Rethinking the Home Office

Have you ever had this thought: “Maybe someday we'll all do our work from a Lazy-Boy!”

The idea of doing all my work from a reclined dentist chair sounds like paradise. Over the years I've made a lot of improvements to the ergonomics of my own home office, but — due to logistical and cost constraints — I still do my work sitting upright in an office chair. While I don't have any pains resulting from this arrangement, I've always sensed that leaning back — or even laying down — would allow a more relaxed, free-flowing type of office environment.

And now, vindication has arrived in the form of a recent study by Scottish and Canadian researchers:

In the research, individuals involved were asked to adopt three different sitting positions; slouched, upright, and relaxed. In a slouched position, one sits with the body hunched forward (like you would typically see a kid do while playing a video game). In an upright position, one sits at a 90 degree back to thigh posture. In the relaxed position, the individual reclined backwards at 135 degrees, with the feet remaining on the floor.

Researchers watched for spinal disc movement, which occurs when weight-bearing strain is placed upon the spine, causing internal disk material (nucleus pulposus) to misalign. According to the research, disc movement was most pronounced in the 90° position and was the least pronounced in the 135° position.

But is this really a long-term sustainable practice? The back needs to be challenged so that the muscles don't atrophy. Probably the best course is to balance this reclined approach with time spent in other positions.

Very cool, but why is an article like this appearing in remodeling blog?

Well, stop and think about how different an office would be to truly accommodate this kind working position. Very different. The monitor would need to be suspended above the chair, and what about the keyboard and mouse?

Now obviously some things would not change about such and office: files and bookcases would be as they are now. But what about those situations where a person must work back and forth for prolonged periods between papers/objects and the computer?

I think there is going to be a revolution in these “medium range” facilities of officing — the things that are within reach of the user and part of the regular routine. Somehow we will have to find a way to suspend more and more things above or to the sides of a reclined user.

And this, in turn, means changing the way we conceive of home offices when it's time for a remodel.