He loves watching the penny drop
Peter Kowalski is founding partner of FormFunc Studio, that distributes ergonomic office furniture. He tells Margaret Harris as an entrepreneur, he has learnt the value of diplomacy and listening
What makes for a well-designed office chair?
Office chairs have become complex ergonomic tools that ask too much of the modern-day office worker. This complexity results in a lack of understanding and ultimately in a product that is used incorrectly. A chair that’s intuitive and adjusts to the user automatically — without the use of a plethora of manual levers — solves the thirst of today’s workers for instant gratification. Solve that problem with as few materials as possible and the form will remain a timeless design that is also beautiful to look at.
What role, if any, does office furniture play in productivity?
The days of linear rows of multiple open-plan desks are numbered. The modern-day office worker has technology that allows them to work from practically anywhere. The lines between coffee shops, meeting rooms, kitchen counters and office spaces are being blurred, and today’s successful furniture solutions are those that recognise that productivity is directly proportional to the flexibility required by our millennial generation.
How did you end up doing the work you do?
In my previous life I was a workplace designer in London, working mostly for large architectural firms that conceptualised and implemented corporate workplace strategies. During this time I learnt about the Humanscale brand of ergonomic office furniture and, in particular, the benefits of effective ergonomics in the workplace. When I returned to South Africa in 2008, I realised that South African consumers and corporates were living in the dark ages in terms of their knowledge of the science [of ergonomics].
What big work mistake led to an important lesson?
I believed for some time that my forthright approach (some people would call it a lack of tact) was my strength. I have grown up a little since then and have come to realise that there are times when diplomacy is necessary. Diplomacy is by no means my strength, but listening with two ears and speaking with one mouth is the biggest lesson I have learnt since embarking on my journey as an entrepreneur.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
At the tender age of 10, I had a friend whose dad was a pilot in the South African Defence Force. A day trip in a helicopter had me dreaming of one day becoming a pilot. I still harbour ambitions of flying a plane one day, but suspect that I may need to sell a few more chairs and monitor arms to make that dream a reality.
What are monitor arms?
Neutral reclined postures are essential to computer users’ health and productivity. However, these postures are difficult (if not impossible) to adopt if you cannot change the position of the screen on the desk. Monitor arms were designed specifically to resolve this challenge and have become the cornerstone of the modern ergonomic work station.
What do you enjoy most about the work you do?
Watching the proverbial penny drop during a presentation is hard to beat. We often confront people who are sceptical about the value of ergonomics to their businesses. However, there is a certain realisation on a customer’s face that is priceless when they finally understand that we’re not furniture brokers but facilitators of the health and wellbeing of the most important investment in any organisation — their human capital.
What is the best career advice you have ever received, and who gave it to you?
My last boss at a UK broadcasting and media corporation taught me how to get the best out of people. He gave me the freedom to express myself, work my own hours, and, as long as our team contributed to achieving his goals, he was happy. Turns out this freedom and trust is what made me happy and, in turn, brought the best out of me and my team. I use this philosophy today at FormFunc, and it seems to be working.
NEUTRAL RECLINING: Peter Kowalski demonstrates some ergonomic furniture