The health benefits of a sit-stand work environment are well-known, but new research has found that standing can also help staff think better.
A recent study from Washington University in St. Louis has proposed that a “non sedentary workplace increases group arousal, while at the same time decreasing group ideas territoriality, both of which result in better information elaboration and, indirectly, better group performance.”
Many workers spend a large portion of their professional lives sitting. In fact, Australia’s Heart Foundation, Sit Less, Move More infographic states that the average adult spends 15 hours a day sitting, eight of which are at the office.
Vast changes in traditional office design have seen workplaces remove individual cubicles for open space plans to encourage collaboration, along with the implementation of reconfigurable and active furniture and increased behavioral training to encourage staff to stand more than they sit.
The new study explores the possibility of facilitating certain areas in offices that eliminate chairs altogether. It focuses primarily on a meeting environment where they found that “people eschew the use of chairs (to solve) problems.”
The report also refers to contrasting ideas where some practitioners claim that “nothing creative has been done while sitting…” while others advise making group work spaces as comfortable as possible, with plush chairs available so group members do not feel rushed.
The new report's findings were derived from the observation of 54 volunteer groups engaged in creative work. The researchers asked the participants to work in teams for 30 minutes and record a university recruitment video.
Each team worked in rooms with a traditional, boardroom type set up and another without chairs.
Information was gathered from the quality of work, observation of team effort and small sensors they wore around their wrists to measure “physiological arousal.”
The study found that a non sedentary workspace is physiologically arousing "because people working in such a space are prone to move more than people working in a space outfitted with chairs,” noting that a chairless work space “also promotes increased activity levels and promotes energy mobilisation and expenditure through physical motion.”
It showed that the physical environment can alter how people interact with each other and foster more confidence, encouraging participation.
The study recognised that for longer meetings, further research would be required to support an alternating sit-stand working scenario.
“Research on how attributes of the physical environment, such as lighting or sound, influence individual behaviour in the workplace has a long history,” the report states. “And, yet, the vast majority of investigations have focused on how aspects of the physical environment influence interpersonal variables. For example, researchers have proposed that wall color or the presence of windows influences individual creativity."
The researchers noted that it was often up to the leaders of the business to direct office configuration and furniture options.
“Our results suggest that if leaders aspire to enhance collaborative knowledge work, they might consider eschewing the traditional conference room setup of tables and chairs and, instead, clear an open space for people to collaborate with one another,” they said.
For workplaces seeking a sit/stand balance, a multitude of design solutions from adjustable desks and chairs to furniture-free open spaces which encourage stand-up collaboration are available.
In Australia, Ergotron has a series of adjustable standing desks that can be adjusted by lever, while Bad Backs offers a DOS ‘TN’ Height Adjustable Electric Desk Frame for a more automated response.
The Stir Kinetic Desk, meanwhile, can track a user’s sitting and standing positions and remind them when it’s time to change position.
According to Stir CEO JP Labrosse, the desk uses pattern pending technology to learn a person's personal patterns and preferences.
For something a little novel and with strong green credentials, Charigami in Connecticut has created a series of sturdy yet lightweight cardboard furniture and is launching a standing desk next month.
Since the Harvard Business Review famously announced that "sitting is the smoking of our generation" in 2013, the stand-up work movement continues to gain traction. According to the new study, limiting the amount of time workers spend on their behinds can be both healthy and productive.