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

Sunday Times - - CAREERS - My Bril­liant Ca­reer

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

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