Our sedentary lives are making us unhealthy. Guy Osmond reports on a new trend in UK office furniture that has had foreign workers making a stand on health grounds for years.

Sit/stand office desks are still seen as a bit of a ‘new thing’ in the UK but they have been around for about 20 years and are much more common overseas.
UK employers have started to sit (or stand) up and take notice due to the genuine and substantial evidence that sedentary lifestyles can lead to type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular problems and obesity. Whilst it may seem immediately obvious that too much sitting and not enough exercise might lead to obesity, this combination of likely outcomes represents a major cause for concern. Employers know that these sedentary lifestyles are common among their office workers.

In exactly the same way that a good chair will be wasted unless the user has been trained to adjust it and take advantage of its features, a sit/stand desk option will not benefit individuals fully unless they know when to use its different modes, how to do so and for how long.

So what should employers be thinking about to ensure they don’t look back in a few years and think “what a waste of money”? First, don’t be bullied into unplanned, knee jerk action. Whether the pressure comes from an individual employee or an external third party warning of dire consequences, you need to be clear about the decisions you make and their likely impact on your business.

Next, look at what work your people are doing. How do they work now? What activities would be done better standing? Or walking? If you have never explored the concept before, this is an excellent time to look at an activity-based working (ABW) approach. Unless you are moving premises or carrying out a complete refit, full ABW will probably be too radical for your organisation but understanding the underlying concept will inform your decision making and allow you to consider the more distant future.

Then see what furniture and space you already have. Are there areas that would lend themselves to different ways of working? Could existing break-out areas be adapted?

You probably have areas that have never really worked in their current format: might they achieve that elusive popularity if they were redeployed with sit/stand furniture? What about some sit/stand workstations at the end of each row of sitting desks? Or are there any desks that could be easily adapted to sit/stand?

Sometimes such an adaptation requires hardware on top of the desk but it might be more effective to retain the desktop and simply replace the standard framework underneath it with a sit/stand mechanism. And don’t forget meeting tables: could some of these be standing versions instead?

Having thought about what might be done with the furniture, you need to think about the impact it will have on your people. Will it change how they communicate with one another? Will some people feel claustrophobic if others are standing over them? Will everyone have access? If you decide to start with a small number of units in a ‘hot desk’ environment, will they be hogged by a minority who prevent others benefiting?

It may sound trivial but don’t forget the IT infrastructure. Make sure there are lots of extension cables available for mains, keyboards, mice and peripherals.

Finally, plan your training. Ensure people understand the benefits and know how to use the equipment. And that they know how to stand!

This advice is from the most recent edition of our ergonomics magazine which brings together contributions from renowned ergonomics experts and is filled with useful and informative articles. If you haven’t already done so, request your free copy by emailing info@cardinus.com

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