ErgoExpo 2015 Conference Wrap-Up

ErgoExpo was hopping this year. Here’s my report.

ErgoExpo 2015 Alan Hedge & Joan Vernikos

ErgoExpo Program Chair Alan Hedge and Keynote Speaker Joan Vernikos

Conference Organizers

I had a press pass to cover ErgoExpo, so I was able to use the conference speakers’ lounge as my base of operations. At lunch in the lounge on the first day of the conference, I butted into an interesting conversation in the serving line and unwittingly found myself talking with ergonomics guru and ErgoExpo Program Chair Alan Hedge . . . Alan is the ergonomist you are most likely to see cited in stories about standing desks, sitting disease, and other hot topics and trends that draw media attention, so I was thrilled to meet him so early in the conference. We had a fantastic conversation over lunch that day and several more good chats over the course of the event . . . Alan gave me a succinct overview of the history of the ergonomics profession, from its roots in military human-factors work in the WWI and WWII eras in England to its incorporation of applied psychology practices, from the widespread introduction of desktop computers in the 1980s to the current ascension of standing desks . . . I later overheard him relating a tidbit on the history of standing desks, something about a sit-stand student desk in 1899; I’ll follow up with him on this and report here soon . . .

Lee Ann Tiemann was the on-site media contact for LRP Publications, which produced the conference. She and her colleagues at LRP did a fantastic job running the event . . .

Keynote Speakers

Joan Vernikos & John Glenn NASA 1996

Joan Vernikos & John Glenn, 1996

On Wednesday, Joan Vernikos, the former NASA Life Science’s Director, delivered the first of three daily keynote talks, “Gravity Is Your Friend!” . . . Joan’s appearance was the highlight of the conference for me (meriting a whole blog post) . . . Her research at NASA had really helped clarify my thinking on sitting disease as I finished my office-fitness book last year, so it was a real treat to finally meet her in person . . . Based on the hour-long wait to greet her after her talk, I think it’s safe to say that Joan was the star of ErgoExpo . . .

Chris Dockery, who heads up ergonomics programs for BMW’s operations in North and South America, delivered Thursday’s keynote “Ergonomics: A Step Forward” . . . he showed how focusing on efficiency and quality and taking a systems approach have advance ergonomics practice at BMW . . .

standing room only at ErgoExpo keynote

Standing room only at Chris Dockery’s keynote at ErgoExpo.

I loved that several people were standing along the back of the ballroom as he spoke – just one of many instances at the conference of folks “walking the walk” (“standing the stand”?) about sitting disease . . .

I left Thursday night and was bummed to miss the Friday keynote by Ian Chong, “Ergonomic Mis-Adventures” . . . My disappointment was tempered when I learned that Ian’s shop is about eight blocks from my home in Seattle, so I’m hoping to arrange a visit and a private recapitulation of his talk soon . . . Ian gave me a copy of his book “Ergonomic Mis-Adventures,” which looks like a lot of fun, as I’m sure his talk was . . .

Parallels with Wellness

I was struck in several conversations with both speakers and attendees by the parallels between the ergonomics and wellness professions . . both fields came to prominence after WWII, both fields are based in an eclectic array of disciplines, both fields can be similarly misunderstood by non-experts, and corporate practitioners in both fields often have many other duties besides their ergo or wellness responsibilities . . .

Sessions

In every moment at the show, I was torn between spending time on the exhibit floor and going to the professional educational sessions – I made it to a few of the latter . . . In his session “Anatomy and Physiology in the Office,” Mark Vettraino deftly traced the connections between human anatomy and physiology and ergonomics, between ergonomics and posture, and between posture and discomfort. He also shared some of voluminous data he has collected from hundreds of thousands of ergonomic assessments . . . Kathy Espinoza gave a very lively presentation entitled “iHurt, uHurt, Wii All Hurt – The Toll of Technology,” demonstrating how portable computing gadgets and game consoles can contribute to conditions ranging from sleep problems to headaches, from back pain to vision and hearing problems . . . Jerry Congleton‘s talk, “Evolving the Way We Work with Today’s Technology” showed how to apply ergonomic principles when using new gadgets like standing desks . . .

Exhibits

The exhibit floor was packed with vendors selling all kinds of furniture, ergonomic accessories, software programs, and consulting services. I was most interested in vendors in the “active office” category: standing desks, treadmill desks, active seating, and other ergonomic gear that encourages healthy movement in the office . . .

Standing Desks

standing desk
Most of the furniture vendors in the exhibit hall showed at least one line of standing desks . . . The most common standing desk configuration is a free-standing, electrically height-adjustable model. This category has grown and matured very quickly, so manufacturers are adding new features and dropping prices to try to stand out from the crowd . . . Stir and other “smart desk” makers add movement reminder mechanisms and activity tracking . . . SiS Ergo displayed in their booth the DynaDesk, a new standing desk with a built-in keyboard tray that slowly moves to remind you to adjust your posture . . . SurfaceWorks offers desktop surfaces with wild geometric designs, as well as more staid, corporate-friendly designs . . . I saw at least one desk with a whiteboard top that you can write on (UpDesk wasn’t at the show, but I believe their UpWrite model was the first to offer this feature) . . . HealthyDesks is one of the few brands to offer a height-adjustable desk with drawers as an option . . . Sundesk showed an adjustable-height desk frame that uses one motor to raise and lower the desk . . . And, of course, price is always a big differentiator. Prices have come down across the board over the past year, and Standee has just added a height-adjustable desk to their line and are pricing it at $399 (of course you always want to look at the total cost to get the desk to your office, and when you add in shipping costs, the Standee falls back into the middle of the pack, price-wise) . . .

Desktop add-ons that let you keep your existing desk but add a height-adjustable surface were also common on the display floor . . . This category offers a crazy mixture of design paradigms . . . Ergo Desktop pioneered the “just set it on your desk” category with their Kangaroo line . . . More recently Varidesk, Ergotron, and others have expanded this category with even simpler designs that let you quickly add a flat, raise-able surface to your sitting desk . . . Ergotron, TaskMate, and others have long offered various swing-arm mounted desks, and they were at the show, too . . . One intriguing entry in this category was a new swing-arm model from ISE that easily lifts and rotates out of the way, giving you quick access to your conventional desktop, much like the Ergotron Workfit-A . . .

Adjustable-Height Conference Tables

You can now have the option of standing in meetings, too . . . Both SurfaceWorks and iMovr displayed height-adjustable conference tables in the exhibit hall, and a couple of other exhibitors mentioned that they plan to offer models ranging up to full-sized board-room tables . . .

Treadmill Desks

Lifespan has dominated the office treadmill category for several years, offering both stand-alone treadmills and integrated desk-treadmill packages, both of which they had on display . . . They now face competition from iMovr, which featured its new ThermoTread treadmill in their booth . . . As a fan and almost-daily user of a treadmill desk (a Rebel Desk model at the co-working space I work out of), I’m hoping to see even more choices here soon . . . I’m only cautiously optimistic, though – one prominent standing-desk merchant told me that only one or two percent of their desks ship with an accompanying treadmill, and several speakers and other attendees I spoke with mentioned liability concerns from their legal departments whenever they mention treadmill workstations . . .

Active seating

When you have to sit, chairs that let you move can mitigate the discomfort and lethargy that can result from long stretches in conventional office chairs . . . Scandinvian Business Seating and ErgoDepot both displayed the HAG Capisco chair . . . Health Postures showed their new Stance Angle 5100 model chair which lets you sit, kneel, lean, or stand at your desk . . . I also saw Muvman, ONGO, and Ballo seats on the exhibit floor . . .

. . .

No exhibit-floor story would be complete without a report on the availability of treats in the booths. Herman Miller won hands down with their bowl of Lindt chocolate truffles the first day of the show, but they were down to only Butterfingers by the second day cirqu du soleil O. . . hoping they pace their chocolate distribution better next year . . .

And no Vegas visit would be complete without a Cirque du Soleil show. I had planned to hole up in my room and get a head start on this column Wednesday night, but when a friend texted to invite me to use their extra ticket to “O” I couldn’t resist . . .

Finally, I had a window seat on my flight home and got some video of Vegas at night as we took off . . . A nice closing punctuation mark for a very rewarding visit . . .

Posted in Ergonomics.

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