This chair may be the tech world’s new key to productivity
Che Voigt believes his company has solved problems that have plagued the working world since the advent of typing.
It’s a solution to hunched backs, stiff necks and tight shoulders. It’s a workstation that, with a push of a button, transitions from a standing desk to a seated table to a fully reclined platform like a dentist’s chair. Its seat expands and retracts, supporting the whole body from head to heels. Its desk moves up, down and rotates. There’s a screen and mouse and keyboard that follows the user’s eyes and hands.
It’s the way of the future, he says; the most comfortable you can possible be working at a computer. And it starts at $5,900.
And if Silicon Valley’s track record is anything to go by, Voigt might be onto something. Tech firms have long embraced wacky inventions that promise heightened productivity and creativity — and the industry has a history of making them mainstream.
Height-adjustable desks and $1,000 Herman Miller chairs that once seemed extravagant are no longer just common at software start-ups; schools, government agencies and even the White House have gotten on board. Whether it’s open floor plans, ergonomic keyboards or yoga ball chairs, workplaces far removed from the tech world often co-opt the quirky and often costly office cultures of firms like Apple, Google and Facebook in hope that some of their success rubs off.
“Comfort is material to creativity,” said Voigt, 45, chief executive of Altwork, a company that builds each workstation by hand in a barn on a 65-acre family property shared with Zinfandel wine grapes in Sonoma County. “If you’re stressed or distressed, the mind can’t fall into creativity. We want to get into an area where you can be productive and do really good work.” Twenty years ago, ergonomics was about finding a decent office chair and doing the occasional stretch throughout the day, said Joy Boese, an ergonomics specialist at E3 Consulting who has worked with companies such as Toyota and Netflix. It was considered an office perk, something filed in the “nice to have” category. Today, particularly in tech land, it’s expected. “Now it’s about tracking your health, tracking your steps, seeing how you spend your day, integrating fitness desks, treadmill desks, Zen rooms for people to take a moment to rest their mind,” Boese said. “These companies want people to feel like it’s more than just coming to work — they want a happy, healthy, engaged workforce.”
Silicon Valley is at the forefront of this, Boese said, which is no surprise, given that it is traditionally “two to three years ahead of the curve.”
But it’s also characteristic of the Valley’s ruthless optimization and productivity ethos. It was software engineers who popularized Soylent, the liquid meal replacement for techies. It was tech CEOs such as Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs who streamlined their wardrobes into a uniform, a move that Zuckerberg has justified saying it helped “clear my life so that I have to make as few decisions as possible… on things that are silly or frivolous.” And it was the tech world that normalized “lockdowns” — intense work periods when employees don’t leave the office until a project is done.