Ergonomic Design for Today’s Call Center Workforce

Ergonomic Design for Today’s
Call Center Workforce

By Maggie Klenke

Working in a contact center can put a strain on the body and soul, but focusing on the design of the workspace can provide a healthier and happier workspace. Creating a vibrant environment with inviting break rooms, secure storage for personal items, proper lighting, and aesthetically pleasing furnishings can make it a much more pleasant place to work.

There are a number of important considerations including those below:

  1. Light – The overall lighting in the center should be indirect and offer the workers an adjustable task light that will minimize eyestrain and headaches. Provide walkways to break rooms, etc., that expose the staff to sunlight. Full-spectrum lighting can also help with seasonal disorders that result in depression when agents cannot be out in the sun. Newer designs often place the agent workstations around the exterior of the space to maximize window exposure, putting administrative space in the center.
  2. Monitor position – A high-quality monitor arm is needed to help to position the screen correctly. To reduce eyestrain, position the screen at least 20 to 30 inches from the face (about arm’s length)). Centering the screen at eye height directly in front of the worker will also reduce neck strain. Tilt the monitor a bit so that the screen’s surface is perpendicular to the face. The larger the screen is, the less “mousing” the agent will need to do. Encourage agents to practice the “20-20-20 rule” – for 20 seconds every 20 minutes, take a break and look 20 feet away and remember to blink frequently as people reading a computer screen tend to blink less often than normal leading to dry, tired eyes.
  3. Chair– Invest in proper ergonomic seating products. The chair should be adjusted so the feet are flat on the floor. Choose a chair that adjusts to a range of postures and size of worker. Staff 5’ 1” will not be comfortable in a chair for a 6’5” individual, so if sharing chairs in part of the plan, be sure they are easily adjustable for each person. Consider special chairs for those employees who are unusual sizes.
  4. Keyboard tray – Getting the arms and hands at the right height can help to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome. Elbows should dangle even with the height of the keyboard with forearms parallel to the floor. A mouse platform should be part of the keyboard tray as well.
  5. Adjustable height worktables – Offering positions that allow the agent to work sitting or standing are good for the health. If the individual workstations are not adjustable, provide a few stand-up workstations in the center that agents can use for part of the day. Varying the posture during the day can help keep personnel alert and focused and avoid muscle strains.
  6. Plants – Surrounding the area in plants can reduce anger and frustration according to a 2011 study in the journal Nature. A growing number of studies suggest that views to, or images of, nature boost memory and focus. Even images of nature on the screen saver can be helpful.
  7. Acoustics – Managing the noise level in an operation with many people talking at once is essential. Consider installing sound absorption fillers on the walls, sound blocking screens between workstations, and sound masking on the ceilings. Reduce artwork with glass or plastic covers and add carpeting to absorb noise as well. White noise production in the ceiling is commonly used, but newer “pink noise” targets voice-spectrum frequencies so their masking can operate at a lower volume. These also can attach to the furniture rather than being in the ceiling, making it easier to reconfigure them.
  8. HVAC – There is no more common complaint in contact centers than the uncomfortable temperature. In fact, workers consistently rank it among the top 10 workplace qualities that have the strongest effect on job performance. Ensuring that the heat and air conditioning systems allow for appropriate adjustments is critical to employee comfort and well-being. Watch for hot or cold spots, or workstations that are directly under blowing air.

  1. Floor systems – Contact centers seem to be constantly changing with growth, new teams, and other reconfigurations. Having a floor system that accommodates easy moves of the equipment, cabling, and airflow can make this easier. While a raised floor may be more expensive at installation, it generally pays for itself quickly when reconfigurations are required. Having cabling that runs through the wall systems in linked cubicles can make it very disruptive and challenging to adjust for new needs.
  2. Layout of the center – Workspace designs are most useful when they aid productivity while conserving space. Consider the tasks the staff needs to accomplish and the equipment used to achieve it. Consider the workflow as personnel move around the center. Also include the potential to change the configuration to accommodate staffing changes over time. Typical designs include 90 to 140 square feet per agent including room for hallways, training areas, break rooms and administrative space. There are several choices in cubicle design including:
  1. Row layout – In this design, square or rectangular cubicles are lined up in rows. It has the advantage of being easy to plan and assemble. They can have high walls to provide privacy and minimize noise, but these dividers also inhibit conversation between employees who need to consult with one another and limit line of sight for supervisors. These rows of cubicles can also make employees feel a bit boxed in and isolated.
  2. Quad tables – These are usually tables that divide into four workspaces. They generally seat two workers next to each other and directly across from the other two. Low dividers are common to support collaboration and give a more open feel to the center. They can also encourage workers to spend more time talking to each other than is ideal, but also support aligning mentors with new hires.
  3. Zigzag layout – This design provides a layout that resembles an unfolded fan. The sides of the cubicles stick out in a triangular shape and give workers more room than either square or rectangular cubicles. “Boomerangs” are generally placed at 120˚ angles which often feels roomier but actually take less space than traditional layouts. Higher dividers can work without the boxed in feeling of traditional cubes. They can also be translucent to let in more light. However, this arrangement is generally more expensive and takes more planning to make best use of the floor space available.

  1. Access to information – Where the center is using displays or televisions to broadcast up-to-the-minute information about the status of the queues, known outages, birthday wishes, etc., these displays need to be visible from all workstations. They are most effective when available on a “corner of the eye” basis or integrated onto the actual workstation monitor.

Ergonomics play an important role in the design of the contact center, no matter which layout is chosen. It focuses on the physical stresses and injuries to employee’s joints and muscles due to repetitive motion involved with using equipment. The added expense of buying ergonomic equipment can pale in comparison to the cost of lost productivity, workers compensation claims, and absenteeism that results from repetitive motion injuries and general stress. It is also essential to train the employees on how to make the adjustments provided and why they are important. The rationale is simple: the better the agents are treated, the better they’ll treat the customers. By not skimping on design and furnishings, companies can send a clear message to agents about how highly their work is valued.

Maggie Klenke was a Co-Founder of The Call Center School. She has written numerous call center management books, including Business School Essentials for Call Center Leaders. She may be contacted at Maggie.klenke@mindspring.com or 615-651-3324.