A new world of working

20 Nov 2017

As Green Star elevates the ergonomist’s role on interior fitout projects, a whole new world of working is beginning to emerge, says Adjunct Professor at the Centre for Ergonomics & Human Factors at La Trobe University, David Caple.

“Historically, ergonomics was only considered once the design of the working environment was in place, and only after workplace injuries had occurred,” David says.

“But Green Star is encouraging ergonomics to be considered at the design stage and as part of a more holistic approach to work environment design and team structures,” he says.

One point is rewarded in the Green Star – Interiors when project teams engage a qualified ergonomist.

This is enabling the built environment to capture the “true benefit of ergonomics”, Caple says, “which is about human wellbeing and system efficiency”.

Ergonomics – or the study of people's efficiency in their working environment – is a complex field that brings together the principles of engineering, psychology and medicine to explore and influence workplace wellbeing.

Caple, who has run his own consultancy since the 1980s, has been involved with around 15 projects over the last five years where Green Star has been a “major driver” for ergonomics, wellness and agile working.

Among these are Westpac’s 6 Star Green Star tenancy at Barangaroo’s International Towers Two, which pushed the boundaries of ‘wellness’ in the workplace.

The office features two cafés, a wellness centre for massages and spa treatments, five-star end-of-trip facilities, a kitchen where regular cooking lessons take place, as well as a barbecue area and outdoor terrace. There’s also a library, a medical centre, a prayer room, a 200-seat auditorium and a concierge service.

Caple says Westpac wanted to introduce “a whole new way of working” to its people. And ergonomics played an important role in revolutionising the office.

Westpac’s “agile” working environment means there are no fixed desks. Instead, people work in “neighbourhoods” where technology plays a central role, but doesn’t determine how they work.

“It’s about encouraging people to use the activity, rather than the technology, as the determinant of where they sit, work or congregate,” Caple explains.

“Organisations, particularly large ones, are realising they need to be more agile and quick to market. This is changing the office environment.”

The new wave of workplace isn’t restricted to corporate offices either.

“In bigger cities, people are now questioning whether they should sit in peak hour traffic twice a day, and whether that is good for their health. Is work something they can do at home or in a local café? It’s becoming about delivering outputs. Where and how you do your work is more flexible than ever before.”

We’re on the beginning of a long journey, Caple says. And we need more data to help us chart a course to workplace wellness.

“We haven’t got enough good data yet,” he says.

The evidence collected so far suggests that the new agile working environment is good for the physical health of staff, “because they are walking more, standing more, and there is more dynamic work taking place”.

“This is not only good for muscular and skeletal health, but for cardio and digestive health too,” he adds.

Another area for improvement is in change management – an essential but sometimes overlooked element of workplace design. “You can’t just tell your employees to come in on Monday to a new whiz bang work environment.”

Clever companies are managing the transition by setting up a floor in the new format, either in their new or existing building, so people “can live in it and get a feel for what the company is trying to achieve.”

“If it’s not done properly, people generally want to revert to their own desk,” he says.

Caple, who works across a range of industries, from manufacturing and mining to automotive and retail, and says it’s an “exciting time” to be an ergonomics specialist.

“Green Star has legitimised ergonomics at the design stage. We get to know an organisation much earlier – and I think this holistic understanding will influence the future of work.”