Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, universities across the world were prohibited from conducting face-to-face classes and were mandated to have online learning set up to resume the curriculum [1
]. With the sudden shift to e-learning back in 2020 as a response to the escalating active cases of COVID-19, students were not prepared in the first few months of the lockdown [3
]. This shifting has introduced new challenges, causing instructors, students, and parents to become more stressed [4
]. Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, people were left with zero options and were resilient as they managed to adjust to the remote learning and work-from-home setup. Taking the Philippines as an example to represent one of the third-world countries, Magsambol [5
] forecasted a total of 44,609 state university and college students who would not enroll for the academic year 2020–2021 due to several reasons such as lack of gadgets, no proper workstation setup, financial problems, and fear of contamination. On the same grounds, as of late 2020, 13% or 4.4 million school-age Filipinos did not enroll that year, wherein 1.7 million were aged 18–20 [6
However, as face-to-face classes were yet to be seen at that period, students and their parents started purchasing gadgets and workstation equipment to adapt to the new learning setup [7
]. Flores [8
] reported that in the recent survey conducted by Social Weather Stations (SWS), 58% of enrolled students were able to acquire the required gadgets for an online class, 27% of them had their equipment, 12% had purchased their own, 10% had borrowed, 9% were given, and 0.3% were rented. Furthermore, 79% of those who bought or rented equipment for distance learning got a smartphone, 13% got a desktop or laptop, 5% got a TV, and 3% received a tablet. In addition, Ziady [9
] reported that online sales of furniture companies such as IKEA surged up to 45% during the pandemic as people converted and made a workstation for online classes and work tasks in their houses.
Consequently, the definition of a workstation for students changed due to the current setup. A workstation for online classes is an area in the students’ houses that allows them to attend courses virtually and accomplish school tasks. Obeidat and Al-Share [10
] mentioned that during online learning, the interactions between students and instructors take place in the workstation, which serves as the location for teaching and learning activities related to design. Not only does the effective interior design of the workstation improve the functionality of such a learning environment but it also boosts the confidence of the individuals who will be participating in the teaching and learning process. Having a separate workstation for online classes alone benefits students because it increases their productivity and satisfaction staying indoors while attending classes, resulting in reduced perceived academic stress and mental health issues [11
]. However, various attributes and considerations must be considered when designing an efficient and effective workstation for students, especially since they have different situations at home. The attributes of a workstation are the type of gadget used, kind of keyboard, mouse, and earpiece, type of desk and chair, and light device, as these objects are commonly used by students and significantly affect their performance [13
In developing countries, the online learning setup became quite a challenge among students and faculty members. Prasetyo et al. [15
] considered the evaluation of online learning platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic through an extended technology acceptance model and the Delone and McLean IS success model. It was seen that the perception of usefulness and perceived ease of use were primary factors for students to accept and utilize a specific platform. Students highlighted that the overall usability of platforms would provide the ease of utility to help them perform better during online learning. In India, Bast [16
] presented how the perception and preferences of students would be affected based on where they were residing. Similarly, Muthuprasad et al. [17
] explained that students in India preferred smartphones for their online learning education. However, Ong et al. [18
] showed such challenges as laboratory activities that cannot be fully accomplished and appreciated during online learning. In addition, Pradana and Syarifuddin [19
] highlighted the challenges of online learning in Indonesia. Their study showed how insufficient access to online teaching and learning were evident: most importantly, learning facilities, equipment, and students’ study place were not available and inefficient. This provided a basis for challenges in the online learning setup that affects student’s learning.
In the Philippines, Ong et al. [20
] utilized conjoint analysis to assess the preference for online education among industrial engineering students at various educational levels during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the attributes used in the study included only students’ preference for online delivery of classes, including the delivery type, interface template, term style, final requirement, use of Coursera, practice sets, and delivery platform. Similarly, Ong et al. [21
] also used the same methodology to determine senior high school students’ preference for online learning, which focused only on six attributes: delivery type, assigned tasks, evaluation, use of virtual laboratory, interface layout, and delivery platform. However, the various attributes identified have their levels, offering the same function but different utilization, efficiency, and comfort that affect the students’ preferences.
Students’ preference for their workstations influenced their intent to purchase the attributes mentioned. Considering what the students prefer is one approach to assessing their satisfaction and engagement during online classes. Cakiroglu et al. [22
] revealed that considering the students’ preferences positively motivated them and related to their academic achievements. Likewise, a convenient and user-fit workstation design is essential to creating a stress-free, task-efficient, and comfortable place for students to study [11
]. Supporting this, Xiao et al. [24
] discovered an association between the chance of developing new health problems during the pandemic and having an adjustable workstation setup. As technology has progressed over the past few decades, the workstation setup considerably caters to users’ convenience, further shaping how people and society develop [25
]. In addition, ergonomics was brought into the picture, ensuring a suitable fit in terms of comfort and safety among humans and their tools [26
]. Disregarding ergonomics could lead to designs that are uncertain to be economically successful because they do not cater to the users’ needs. According to Mohamed Makhbul et al. [14
], a non-ergonomic workstation can cause stress to a person. Nirmal et al. [27
] discovered that online education has ergonomic concerns; hence, students and teachers should arrange for adequate interventions such as proper setup, equipment, and breaks to ensure health and safety.
Multiple studies on workstation design have emerged in the past months due to the developing health and social risk to students and office workers during the pandemic. However, past researchers mainly focused on evaluating the different equipment used during online classes and proposing ergonomic designs for desks, chairs, keyboards, mice, etc., to mitigate the risks separately. Despite the availability of studies about workstation design, there is insufficient literature focusing on the workstation design preference based on students’ perspectives and experiences. In the Philippines, a study conducted by Jajoo et al. [13
] focused on analyzing the current setup of work-from-home employees and designing a comfortable office workstation. Their results showed that adjustable chairs and tables are necessary to promote comfort and work efficiency. Furthermore, illumination through a table lamp, light-painted walls, and a comfortable temperature through a portable fan will also affect their work.
Since considering the students’ preferences during online classes significantly affects their performance, this study utilized a conjoint analysis approach. Conjoint analysis is a standard method used in market research to determine the consumers’ and users’ decision-making regarding their preferences [20
]. Despite the insufficient literature utilizing the conjoint analysis to measure the students’ preferences on their workstation setup during online classes, few studies evaluated the students’ preferences regarding online learning. Given this, no previous studies have used a conjoint analysis method to examine user preferences for workstation design during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Utilizing a conjoint analysis approach (CAA), this study aimed to determine the combination of workstation design attributes most preferred by undergraduate students in the Philippines during online learning only. In particular, the present study considered seven attributes: type of gadget, keyboard, mouse, earpiece, desk, chair, and light fixture. CAA with orthogonal design was used to evaluate the users’ preference for the workstation design. Lastly, the study further examines the specifications (attributes) and levels to elaborate on the preference of students in online learning workstation design.
As a result, the present study recommends a convenient workstation design based on the users’ preferences. The results also give leverage to the marketing strategy of gadget developers, business owners, and retailers, since they will be able to recognize and understand which attribute of a workstation design the users value, among others, as well as the significance of each attribute on their decision-making [21
]. Business owners need to understand their customers’ purchase intentions and match their preferences to help the business competitively to stay in the market. Finally, the study’s findings may be utilized by students, teachers, and employees in the same online setup, globally, even in a post-pandemic setup, as universities are offering at least blended or even fully online setup.
presents the utilities and the average importance score among the attributes of workstation design for online classes. According to Hair et al. [51
], the utility estimates signify how much a user values a particular level of attributes, while the importance score indicates how important an attribute of a workstation design is to a user. The greater the influence on user preference, the higher the utility estimate and importance score.
Based on the importance scores, results showed that the most significant attributes for users are the type of gadget (37.925%), followed by the type of mouse (28.345%), kind of chair (14.840%), type of keyboard (7.548%), earpiece (7.177%), light device (2.109%), and desk (2.056%). Specifically, in the first attribute, type of gadget, the users preferred personal computer (0.401), followed by laptop (0.273) and tablet (−0.673). Second, mechanical (0.099) was most favored by the users within the type of keyboard attribute, succeeded by multidevice Bluetooth (0.009). Third, for mouse types, Bluetooth wireless obtained the highest utility score of 0.204, followed by USB wireless (0.170). Fourth, for the earpiece attribute, users desired a headset (0.134), succeeded by headphones (0.014). Fifth, within the desk attribute, users preferred a height-adjustable table (0.029) to a sitting desk (−0.029). Sixth, a high-back office chair with a neck rest (0.189) was most favored in terms of type of chair. Lastly, for light device, the floor lamp obtained the highest utility score of 0.034, followed by the desk lamp (−0.009).
The ranking of 51 stimuli evaluated by the respondents is presented in Appendix B
. With a total utility score of 1.017, it is evident that combination 4 was the most preferred by the users. The attributes under this combination were a personal computer, mechanical keyboard, wired mouse, headset, height-adjustable table, high-back office chair with neck support, and floor lamp. On the other hand, it is observable that the users’ least-favored combination was the workstation design in combination 2, with a total utility score of −1.356. This combination consisted of a tablet, ergonomic keyboard, touchpad, headset, sitting desk, task chair, and floor lamp.
represents the validation of the results. Akoglu [52
] used Kendall’s tau and Pearson’s R values to determine the reliability of the results and the relationship between actual and predicted preference. Values greater than or equal to 0.8 indicate strong and consistent results for each tool. Results showed that the Pearson’s R-value obtained in this study is 0.978 (greater than 0.80) [32
], which indicates a strong relationship between the actual and estimated preferences of the workstation users. Additionally, Kendall’s tau value of 0.978 and Kendall’s tau coefficient for holdouts of 1.000 denote internal consistency among the responses [20
The conjoint analysis of the different stimuli showed that the most preferred stimulus of a workstation design by undergraduate students was a personal computer, mechanical keyboard, Bluetooth wireless mouse, headset, height-adjustable table, high-back office chair with neck support, and floor lamp with a total utility score of 1.090. On the other hand, with a total utility score of −1.741, the least favored was a tablet, membrane keyboard, touchpad as the mouse, speaker, sitting desk, task chair, and floor lamp.
The type of gadget was the most significant attribute considered by the users, with an importance score of 37.925%. The most favored was a personal computer, whereas the least favored was a tablet. A workstation’s primary feature includes the gadget, since it is the student’s medium to attend classes and perform school tasks. Prasetyo et al. [15
] discussed that using gadgets is one of the advances the education industry has adopted due to technological advancements for teachers and students. Supporting this, Marpuah et al. [53
] discovered that gadgets play a vital function as a source of learning, enabling the learning process to be comfortable for students during online classes. In this case, it is better for the students to use a personal computer, which may be due to the processing power, physical size, and memory. This creates an effective and efficient learning process that increases student-learning outcomes.
Lade et al. [54
] found that students have different opinions on utilizing other gadgets for an online class because these devices have additional technical capabilities and usability, especially when students need to download various school-related applications. Although Ozok et al. [55
] found that tablets are more versatile and portable for students to use, they also concluded that tablets have technical limitations and can compromise output quality. Hence, a personal computer or laptop is better used for heavy tasks, especially since most respondents were engineering students, who usually need applications for plate-making, coding, data analysis, etc. [56
Next, the second-highest attribute influencing the users’ decision was the type of mouse (28.345%). Users preferred Bluetooth wireless (0.204), followed by USB wireless (0.170), wired (0.131), ergonomic (0.095), and touchpad (−0.599). A mouse is another vital component in the workstation since it is utilized for data input [35
]. Betts [42
] stated that gadget developers took advantage of technological advancement to improve devices’ convenience and efficiency, especially in an online setup. Consequently, many people now have access to seamless data transmission to several devices because of the Bluetooth feature [21
]. Furthermore, it has become one of the favored approaches for wireless communications due to its versatility and effectiveness as a connectivity mechanism. Joshi et al. [57
] stated that a mouse is more challenging when it contains additional electronics. These additional electronics may be extra buttons, additional weight, and wires that may tangle upon movement. Supporting this, Conroy et al. [58
] found that users prefer a lighter mouse because their computer activities become faster and more accurate. An external mouse improves productivity levels and guarantees all-day comfort for users [59
]. This could be supported by the result that users would not prefer the touchpad, which limits movement and navigation effectively.
The kind of chair was the third-highest attribute considered by the users (14.840%). The most preferred was the high-back office chair with neck rest (0.189), succeeded by the mid-back office chair (0.042), and task chair (−0.231). The chair is essential in a workstation design because this improves the students’ concentration during online classes and task making [60
]. A high-back office chair with a neck rest is considered ergonomic because it provides additional support to the upper-back area [61
]. Al-Hinai et al. [60
] found out that an ergonomic chair design is significant in ensuring students’ comfort and proven usability. Students in an online class setup prefer ergonomic furniture because it lessens their stress and improves motivation [62
]. Suzuki et al. [63
] stated that poor ergonomics and posture due to inefficient chair designs could cause musculoskeletal discomfort to students, especially when seated for long hours. If not given intervention, this can further develop into other medical problems, particularly in the upper extremities. This further validates that students would not prefer a regular task chair.
Fourth, keyboard type was also an attribute considered based on the preferences of the consumer (7.548%), and the most valued type was mechanical (0.099), then multidevice Bluetooth (0.009), ergonomic (0.008), and membrane (−0.115). With a more significantly lower score compared to the top three attributes, keyboards are more of an extra device, but can still affect a student’s productivity and efficiency. Like a mouse, a keyboard is an essential element in a workstation because this is utilized to enter data into the students’ devices [35
]. Mechanical keyboards are increasing in popularity among computer users because they enable faster typing and require less physical effort to activate the key switch due to the additional tactile and auditory feedback from the key-switch design [64
]. The findings in the study of Pham and Kelling [65
] demonstrated a statistical difference between flexor-muscle effort on a mechanical keyboard and a standard membrane keyboard. Considering the online class setup, a mechanical keyboard is preferred by students because it is easy to use, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing [66
]. Usually, sounds upon typing and placement of a keyboard affect student’s preferences in choosing this device.
With an importance score of 7.177%, the earpiece was considered the fifth-most important attribute evaluated based on user preferences. Valued the most under this category was the headset (0.134). On the other hand, the least favored were the speakers (−0.069). According to Kozlowski [43
], since each acoustic device has varying acoustic signal values, it influences the user’s productivity. Since their invention, headphones/headsets have become a significant user audio device [67
]. They outperform loudspeakers in terms of portability, privacy, and cost. Users prefer headphones, since they are designed to cover the earlobe or block the ear canal, effectively muffling outside noise [67
], consequently, improving the students’ focus and creating an immersive listening experience [68
]. On the other hand, Zelechowska et al. [67
] found that using speakers during online classes can result in increased self-consciousness and distraction. Hence, to improve the clarity of communication between the teacher and students during online courses, using a headset instead of the device’s built-in microphone and speakers is a better option. This presents better input and output quality, especially when conveying communication between student and teacher.
The findings show that light devices and desks were the users’ most minor value considerations, with importance scores of 2.109 and 2.056, respectively. Among the light devices, the most favored was the floor lamp (0.034), followed by desk lamp (−0.009) and room light (−0.025). To provide users with more suitable illumination, lights specifically designed for a working environment have increased in value in the market [69
]. Jajoo et al. [13
] and Singh et al. [49
] showed that supplementary lights are substantial because they provide more illumination to the users, making them more focused. Hence, a floor lamp and desk lamp can affect the students’ visual comfort and aids in increasing the students’ productivity and satisfaction during online classes. At the same time, poor lighting conditions can have adverse effects on students [70
Lastly, the least-considered attribute by the users was the type of desk, wherein a height-adjustable desk was favored over a sitting desk. Nevala and Choi [71
] suggested that working in a sitting posture was less efficient and put more significant pressure on the workers’ upper extremities than working in a standing posture. A height-adjustable desk allows the users to sit or stand depending on the situation that best satisfies their comfort. The height-adjustable workstation can lessen sedentary habits and inactivity in an online class [71
]. Although Aschenberger et al. [62
] stated that students prefer ergonomic furniture in an online setup, the findings of this study showed that the undergraduate participants valued the kind of chair more than the desk. This is because their upper extremities are more prone to musculoskeletal discomfort if there is no proper back support during the hours of sitting [27
4.1. Practical Implications
The findings showed that the type of gadget and mouse significantly influenced the users’ preference for a workstation design. Since the respondents are primarily engineering students, who usually need to download and utilize different software in classes, they considered the type of gadget, particularly personal computer, to be the most significant attribute. Due to its capacities, the gadget alone plays a crucial role in the students’ learning process. Additionally, students’ intention to purchase different gadgets can still be affected if gadget developers initiate a transformative technology that would benefit the gadget and the users. The second-most favored attribute was the mouse. This attribute influenced users’ preferences because intensive mouse use has a proven relationship with increased risk of upper-extremity musculoskeletal disorders. Hence, a user-fit mouse must be given importance.
The results of this study can serve as a baseline in determining students’ preference in workstation design, since this is the first study to determine workstation-design attributes during online classes. When preference is considered, this study may serve as a foundation for improving students’ engagement. Since the findings present a business opportunity, gadget developers must take these into account. These attributes significantly influence the users’ purchase decisions, so we recommend considering highly the different levels found from the results. Gadget and furniture sellers could grow their business if they evaluate the quality of the equipment they offer in relation to the students’ preferences.
It is suggested that combinations of the different devices may be placed as displays among workstation industries to promote and highlight the resulting preferences among students. This will help buyers imagine their setup at home upon choosing several devices. Placing moderately significant devices between highly significant devices may encourage buying among consumers. We suggest that the type of device should be at the forefront, followed by desks, keyboards, mouse, earpiece, lamps, and kind of chair, so that consumers can see all different devices before completion. This kind of setup would promote buyers to consider all necessities with the top three significant attributes between less significant attributes to heighten their intention to purchase the items.
Despite strong findings and results of this study, several limitations are still present. First, this study considered only the preference of different devices utilized for online setups among undergraduate students in general. Clustering different courses and programs of students is suggested. This may result in differences in output of preference depending on the course or programs. Through k-means clustering, marketing segmentation may help deduce the findings that may also be utilized by industries. The survey was distributed online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since no control could be made for the location or type of university (public or private), it is suggested that comparative preference analysis may be conducted to uncover distinctly differences among private- and public-school students, their location, and even type of residence. This may provide other findings with enough data collected, since universities (public and private) in the Philippines provide different services. Similarly, as discussed by Bast [16
], students living in urban and rural areas also provide different perspectives to online learning alongside their preferences. In addition, anthropometric measurement may also be considered to compare and contrast based on levels presenting significant preferences. Lastly, since workstation-design attributes and levels considered in the study were based on the common gadgets and furniture used during online classes, future research including other attributes and considering different levels that may influence users’ preferences is recommended. Different attributes must be taken into account because they could influence importance rankings. Future research may therefore elaborate on the conclusions of preferences for workstations.
The sudden shift to e-learning due to COVID-19 compelled parents and students to convert a space in their houses and make a workstation for online classes. A workstation is an area in the students’ houses where they complete schoolwork and, most importantly, attend classes. This study utilized the orthogonal design of the conjoint analysis approach to determine users’ most preferred combination of workstation attributes: the type of gadget, keyboard, mouse, earpiece, desk, chair, and light device. Using purposive sampling, 315 undergraduate students participated in the online questionnaire comprising 51 stimuli.
The findings showed that the type of gadget was the most considered attribute affecting user preference, followed by the type of mouse, kind of chair, type of keyboard, earpiece, light device, and desk. Under the type of gadget attribute, the most preferred was the personal computer, while Bluetooth wireless was the most favored type of mouse. The kind of chair users favored most was the high-back office chair with a neck rest. Mechanical obtained the highest utility score for type of keyboard and headset for the earpiece. For the light, the most desired was the floor lamp. Lastly, a height-adjustable table was the most favored type of desk.
This study is the first to examine user preferences for workstation design since the pandemic. The results will benefit gadget developers, business owners, and retailers regarding user preferences for different attributes of workstation design. In particular, the results of this study will help industries understand the importance of each feature to users’ decision-making and which workstation-design attributes users value the most. The findings and suggestions of this study may be considered by different sectors of industries to create marketing strategies for consumers. Lastly, the study’s findings may be utilized by students, teachers, and employees in the same online setup globally, even in a postpandemic setup.