupants should be thinking about varying their postures both at their workstation and around the floorplate. Try walking while talking on the phone or using a fitness tracker to encourage short breaks. For many companies, having a mindful dining space or central amenities in the design can help encourage these short movements and breaks throughout the day, while also promoting community and healthy nutrition.
Additionally, using the 20/20/20 rule for computer-based employees can be helpful. The muscles in your eyes can become fatigued with excessive time spent concentrating on screens so every 20 minutes users should look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
How has this showroom incorporated other comfort-related features, such as acoustics or thermal comfort?
CM: One thing that I love is the variety of space types throughout the showroom that provide both different levels of acoustical privacy and different thermal conditions. Finding the perfect level of thermal comfort for each member can be tricky to achieve, so we have areas that allow our members to take advantage of incoming sunlight and warmth. Understanding that mesh work chairs, which provide additional air flow and can feel cooler, can provide a different experience than an upholstered chair, which can hold heat and provide a warmer experience for the user, can be a subtle way to offer users variety based on their preferences. Within our space, we have several private offices, conference rooms and small focus rooms that provide acoustic privacy when needed. My favorite space in the showroom is our "Tech-free Zone," which is designed to be a quiet, relaxing area when our members need a peaceful moment away. Additionally, furniture can be designed to do more than one thing, like our Reflect chair that provides acoustical privacy and also swivels to provide options for the user to position the chair in a more focused or collaborative way.
To gain a deeper understanding of the Comfort concept and learn design and operations strategies that promote human health in buildings and communities explore the Acoustics and Thermal WELLography parts, available exclusively on our new app, Build WELL.