With Covid-19 creating demand for new home-working solutions, the Furniture Industry Research Association’s experts have been busy helping the group’s members deliver fit-for-purpose products, writes the association’s new chair, Brian Ahern.

I think everybody would agree that 2020 was the most challenging year in living memory – both in and outside of work, with the twin assaults of Brexit and Covid affecting every part of our working and home lives, and in many cases bringing the two together as a large number of us began working from home.

But, as the old saying goes, every challenge presents an opportunity, and the furniture industry certainly embraced the challenge of Covid, innovating new products and adapting existing ones to help people set up home offices that were safe, durable and ergonomically fit for purpose.

FIRA, in its role as the leading furniture industry association, has played its part in assisting its members with this – with home working guides available for employers and employees, and a home working DSE assessment service, ensuring employees are working in a safe and comfortable environment (long periods sitting on an unsuitable chair can cause long-term health issues, and we have worked to ensure proper guidance and support is available). 

In addition, the FIRA testing department experts have provided advice to members as to the correct testing requirements – a vital service as retailers and manufacturers moved out of their traditional markets and product ranges.

FIRA International’s testing and technical consultancy manager, Howard James, was particularly taken by the efforts made by furniture designers to recognise the challenges of working from home for people who don’t have the luxury of a separate room to work in, and have been trying to fit their home office into existing dining rooms, bedrooms or even kitchens.

Designers have been quick to identify possible solutions, and FIRA International’s testing laboratory has drawn on test methods from different areas to look at these. This includes desks designed to fold into walls that collapse down to the size of a suitcase when not in use – even beds that convert into desks during the day.

When it comes to office chairs, the difference between flammability requirements for domestic and contract environments has been a regular topic of discussion – with chairs that meet the contract requirements sometimes not meeting the domestic regulations due to the use of different test methods. FIRA is working with its members to educate and clarify these issues, and this will be fed into the ongoing review of the flammability regulations and help shape the revised requirements.

Whilst this has been a worrying time for us all, as an industry there are positive signs. People have had to spend more time at home, and this has led to a desire to improve and adapt the space. People’s desire to improve general wellbeing and ability to effectively work from home has seen an increased spend on home improvements and furnishings, with some retailers reporting record sales figures.

As we go forward into 2021, I am sure that with the initiative, quick thinking and adaptability of the furniture industry, we will as a whole manage to overcome any challenges that present themselves. The research association will be continuing its efforts to ensure that knowledge, information and research that is a benefit to the whole sector is right at the forefront of what we do.

This article was published in the February 2021 issue of Furniture News.