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Designing a control room people actually want to work at.

A 3d rendering of a control room designed to be user centric
This is one of our previous projects, a PSAP designed to empower the dispatchers who handle more than 1000 calls a day.

In the fast-paced world of mission-critical environments, where split-second decisions and unwavering focus are paramount, the design of ergonomic furniture at individual control consoles plays a pivotal role in the overall efficiency and well-being of operators. One fundamental truth stands out: there is no universal "best" posture for sustained periods of work in these high-stress settings. In the same way as there is no best control room layout. Rather than seeking a one-size-fits-all approach when designing a control room, the focus should be on creating a control console that is flexible enough within the workplace that allows operators to adapt to various healthy postures seamlessly and concentrate on the different tasks they must complete throughout the day.

How to design a user-centered control room?

Unlike traditional workplaces like offices, a control room falls under the umbrella of an open-floor plan, due to its high-collaborative nature. Each type of workplace layout has its strengths and weaknesses, but the open-floor layout comes with a particular set of challenges that can have a negative impact on the staff's well-being and ultimately in their productivity. For example, open-plan workspaces offer flexibility in changing organizational needs and facilitate cooperation between co-workers but tend to suffer from environmental annoyances such as noise and sub-optimum climatic conditions as well as a lack of privacy. As the dispatchers reading this can confirm.

Amidst these challenges, we recognize the critical importance of enhancing the working conditions at the individual level when designing a control console. It is our goal to empower console operators with a workspace that not only meets their specific needs but also maximizes their efficiency and well-being in mission-critical environments. To achieve this, we are sharing with you a list of recommendations on components that are often overlooked in the design process of a control room. Supervisors and planners can implement these recommendations to optimize working conditions, enhance personalized ergonomic solutions, prioritize health and comfort, and effectively organize their control room. Ensuring their contributions in mission-critical settings are nothing short of exceptional.

Recommendations to reduce noise in the control room:

  • To minimize noise levels, consider using sound-absorbing materials on all major surfaces wherever possible. Noise is often more of a problem than expected... Try using acoustic panels mounted on the work-surface, or directly on the slat-wall of the control console. To be effective, the barriers have to be at least 1.5m high and 2.5m wide.

Acoustic panel mounted on a slat-wall to reduce incoming noise
Acoustic panel mounted on a slat-wall to reduce incoming noise
  • Equip the workstations with technological devices of low noise (printers, photocopy machines, telephones, etc.). For example, provide telephones that flash a light for the first two “rings” before emitting an auditory signal. Ensure that their operation remains unintrusive and doesn't disturb operators during critical tasks.

Recommendations to incorporate flexibility and personal expression in the workspace:

  • Leave some elements of design for the workstation user. People need to have control over their environments; leave some opportunities for changing or rearranging things. This simple action will help operators feel empowered at their workstation.

  • Provide both vertical and horizontal surfaces for the display of personal belongings and professional tools. People like to personalize their workstations to help them stay motivated throughout the day.

Recommendations to improve privacy in the control room and other mission critical environments:

  • Provide several easily accessible islands of privacy. This would include small rooms with full walls and doors that can be used for conferences and private or long-distance telephone calls.

  • Provide all private work areas with a way to signal willingness of the occupant to be disturbed.

Recommendations to improve the ambience and atmosphere of the control room:

  • Have clearly marked flow paths for visitors and staff. For example, hang signs from the ceiling showing where the administrative staff and where department boundaries are located. A free space should be provided around the furniture for passages between the workstations as well as for unobstructed sitting and getting up from the seat.

  • Design workstations so it is easy for drop-in visitors or supervisors to sit down while speaking, or to lean on the wall of the console, as some supervisors in PSAPs like to do. This will tend to reduce disturbances to other operators.

  • Plan for ventilation air flow. Most traditional offices have ventilation ducting. This is usually not the case with open-plan cubicles, so they become dead-air cul-de-sacs that are extremely resistant to solutions that are implemented afterwards.

  • Over-plan for storage space and invest in storage solutions that can integrate into the consoles. Open-plan systems with their emphasis on tidiness and pleasant aesthetics seem to chronically underestimate the storage needs of people, both for personal effects and professional tools.

An operations control room for a mining company

A final remark on designing a control room that people actually want to work at

“It is impossible to completely anticipate a future work situation in all its aspects, as work situations are complex, dynamic, and evolving.” Optimizing the working conditions at an individual control console is a multifaceted endeavour. By recognizing the absence of a one-size-fits-all posture and prioritizing personalized ergonomic solutions, health, and comfort, operators can enjoy enhanced productivity and overall well-being. Implementing these recommendations will contribute to a more efficient and comfortable working environment for mission-critical settings, ultimately benefiting both operators and the organizations they serve.

If you are in the process of renovating your command center contact us to get a free quote. Our team of specialists and designers will work with you to create a workspace that adapts to your needs and requirements.

Sources: Salvendy, Gavriel. Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics. Fourth Edition. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012


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