Proxemics is the proximity or location of furniture as it relates to the function of the space and to the users. It is not difficult to evaluate the placement of office furniture. Simply look over the arrangement and ask: Is this the best arrangement for efficient or productive work habits? L- and U-shaped work surface arrangements are the most efficient, particularly where some work is done at a computer and some by hand.
Everything you use should be conveniently placed for easy access while allowing adequate working space. There should be enough counter space for spreading out catalogs and samples and for making calculations and writing out work orders. Filing cabinets and supply drawers or shelves should be conveniently located so they can be reached without strain or nuisance.
The best way to determine how to rearrange office furnishings for greater efficiency is to sketch the placement of each piece of furniture in your office. Use a scale of one inch equals one foot, for example, to sketch the present arrangement. Then, on paper, resketch the office furnishings and equipment in a variety of arrangements until you are satisfied with the best alternative. Consider adding one or two pieces that can make a big difference: an ergonomic office chair on roller casters and a heavy plastic chair mat; a computer desk, hutch or credenza; better shelving; filing cabinets; and work tables. Of course, upgrading computer hardware and software can be one of the best investments you can make. If you are not on-line, consider that now, too.
When you follow through and actually rearrange the office, choose a time when the entire process can be started and finished. Allot a whole day so you don't end up working in a mess. Never rearrange for a temporary solution when a permanent arrangement can be obtained with just a little more effort or expense. Don't be impatient and begin rearranging a week or month before the new office equipment or furniture arrives. Remember, the goal is to make the office more user friendly for you. That goal can be met only if the job is finished.
Ergonomics is the study of the human proportions as they fit with or relate to our furnishings and our working and living environments. Also known as anthropometrics, this field of research yields better designed chairs and work stations. The next time you walk into your office, evaluate the height, depth, space and comfort of all the furnishings you use.
If you find, for example, that the chair is uncomfortable, plan immediately for a way to replace it. Visit a reputable office furniture store and sit in a lot of chairs. Look for a chair that can be adjusted easily -- not just the seat height, but the back height and seat depth as well. A 360-degree swivel and roller casters are basic requirements for an office chair, but a bit of flexible "think/rock movement" (just a bit of rocking movement to help you think) can make a chair comfortable indeed.
Logistics means calculating, procuring, maintaining and transporting. Logistics can be grouped into tasks and spaces for these tasks where the work can flow most efficiently. In your office, logistics would include the following:
Calculating yardages, prices, etc.; writing work orders; procuring (writing purchase orders, fax or telephone orders) and scheduling. Maintaining the samples and catalogs. Receiving and storing merchandise to be delivered or installed. Transporting (getting the merchandise to the site from the storage area).
Look for ways that logistics can flow smoothly to become more efficient.
Feeling emotionally comfortable is an important part of any office experience. It is often true that a person can be more efficient in a personalized space. Here are some suggestions of ways to personalize a work space:
Bring in photographs of family, pets or vacation spots. Add personalized items to hold pencils or decorate the desk -- items that have some meaning to you. Hang wallpaper or pictures in your personal style. Select a new office chair that fits you perfectly. Receive e-mail in your name.
Good lighting is a final and key factor to an efficient office. Improper lighting causes fatigue from glare or lack of balance, whereas a well-lighted space can make a big difference in productivity. Here are the types of lighting to consider:
Natural day lighting -- gives us a boost physically and emotionally, but needs to be controlled when glare, brightness or heat gain is excessive. Supplemental lighting will be necessary when natural lighting is inadequate. Day lighting is full-spectrum light, which means all the colors of the visible spectrum are inherent in the white or colorless light. It is best for discerning the true nature of colors. Fluorescent lighting -- provides good task lighting. It does not have a fatiguing effect because it is even and shadowless. Fluorescent light is cool and economical, although often it is unbalanced and can give a less favorable or, at least, a cooler undertoned appearance to color schemes than full-spectrum lighting. Because fluorescent lighting is bland but bright, it is not always the best choice for a computer work area where lower intensity lighting is easier on the eyes. Incandescent lighting -- a physically warm light because of the heated glow of the tungsten filament, incandescent light also is flattering to human skin and will make color schemes appear warmer. It casts shadows and can tire the eyes, but can be dimmed or controlled to create the low intensity lighting best for computer work. Most task lighting -- light at the point of need -- will be incandescent, although compact fluorescent lamps (bulbs) are available that adapt to incandescent luminaries (fixtures). Halogen lighting -- overall lighting in large spaces and in lamps where brightness is desired. This type of incandescent lighting burns brighter because halogen gas reacts with the heat of the tungsten filament. Bulbs are more costly.
Halogen torcheres that shine upwards are available at all price points -- as low as $20 -- and can give a room the boost of light it may need. They also are typically fitted with dimmer switches, giving a tremendous variety of lighting level options.
Low-voltage spots -- are ideal for spotlighting art work (when combined with halogen lamps) or giving a small task area an extra boost of light. Low-voltage lamps control and direct the spread of the light beam. General and ambient lighting -- light large areas, but in different ways. General lighting is direct light, coming from overhead ceiling lights, for example. Ambient lighting is indirect, lights shine onto a wall, for example, and the bounce causes the entire room to be lighted. Ambient lighting is generally easier on the eyes. Task lighting -- light focused directly onto a task area, such as a table lamp used for reading, writing or study. They also include vanity lights for grooming.
For peak efficiency, balanced lighting is necessary -- task lighting in specific areas, low intensity lighting for computer work and general and day lighting for overall comfort. Usually, more than one type of lighting is necessary for interiors to be balanced. Using the lighting types noted above as a checklist, look over your business or office space and evaluate how effective the lighting is and how it could be improved.
Eliminating glare means reducing the excessive brightness or harshness from too much light. The best way to eliminate glare is to reduce the amount of light from its source through baffles or window treatments. You also can rearrange furniture or equipment. There are three types of glare:
Direct glare is when the light source hits directly into the eyes, such as a table lamp or sunlight in the line of vision. Veiling glare means a light source hits a surface in such a way that objects beyond it are obscured. Examples include light hitting a computer monitor so that whatever is on the screen becomes invisible. Reflected glare is evident when the light source is reflected almost as if in a mirror such as a lamp's reflection seen on a computer screen.
Office Evaluation The following is a proxemic and ergonomic checklist to use when reviewing your office furnishings.
The Office Chair
Is it the right height and fit? Does it swivel? Does it have rollers? Is it on a plastic mat to roll smoothly and effortlessly?
The Office Desk
Is it the right height? Is it L- or U-shaped? Does it have adequate work surface? Does it have adequate drawers? Are files in a good location to the desk?
Is the key pad in a comfortable location to avoid trauma to wrists, shoulders and neck? Do you have a split or shaped keyboard? Are the keyboard and monitor at the right height? Is the monitor screen easy to view with out glare? Is the printer in a convenient location?
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. What items do I have to reach or hunt for every time I need them?
Filing supplies? File cabinets? Catalogs or sample books? Reference and telephone books?
2. Can physical trauma and fatique be decreased in my office.
Editor's Note: This is the third and final instalment in a series of articles Nielson has prepared on how business owners can increase efficiency and improve operations at the office. Part I dealt with organizing time and ran in the July 1997 issue. Part II on organizing people and production ran in the September 1997 issue.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.