This chair may be the tech world’s new key to pro­duc­tiv­ity

Fiji Sun - - Business -

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.

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