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Stand and deliver

Are stand-up desks a fad, or a progressive move towards a healthier workplace? We need to take our cue from Scandinavia, says Sarah Booth Design Manager at Kinnarps

You can be pretty sure there’s something to be said for a ‘healthier’ workplace practice when the Scandinavians are taking it seriously. In Sweden sit-stand desks are commonplace (at Kinnarps’ Stockholm head office everyone has one), and Denmark has recently made it mandatory for all employers to offer their staff the option of a sit-stand desk.

However, according to Jeremy Myerson, professor of design at the Royal College of Art, there’s something of a perspective problem in the UK. “There’s a tendency to treat workplace design as a cost, not an investment,” he says.

Dr John Buckley of the University of Chester’s Department of Clinical Sciences and Nutrition was part of a special advisory group to England’s Chief Medical Officer. He attended a key meeting in Whitehall to discuss modern workplace design, where the sedentary nature of modern office life was cited as a key culprit in the obesity epidemic. Buckley, who now works at a standing desk, calculated that by working in this way for three hours a day (with no additional changes to his job or leisure activities), he will burn at least an extra 144 calories per day, compared to just sitting at his desk.

“If you stand for three hours a day for five days, that’s around 750 calories burnt. If you want to put that into activity levels, then that would be the equivalent of running about 10 marathons a year – just by standing up for three hours in your day at work,” he explains.

It’s not just that having a desk you can stand at is better for you physically; it can also contribute to the success of your business. Working in a non-conventional way can make people more productive – a meeting where a few people are standing up can be concluded much more quickly than when everyone is sat around a table relaxing with a coffee. Specific ways of agile working have been designed to involve activity in order to help stimulate creativity.

Kinnarps’ newly launched Next Gen Project Rooms have a mix of furniture to encourage project teams to work dynamically. People can move from the stand-up desk to the screen (designed for use by several people while standing), or perch on a Mr T stool or Boulleé ball while thinking through ideas, then make notes sitting at a desk.

Introducing a more activity-based environment should always primarily be about offering people a choice of how and where they work. The most ergonomic way of working is variety – it’s the regular moving about, changing position and walking to another location that bring the real benefits. Just as your back might ache if you sit down all day, so it will if you stand still all the time.

It’s like fitting a bicycle for the first time. You have to adjust the seat (your chair) to the best position, then adjust the handlebars (desk). There’s no point setting your chair to the optimum ergonomic position if you then have to alter it to accommodate the desk.

Can you afford to switch to standing desks? Well, at £400 a sit-stand desk is around the same price as a regular desk. When you consider that it helps your staff to be more engaged and focused, improves their health and contributes to the desirability of the workplace, the real question is: can you afford not to?

About Sarah OBeirne

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