As wellness becomes an increasingly important part of the overall guest experience, hoteliers are finding big and small ways to help their guests feel better.
Ergonomic task seating can play an vital role in this effort, helping to keep business travelers comfortable whether they're working at the guestroom desk or spending all day around the conference table.
But what makes a chair ergonomic? “The chair is designed for a working environment where you may be at a desk for the entire day,” said Scott Schutt, marketing manager at MTS Seating. “An ergonomic chair will have adjustable seats, arms, backs, etc.”
A task chair is only beneficial if the user’s back is in contact with the backrest, and the backrest is unlocked and properly tensioned based on the user’s body weight. “Discomfort sets in when the body is forced to hold a static position and the muscles overload,” said Jonathan Puleio, managing director at Humanscale. “To offset this problem, the backrest should move with the body and allow for frequent postural shifts. Movement is critical for spinal nutrition.”
Beyond that, Schutt noted that proper upright posture helps increase blood flow and alertness, so a comfortable chair that promotes proper posture can improve the overall experience. “We're not all the same size, so an ergonomic chair that has adjustments that make the specific user more comfortable is great,” he said.
Depending on their design, some chairs can offer only a few adjustable elements, Schutt added. “These styles of chairs may have the adjustable gas lift, or not. And some incorporate wood components like legs or backs that you normally don't see in an ergonomic desk chair. We also have stationary four-leg chairs that don't have casters.”
The Value of Ergonomics
“There has been an encouraging shift in mindset relative to the importance of a well-designed task chair,” Puleio said. “As a business traveler, I find that the task seating in the room can actually influence my entire experience—so much so that I might actually decide not to stay at a particular property if their desk setup is poor.”
Major brands have recognized the link between room comfort and experience ratings, he added, and have shifted budgetary dollars into the task chairs. “This is most pronounced at properties that cater to business travelers. Some brands are even emphasizing the task chair in their marketing material to lure business travels to their properties.”
But in spite of the value of ergonomic seating, it’s not a good fit for all hotels. “We are seeing hotel flags specify [semi-ergonomic] more and more and going away from true ergonomic seating,” Schutt said. “People are taking their work to the lobby or coffee shop, etc., so the in-room chair isn't being used as much, so it doesn't need to be an ergonomic chair. It can be an upholstered chair that has more of a residential feel that adds to the overall design of the guestroom.”
Is It Ergonomic?
While determining what kinds of chairs are ergonomic and what are not may seem simple, Puleio pointed out that there is no governing body to make sure that any product advertised as “ergonomic” truly is. “Unfortunately, any manufacturer can make the claim that their product is ergonomically designed, which leads to quite a bit of confusion in the marketplace,” he said.
When it comes to evaluating task seating in terms of ergonomics and commercial use, hoteliers and designers should ask the following four questions:
1. Will it accommodate a large percentage of the population?
Typically, chairs designed intended for commercial use should adjust to accommodate a 5th-percentile female through a 95th-percentile male. That is roughly 5’0-6’4” in height.
2. Can the controls be utilized intuitively, without the need for training?
There is no value in providing employees or hotel guests with a task chair that offers high levels of adjustability if the controls are not intuitive and easy to use. Research from a 2016 Cornell University study showed that less than 4 percent of users could even identify the purpose of their tension-control knob, one of the most important adjustments for allowing the user to move in the chair.
3. Does the chair offer basic adjustments?
Critical chair adjustments include seat height, seat pan depth, armrest height, backrest height (for foam backrests) and recline mechanism (a dynamic backrest that allows for movement).
4. Does the chair offer any passive adjustments?
Passive adjustments adjust automatically, without the need for the user's involvement. An example is a self-adjusting recline mechanism that automatically adjusts the backrest tension based on the user's body weight. This eliminates the need for two manual controls (backlock and tension-control knob) and simplifies the operation of the chair.