Workplace

Not Just at Desks, Standing Is Now for Meetings, Too


We’ve already heard about the miracles of standing while you work (less back pain, improved focus, more energy). Now researchers are suggesting that standing is more than just the ideal way to work solo at your desk. It can also improve meetings, making them more collaborative.

Professors at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis found that when chairs were removed from a meeting, people were more engaged and less territorial about their ideas, according to a new report (pdf) in Social Psychological & Personality Science.

Could this be the next step in the evolution of the open office? First get rid of the cubicles. Now, for the seats. The chair, according to the Olin researchers, is just another clunky boundary between workers. “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,” the report reads.

In the Olin study, researchers split 214 undergraduate students into groups of three to five and asked them to create a recruitment video for the school in 30 minutes. Some worked in a space with office chairs around a table, while the others worked in a space with no chairs. All participants wore a wrist monitor that measures “physiological arousal” via sweat (an increase in such arousal, the reasoning of the study goes, leads to activity and collaboration). After submitting the project, the participants answered a question about the degree to which individual members of each group felt protective—that is, territorial—about the ideas that came up. Finally, third parties measured engagement (based on how attentive the participants were as evidenced by recordings of the groups at work) and scored the videos they were asked to produce. The study found that standing marginally increased arousal, decreased territorial behavior, and increased the exchange of ideas. It did not, however, have any direct effect on the quality of the recruitment film each group produced.

“Adopting a non-sedentary workspace may have benefits not just for individual physical health but also for group performance on knowledge work tasks,” the study concluded.

Notwithstanding that standing may be en vogue, everyone’s soles and calves need the occasional break. New York magazine writer Dan Kois discovered the social limits of not sitting down when, as part of research for a story, he stayed on his feet at work for most of a whole month. There is, he concluded, an ”awkwardness around the guy who’s standing up when everyone is sitting.”

Venessa-wong-190x190
Wong is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek. Follow her on Twitter @venessawwong.

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