In this article I want to examine what it means to work in a healthy way, I am considering computer, desk or office work rather than manual or physical jobs. To me this means optimising performance while not sacrificing physical and mental wellbeing. I would like to describe my journey into this vital of subjects. In doing so I will also introduce Ellie Burt, my go to and a leading light in the field. I am also going to share our thoughts and ideas for furniture to support a more humane way of doing things.
How did we get here?
Humanity didn't evolve to spend so much time on sofas or in an office. For much of history we were all hunter gatherers, living off the land in small communities. Our bodies are more suited to standing, walking, squatting and running than they are to sitting on an office chair, reclining on a soft mattress or bowing over a phone.
“Botswana Bushman Group” Image by Herbert Bieser
For most of my career, I spent long days sat in front of a computer, designing and taking care of associated admin. I am lucky that product development would often have me out at customers either clambering over a big machine or sometimes chasing one down a street. I found these non-desk days, although physically tiring at the time, left me feeling much more vital generally. Over time my body responded to sitting at my desk in increasingly dysfunctional way. Despite adjusting my chair and work station to the best ergonomic advice, old injuries flared up like clockwork, I had a whip lash in my early twenties and every Autumn the right side of my back and neck would painfully seize up… …unless I kept it moving. I found Yoga and general fitness definitely kept my issues at bay but didn’t really resolve them.
After a career break caring for my dad in between freelancing, I have been back at the computer almost exclusively for the last nine months. Designing InSpira is fun but intense and heavily CAD based work for me. I have been in the zone, madly clicking and twizzling my work on screen to get the design ready for market. Over this time, I have not noticed any pain or problems at all, and I do not feel tired every evening after the workday like I used to. I put this down a major change in my work habit and focus on my environment. One coffee break early on in the project, Jani and I came up with a great design for a “sit/stand/lie/lean/whatever you want” desk (we really need a snappier name 😊) and Jani built a prototype in the next couple of days. It worked so well I have been working off it ever since. The concept is so simple, a surface mounted on a pole, that can be set from floor to ceiling and spin around completely. I shuffle and lean and twist and move, and find it funny that I only pull a stool under my bum when I really need to concentrate, it’s as if I can’t have the blood holding my legs up when I need it in my brain ha ha! Has anyone else noticed that?.... …….Oh just me eh?! I find it works so well because I can spin it to make the best of the light, so don’t get tired eyes, I tend to have it set so my wrists rest in a neutral position for my standing height, but perhaps crucially, it’s just in the middle of the mezzanine in our work shop. So I, and it, move around a LOT.
Brian at the prototype "Darwin Desk"
I am a big believer in the hypothesis that we were not designed, or did not evolve to sit down at a desk and push a mouse about, slowly craning our necks closer to the screen as the day and life moves on. Someone who really lives this anthropological outlook is Ellie Burt, I found her Instagram through my old climbing club. I was intrigued by her message and blown away by a post about knocked knees of all things, I thought I was born with them, so that was that, whereas Ellie believed otherwise. Ellie is a strong proponent of the Egoscue method and her postural alignment therapy, her Instagram is full of helpful insights and thoughtful posts. Ellie is so giving with her time and knowledge. With a take no prisoners attitude, she offers practical advice, usually exercises, for a range of issues from her own and her professional experience, while also pointing to the work of others in her field.
The main take away for me is that I must take responsibility for my physical health, I cannot blame my work. For me this means do not stand or sit in one position long, keep moving, changing position and my weight bearing. Much like our primitive ancestors or modern tribal people who squat or sit on hard surfaces, lie on the ground or rest on rocks or other natural features, but never for long periods. Ellie’s remit covers so much more than working, she has helped her clients overcome postural issues, aches and pains and improved their performance.
Ellie Burt in downward dog over sitting cat
Jani and I are big believers in staying healthy while you work. We all have to do something to earn a living, but it shouldn’t be the cause of injury or worse. Here at InSpira we want to encourage this as much as possible. We want you to see your work, studies or hobbies through fresh or possibly ancient eyes. So far we have created the desk I mentioned earlier, the version in our show room is available to try for yourself, it can be placed in any orientation and this model has an extendable surface too, so the desk top grows to match your activity. Alongside this is the integral day bed, this piece of furniture encourages you to be in as many positions as you can dream of, lying on your front, sitting upright with no back rest, sitting on the floor up against it. It seamlessly blends into the beautifully curved wall of InSpira so you can find a position as comfortable or uncomfortable as you see fit.
Desk and Daybed in InSpira
What do you reckon?
We would really love to hear what you think about this topic, what you do to counteract a day at the desk, but we’d also really love to know how we could help with furniture for other tasks. Please get in touch and let us know