4 new technologies that could make your office more comfortable

We’ve all been there. After hours, days and weeks spent hunched over a computer screen, ploughing through the latest project towards an imminent and intimidating deadline, your body is half-ruined. Your eyes are red, your spine feels like it’s been used in a pole vault, and you’ve got the aching wrists of an arthritic octogenarian.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. The numerous benefits of having the right light, temperature and bodily support while working in an office have been extensively documented – and these four inventions look set to capitalise on them.

1. Communal climate control

It’s a struggle that’s raged on for as long as air conditioning itself – the battle for the command of the office thermostat. Your thick skin and even thicker hair might be sopping up the sweat of a hard day’s work, while your more sensitive neighbours can hardly pile the extra layers on fast enough. Friendships have been lost over less.

The solution? Give power to the people with Comfy, an app that lets individuals request their own changes. While traditional climate systems have a static temperature set by a thermostat – which is probably controlled by the maintenance staff – Comfy users can select their location within a building, and make simple, localised requests, such as “warm my space” or “cool my space”. Their requests are fed through the app to the building’s heating and cooling systems, giving users a short blast of either warm or hot air, depending on what they need.

Even better: the software can learn its users’ preferences over time, dynamically adjusting to the needs of every employee. And so far, it seems to work. A recent study found that 83% of workers were more satisfied after using Comfy in their workplace – and in one particular workplace, using Comfy helped to reduce their energy costs by nearly 25%.

2. Smart seating that saves spines

Every office worker knows that prolonged periods of sitting aren’t great for your physical health. But while a few hours at the gym might help you burn off a few calories and strengthen your back muscles, it won’t do much for your bad sitting habits or your ill-fitting chair.

That’s why Dr. Stephen Jia Wang of Monash University is busy at work on an office “smart chair”. Sensors in the chair detect the various forces of your back and your legs while you sit, collecting and analysing data that can then be compared to “ideal” spinal positions. Based on your physical dimensions, usual posture and any related medical problems, the chair can send out texts and e-mails to tell you how you can correct your posture. It could even, one day, communicate with your sofa at home, adjusting the settings of your home furniture based on how you’ve been sitting during the working day.

“Something needs to be done immediately to ease the negative productivity impact caused by musculoskeletal conditions like debilitating back pain,” said Dr. Wang, “which now ranks with diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease as national health burdens, particularly in industrialised countries”.

3. Localised light levels

There have been plenty of studies on the benefits of natural light to the average worker. But what happens when it all gets a bit too much? Stylish offices with wall-to-wall windows might offer some breath-taking views, but closing the blinds against the full force of the sun can defeat the object.

Instead, some offices are starting to use what’s called “Dynamic Glass” for their windows. Multiple thin layers of metal oxide form an “electrochromic ceramic coating” on the inside of the glass, which means that the tint of the window can be controlled by an electric voltage. In plain English, that means you can use an app to turn your windows into sunglasses, reducing solar radiation and glare, while still letting in natural daylight.

According to View, the company responsible for Dynamic Glass, employees can enjoy “improved mood and productivity” with windows that react to the strength of the sun, while business owners can enjoy a 10% reduction in energy consumption.

4. Personal pampering platforms

While most office heating solutions are usually focused on controlling the ambient temperature of the entire office – or at least sections of it – research from the University of California suggests that we might be better off taking a more individual approach.

Rather than spending huge amounts of money on the heating, cooling and ventilation of larger spaces, companies could instead provide their workers with “Personal Comfort Systems” – low-power devices that apply heating and cooling directly, so that employees can “remain comfortable over a wider range of ambient temperatures”.

By giving users direct control over how heating and cooling is delivered through the surfaces of their office chair – and also to the user’s head and feet – the researchers claim that they’re able to keep employees comfortable in room temperatures ranging from 61°F up to 84°F – which could mean huge cost savings when buildings can be more flexible with the settings they use for their general room temperatures.

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