Creating the 21st Century Office Environment: Standing Up

You’ve already read how current office environments stink. You know that cubicle farms and drab surroundings are soul-crushing, mind-numbing, and prevent you from being active. The problem is changing the office to an environment that encourages activity, brings nature indoors, and doesn’t make you want to tear your hair out in frustration (or boredom).

So, how do you go about changing your office environment? Even a small part of it? The hardest part is changing the culture of the company to reward production rather than “hours in office”, but it is doable. Somewhat easier is tweaking the culture of the entire company to promote physical activity throughout the work day and to bring nature into the office. The easiest part, which I’ll be discussing now, is changing things on a personal level. Your office, your workstation: just you, the individual.

Advocates for standing or flex workstations always note how the body’s metabolism is stoked when standing as opposed to sitting. This is true, but the effect isn’t huge: around 10 percent. That’s not the point here, though. The absolute best benefit to having a standing or flexible working area is that your body is more predisposed to movement.

I like to tie it in with a concept from my years of studying physics. Our bodies operate on inertia. If you’re sitting down, you’re more likely to remain sitting down. Your body doesn’t have much of an outside force compelling you to move, so why move? On the other hand, while standing, your body is in its natural state – upright and primed for movement. It wants to move – bouncing on the balls of your feet, walking back and forth, stretching your arms and legs, even doing some quick exercises like squats or jumping jacks. While standing, you become more familiar with your body by what your feet, legs, and back tell you. If your feet start to hurt from standing in one spot, they’re telling you to move around.

As I write this, I am standing at a kitchen table. I have my laptop sitting atop a Sterilite storage tote, which for me puts the keyboard very close to the “ergonomic ideal” for somebody standing and working at a computer. I have an exercise mat on the floor to prevent my feet and legs from becoming pained by the tile floor. (It’s also a nod to standing on grass.)

I pace my “office” when I’m thinking. I grab a book and mill around as I look up a reference or read a report on my iPad. I’m more likely to think clearly, think creatively, and be more productive as a result. The cognitive benefits from being up and about aren’t limited to me, either. Standing while you work is a simple way to improve focus.

So, how do you go about creating a standing work area? Well, there are several ways.

First, you can do it yourself. This is the cheapest and most individualized option. Do something similar to what I do. Find a box, a shelf, a storage cabinet, stack of books — whatever you can find that brings your computer up to a level that is comfortable for you to stand and work. Find an anti-fatigue mat or exercise mat (not the thin yoga mats, but thick ones like from Everlast) and put that down to keep you from developing foot issues. Get an on-table podium for staging work reports. Get creative!

Second, you can put in a request for a standing/flexible work desk. This is more time-intensive and expensive, because it has to go through your company’s black box of bureaucracy. Employers tend to be loath to sign off on hundreds or thousands of dollars for a standing workstation. They are still rather expensive, but I believe that the drive to improve corporate wellness and health will soon bring those costs down to more manageable levels.

Third, you can do the standing/flex desk purchase on your own. This is the most expensive and most prone to backfire, because your employer may not take too kindly to a one-person cubicle overhaul that isn’t company-approved.

Doing all of this can, at the very least, improve your productivity, improve your health, and allow you to be more active at work.

What do you do to stand up to a crummy work environment?

This entry was posted in Exercise, Health, Program Design, Workplace Design and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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