One of the most common workplace arrangements for cooperate America is the open-plan office, with partial height paneling that separates workers into cubicles. It has been estimated that more than forty million Americans spend their working lives in cubicles with a computer. There have been a myriad of studies in applied psychology in just how to make this confined environment more satisfactory for the individual workers, but my discussions here will focus specifically on the physical limitations related to vision problems that bifocal age employees are experiencing. Many workers face more time in their cubicle daily than they do in their own living room at home, so vision comfort is an important factor to the success and satisfaction of the bifocal age employee. Here is short paragraph on the history of the cubicle.

Cubicles came into existence around 1968, and was the brain child of Robert Probst, who worked as the director of research for an office furniture manufacturer. Probst studied how people worked at the time. Then, popular cooperate work arrangements for employees were large open rooms lined with rows of desks. The work had had privacy and working close together was distracting; while management was usually positioned in the front of the room facing employees to observe how everyone was producing created a stressful environment. The “Action Office” design with cubicles offered employees some measure of privacy and plenty of work surfaces and display shelves; patricians offered places to pin up works in process, and this generally led to greater work productivity and employee satisfaction. Now, some forty plus years later, every cubicle is complete with advance technology in the form of computers and other electronic equipment.

Cubicles come in various sizes, but essentially the standard is six feet by six feet with the surrounding paneling around five feet high. Standard bifocals, trifocals, or progressive (no-line) bifocals are designed for general purposes. Yes, you can see the middle mid-range distance with a standard trifocal or progressive lens, however, you have to elevate your head up into an awkward position to look at the computer screen or view anything you pinned on the wall panel. The actual physical area for mid-range vision in any general purpose eyeglass, often called the “sweet spot”, is too small to offer a large enough field of vision to work comfortably all day on the computer. One pair of eyeglasses can not do everything you need effectively, so think about a task specific eyeglass designed for use at the computer while working in a cubicle setting. Here are just a couple of examples of cubicle dwellers that I have helped.

I was asked by Human Resources from an aerospace company to see if I could help out an employee, age was late forties, who complained about lower back pain and eye fatigue, especially in the afternoon. When I observed the employee in the cubicle, I noticed this company did a good job with both the environmental and physical ergonomics. However, the employee was wearing single vision reading glasses, and was forced to continuously move forward to see the computer screen and back again to see the reference material on the desk. Also, any reference material that was pinned to the cubicle wall panels required moving both the chair and moving forward again in the chair to bring the materials in focus. Most people who have great distance vision only want what they think they need, reading lenses, so they will not have to wear glasses full time.

Single vision reading glasses are not a computer mid-range focus. Reading glasses are usually set for distances between 14 – 16 inches, and the computer screens are set out to about 19 – 28 inches. This caused the constant motion of moving forward in the chair. The chair was an expensive ergonomically design piece of office furniture, and was being used every time the employee moved forward to see the screen, as a very expensive STOOL! I suggested a pair of bifocals, where the top portion of the lens will allow a person to focus comfortably on the computer screen without the constant moving forward in the chair. The top part of the “computer glasses” wave the worker enough range (distance) to see the walls of the cubicle clearly too, and made the pinned material easier to read without the extra physical movement needed with the reading glasses. The simple use of a task specific pair of eyewear, along with suggestions on how to make the computer hours less tiresome, mitigated the previous visual and physical problems of this employee. Now, for the other aerospace employee whose progressive lens design and cubicle experience was not working.

Progressive lenses, like conventional trifocals, have an intermediate mid-range power zone that will work for computer distances. The drawback, as I mentioned earlier, is you have to lift your chin up to find the lens area with the correct power and you have only a small viewing area through the lens to work with. In this case I used a Near Variable Focus design lens, which is basically similar to progressive lenses except the power zone in the top of the lens is designed for mid-range and the lower lens area area is used for reading. Examples of this kind of lens design would be a Sola Access and Shamir Office Lens, and both designs have worked well for me in the past for this “Office Lens” Near Variable Focus type of progressive lens design.

Check with your eye doctor yearly to make sure your prescription lenses are current. Measure the distance from your nose to the computer screen and let the doctor know, so he can form a task specific computer pair of eyewear. A low cost alternative to dedicated computer glasses would be a Computer Conversion Clip. These clip-on's attach over your existing general wear glasses to convert the distance portion of the lens into a mid-range computer focus with a crystal clear wide zone of vision. If you have to be in front of a computer everyday for 2 or more hours than make the cubicle a better place to work with less visual and physical stress.