WPM: Pivot Proves Office Chairs Can Come in Different Shapes and Forms

“Sitting disease” is a term used to describe the myriad health problems associated with long-term sedentary work and leisure activities. Despite the headlines that claim your office chair is killing you, the real problem is a lack of movement in the office.

The human body did not evolve to sit for long stretches. It did not evolve to stand still for prolonged periods either. Desks that are adjustable and allow workers to sit or stand are becoming more popular, yet on their own, they do not address the underlying problems associated with sitting too much or standing too much.

Martin Keen set out to discover a solution to this conundrum four years ago when he launched his company, Focal Upright Furniture, which is dedicated to get workers moving in their offices. Keen believes traditional office furniture does little to help slovenly office workers get off their backsides. So he created his own — a hybrid furniture line that promotes a different posture altogether.

Workers who use Focal Upright Furniture products don’t quite sit, and they don’t quite stand. Instead, they perch, which creates what the company describes as “a neutral spine, open hip angle and gentle motion.”

The company’s latest product is the Pivot Seat, though when seeing it for the first time, few office dwellers would consider it a seat at all. It is more of a leaning post; a place to take a little weight off while perching, but not all of it.

Keen is the man who brought the world closed-toed sandals through his Keen footwear brand, a company he later sold off.

Unlike most chairs, according to the company, “that feebly acquiesce as your posture deteriorates into a sluggish slump,” the Pivot Seat keeps you active all day. The Pivot looks like a tractor seat (more about that later) on a height-adjustable post. Its wobbly bottom keeps the seat in place even when the user leans, and encourages the user to twist, turn, swivel and pivot. It engages your core and helps put you in the right posture, according to the company.

“People are looking for a solution,” Keen said. “There is this movement to standing desks and desk converters (that convert sitting desks into sit-stands). What we are still finding is that a lot of people are frustrated they have to go back to their chair when they get tired of standing. They want something in between.”

If youíve been sitting since grade school, which most of us have, it takes about a week to let your body tell you whatís right (with Focal furniture).

According to Keen and his research, eight to 10 weeks after getting a desk that can be adjusted between sitting and standing positions, the novelty of the desk goes away, and it stays in the sitting position. He said that should not come as a surprise to office designers and companies that want to get workers moving by giving them sit-stand workstations.

“Having to go back and forth between those two postures — sitting and standing — is really quite extreme,” he said. “We are right in the middle. Just right. Kind of like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup with a little bit of chocolate and a little bit of peanut butter.”

Keen and his company are different. He never expected to get into the office furniture industry or make furniture. Keen is the man who brought the world closed-toed sandals through his Keen footwear brand, a company he later sold off. His foray into furniture started when he set off to create a better desk and seat for himself. When he did, he found Focal Upright Furniture might be better for others as well.

Keen designed his own standing height desk and seat — really more of a leaning post — after suffering from back pain while he designed his shoes. So he decided to build a better office. He started with an old drafting table and a discarded metal tractor seat, which he mounted on a pole and bent at an angle so he could lean up against it instead of sitting all day.

Though it might have its roots in a rusty old tractor seat, Focal Upright Furniture is much more refined than early designs and addresses the growing trend toward sit-stand work. Yet, Focal Upright Furniture doesn’t force the user to stand or sit. It encourages a posture somewhere in between; one Keen calls “lean-to-stand.”

Focal got its start by selling its Locus Workstation and Seat directly on the internet. In the years since, the company has added new products for lean-to-stand conferencing and a portable perching seat called Mogo.

Pivot is different than Mogo in that it is much more stable and designed for longer term use. There’s a lot more cushioning and shock absorbing built in. Pivot allows you to take a little more load off the feet than any other Focal seat while still keeping the major muscles engaged. Even when sitting as low as possible on Pivot, it still keeps the user’s legs constantly engaged.

Josh Kerst, who is Focal’s principal ergonomist, said the whole idea of the company’s products is based on supported mobility and having a dynamic seat that allows for movement. “That is definitely one of the design goals for Pivot,” he said.

Since Focal’s seating is so different, it takes a bit for workers to get comfortable with it, from both a physical and visual perspective. Transitioning between sitting and perching takes a little time, Kerst said.

“If you’ve been sitting since grade school, which most of us have, it takes about a week to let your body tell you what’s right (with Focal furniture),” he said. “With Pivot, it is very hard to slump, sit or slouch so you don’t need a FitBit to tell you if you are doing it right.”

You also don’t need workout clothes to use Pivot or any of Focal Upright Furniture’s products. “A seat like Pivot keeps you dynamically active, but is an unconscious low intensity activity,” Keen said.

“No matter what you paid for your sit-down chair, most of the weight is off your feet. Chairs were designed for leisure. They were designed for after work, not during.” WPM


First published in the May 2016 issue of Workplaces >