Are You Sitting Comfortably?

by Patrick Fields

Posted on November 07, 2017



The amount of hours a freelance translator spends working each day is not an exact science. Word count varies from day to day and the nature of any given task can either grease the wheels or apply the brakes to them. One thing for certain is, though, that those hours spent in front of the screen should be comfortable ones.

The definition of comfort

How does one define comfort in this context, though? The word itself conjures images of cushions, recliners and a mug so big that you have to hold it with both hands. For some, comfort means a big swivel chair with a heavy wooden desk to slip their feet under, while others are content to stretch out on the sofa with their laptops. There are even those who can sit in a cafe and work. Who’s to say what works better? It’s down to the individual, surely.

Myself, I need plenty of desk space and the option to lean back, stretch out and spin around. It’s got to be tidy too; a cluttered desk means a cluttered mind. Either way, the furniture I chose is decent enough quality and it didn’t cost the earth.

Not so glamorous

Having said that, a recent visit to a friend of mine, a freelance journalist for some big news agencies, revealed one of the most cramped and painful looking set-ups I have ever seen. He works at a small breakfast table, covered with scraps of paper, an overflowing ashtray and a dozen empty cups, seated on a creaking old dining chair. He does this for hours every day too (I didn’t ask how he dresses but I can imagine). I was genuinely taken aback and expected something a little more grandiose. When quizzed about how cosy it was, he simply shrugged “Yeah, it’s fine for me. Why?” Evidently, quality furniture and a tidy desk isn’t the be all and end all.

This got me thinking, though, about how comfort affects productivity. Does it matter what my chair is like? Is there an ideal level of comfort? Can one be too comfortable? One Google search was all it took...

Productivity research

In 2008 at Sheffield Hallam University, a certain Dr. Barry Haynes conducted research into the impact of office comfort on productivity. This was rather geared towards the larger office with many employees but, nevertheless, it would satisfy my need to know.

The research takes all manner of things into account including temperature, light, privacy, noise and colour. Other, more involved factors like having personal control over the environment, the concept of ‘downtime’ (time wasted due to poor design and operational issues) and sick building syndrome were also taken into consideration. All interesting stuff.

Still no accepted method

To cut a long story short, evaluating office comfort is not an easy thing to do. A recognised definition of it doesn’t yet exist and the experts can’t seem to agree on how it should be measured. This research did, however, discover that there was enough evidence to support the idea that office comfort does affect productivity. There just needs to be an accepted method of doing so, which should be done from the perspective of the people experiencing it.

For now, though, it’s enough to ask… are you sitting comfortably?