As Office Culture Changes, How Can We Use Workplace Technology for Both Efficiency and Wellbeing?

A recent panel hosted by Metropolis and Humanscale tackled the question of the technology’s increasingly more vital role in the workplace.

On May 12, Metropolis publisher and editor and chief Susan S. Szenasy moderated a discussion on how technology-centric design trends are changing the workplace and the ways in which the movement is about to encourage smarter health habits.

Photos courtesy Mark Iantosca

The culture of the office is changing. This shift, geared towards introducing more mobility in the office, is a product of significant new research revealing how critically sedentary behaviors impact many work outcomes, from productivity and absenteeism to increased healthcare costs for employers.

Humanscale’s “Active Everywhere” panel, held on May 12 at the manufacturer’s Manhattan showroom, addressed some of these issues, with panelists Tom Krizmanic, Bethany Barone Gibbs, and Jake Sigal seeking to kick start this important conversation. The architect, researcher, and tech entrepreneur, respectively, offered several different perspectives on the topic, while moderator Susan S. Szenasy challenged them to contemplate on “how we use technology for our wellbeing, how we create ergonomically correct workspaces and understand what comes next.”

The conversation highlighted some specific products that are coming out of the active workspace by integrating technology and furniture. Jake Sigal, the CEO of the Detroit-based start-up Tome, introduced OfficeIQ, a standing desk that tracks activity and provides intelligent feedback to its users, which the company is developing in partnership with Humanscale.

Left to right: Tom Krizmanic, principal of STUDIOS Architecture; Bethany Barone Gibbs, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Health and Physical Activity, University of Pittsburgh; Susan S. Szenasy; and Jake Sigal, founder of the Detroit-based tech start-up Tome Software.

“We’re at the very beginning of the active workspace, [the conversation] is not just about the workstation, it is about people and how people want to be more active” said Sigal.

The panel touched on all of the key agents in this process and concluded that, in order to bring about change in the office, a combination of research, policy, technology, as well as individual decision-making, is crucial.

“We need to change the environment so that physical activity is engineered back into our lives, but that has to happen organically from a place where people want that to change” said Bethany Barone Gibbs, a professor at University of Pittsburgh and expert in sedentary behavior and physical activity.

The panel concluded that by developing technology and designing products that, rather than being prescriptive, give people tools to make healthier decisions, the individual can be put back in control of their health and the quality of life can be greatly improved.

In discussing what the role of the designer is in achieving this, architect Tom Krizmanic offered important concluding thoughts, “We need to be designing products and spaces that are primarily focused on the human experience; we need to provide opportunities for the user.”

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