The Chair That Can Tell if You're Playing Hooky

hermanmilleraeron.jpgIf you're like a number of my friends, you offset your occasional late arrival in the office (or lengthy lunch) by sending an e-mail or two from your BlackBerry or laptop.

If you're really clever, you can make it look like you're actually at your desk by forwarding your calls. And of course, there's the trick of leaving a jacket slung over the back of your chair, making it appear that you've just stepped out for a moment.

Well, you can kiss those ruses goodbye. In a bid to improve productivity and the efficient use of space, office furniture maker Herman Miller and tech giant Hewlett-Packard have teamed up to build an office chair that can detect human presence.

How does it work? Tiny sensors called motes are attached to the back of each chair. They're supposed to give an accurate read of how frequently an office is being occupied -- in other words, how often your bottom is where it's supposed to be.

RoboChair would really put the kibosh on your plans to duck out early to catch an afternoon showing of Quantum of Solace. (Actually, save yourself the time and money and wait for the DVD; to my great disappointment, it wasn't that good.)

But while this sounds like a corporate Big Brother ploy -- what's next, the coffee-mug cam? -- there's really a sound motive behind the innovation. A study in HP's Melbourne facility using the chairs concluded that dedicated space was being utilized by workers only 38% of the time, and less for meeting rooms. HP made some changes in space allocation and usage; now utilization averages about 50 percent, but at times averages 90 percent.

An even better gain? HP reduced its housing cost per employee by 55 percent.

In these lean economic times, any cost reduction is a good thing. So I guess a spy chair is an idea we should really, ahem, get behind.

(image of Aeron chair courtesy Herman Miller)