By ANDREW WAREING
Rod Schutt has a simple motto for his business.
“Our motto is we design furniture to people instead of have people design to furniture,” says Schutt, the owner of Keaney Interiors. “We’ll consult with the person on the ergonomics and what is the correct way they should be working in their office...people work at their desks five or six hours a day. There are things that can make it more comfortable. We try and design it around those things that make it a cleaner and more efficient office setting.”
Gary Dumanski, owner of Dumanski Office Interiors in Sault Ste. Marie, says offices have evolved considerably since he got into the business.
“For years, it was the 60-by-30 double-pedestal desk,” he says. “With the computer now a staple in the office, (the evolution in office furniture) has been like going from walking to the jet engine, it has changed that much.”
Schutt says his company is frequently faced with a variety of situations that require careful planning, such as a long and narrow space or, more frequently, awkwardly located support columns that interrupt otherwise easily furnished interiors. There are also regulatory concerns under Workplace Health and Safety Act that require people have sufficient room to enter and exit an area safely.
“Every office environment we go into is quite unique because there are all kinds of issues we have to deal with,” he says. “People are trying to maximize space. By having unique designs or shapes, or being able to hang things off modular walls or the edge of the work surface on an accessory bar, in most cases you’re able to give the people what they’re looking for - freeing up space or being able to put more people in with less space.
“What happens, a lot of time, is the customer is giving us information that they don’t know how to get from a thought process to their work area,” he says. “They often come to us to say they have a certain number of people they have to get into a certain area and this is the size of work station we want. We go measure it out and try and turn it into the most efficient area possible. It’s quite important to have a diverse amount of product to work into a specific area. We’re able to marry it all together and make it fit.”
Sometimes, it is as simple as cutting and shaping furniture to go around things like support columns. And sometimes it is something as simple as making more room.
Schutt says he was recently able to double the work space available to employees of an engineering company by simply offering ways to remove things like CPUs, printers and manuals off their workspace.
“By getting things off their desk, such as putting in CPU hangers, putting in open shelving that is easily accessible from their chair, that opens up at least 10 square feet, we were able to more than double their work area while still keeping things in easy reach,” he says.
Schutt says the comfort of the employee is an important consideration and it often starts with a chair. Many people will purchase a chair that is least expensive, but it may not actually suit the needs of the employee. From there is the set up of the keyboard.
“There are things available for getting people comfortable in their work positions so they’re staying in their work positions and getting things completed, which is a savings for the company,” he says. “It’s a difficult subject to speak on and define when it comes to space planning and ergonomics because each person is unique in what they want and what makes them comfortable. There are certain guidelines and we try to ‘waiver’ within them because there are things people aren’t comfortable with because their body has developed a certain way over the years.”
He says many people will go to a store and pick out their furniture based on the aesthetics and the cost of the products without consideration of whether or not the furniture will fit in the office environment and whether or not it will last.
Schutt says many companies have certain needs for how to place their workstations that do not always fit with the standard office furnishings that are available commercially. They also have to deal with being able to fit a specific number of people within a space efficiently.
Dumanski and Schutt both point out that, while inexpensive furniture may be easier on the pocket book, in the long run it is going to prove more costly because it may not last and it may not be suitable for the work environment.
Schutt says office space is often the most expensive thing a company has to pay for. By being able to maximize the space and make it more efficient without sacrificing workplace health and safety, it is going to reduce their costs.
“In the area of ergonomics, we work with people in that field by bringing in products and letting them try it to see if they say yay or nay,” he says. “That helps us in our consultation with our customers in dealing with space design and ergonomics.
“Time off and workplace compensation claims are a big issue in today’s work environment,” Schutt adds. “If we can design something that will keep people working longer without going off on WSIB claims, obviously it’s a cost savings for our clients in the longrun.