The Office Mechanics


Software and personal computers changed office admin forever. Now mechanisms and robotics are set to change the face of 9 to 5. Tim Stackpool walks you through what you need to know.

You walk towards a corporate entrance and the glass doors immediately slide open. Flash your ID card at the security checkpoint and the turnstiles swing open.

We’re accustomed to our work environment assisting with human access without us needing to lift a finger. Now, the mechanics and robotic engineers hope to make an impact on our office environment in the same way that Microsoft changed the world of word processors.

When sitting in an office chair all day was described as ‘the new smoking’, engineers around the world rushed to create workstations that would allow us to stand or sit while tapping the keys on our computer. Soon after, mechanics and hydraulics came to the party and in many offices today workstations can transform from sitting configurations to standing at the touch of a button. Some motorised desks also allow you to pre-program different heights, which can be useful if you need an ‘in-between’ position such as when sitting on a higher drafting stool.

How many times have you needed to straighten the chairs in the boardroom once vacated following a meeting, even after a short tête-à-tête between two people? Nissan has added their self-parking car technology to boardroom chairs, which automatically tuck themselves back into their rightful positions upon hearing just a simple clap of your hands. The system also works for workstations in an extensive open office, making it easy to tidy the appearance of the office quickly and effortlessly. Still yet to reach mass production, increased interest in the technology is sure to bring it to the market, either by Nissan or an entrepreneurial executive personal assistant.

The ‘presence robot’ has moved beyond the realm of mere design, and is now an integral part of office conferencing in some major businesses. It’s well and truly installed in learning institutions around the world. Little more than a touch screen (or iPad) on wheels, the presence robot gives you or your guest a physical presence at work when they can’t be there in person. Fitted with a camera, the height of the screen is generally adjustable, depending on whether interaction is required with colleagues sitting or standing. By being able to move around the environment, this type of telecommuting gives the visitor a better sense of being ‘in the office’ and motivating a more immersive opportunity to engage and connect with other personnel, rather than merely via a video conference.

Amsterdam design studio, Heldergroen has taken office mechanics a step further, as a means to ensure employees do not overwork. Similar to a trend in other creative agencies around Europe, instead of having legs on their desks, the desks are suspended by cables from the ceiling. Then, at 6pm, their desks, tables and other work surfaces with their computers attached are raised to the ceiling by those steel cables. While you have to be sure to collect your car keys from your desk prior to 6pm, the floor is then free for use by others, who make use of the space after hours and on weekends for yoga and Pilates classes.

Finally, while we have seen workstations fitted with treadmills to build employees’ step count during the day, engineers-come-artists, Robb Godshaw and Will Doenlen built themselves a human-sized hamster wheel desk. More for a bit of fun rather than for practical application, and made out of plywood and skateboard wheels, you literally stand within the giant wheel and self-propel yourself through the day. While it may not make your day any more productive, the health benefits are obvious, and it may also save you the cost of a monthly gym membership.


Tech expert Tim is the technology writer for Executive PA Media. He can be heard on talk radio in his native Australia and is a tech presenter speaking at conferences and trade shows about technology’s impact on work and lifestyle.