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Sit to Stand Working: Everything You Need to Get Started

Posted on Mar 14, 2018, by Michael Eckert

Sit to stand working is one of the biggest workplace trends of recent years, thanks to our growing understanding of the risks posed by an extremely sedentary lifestyle. Employers are looking to the sit to stand work trend to encourage employees to be more active day-to-day, and in turn to improve health and wellness across their organization.

However, it can be difficult to make that change in your organization's culture and adopt healthy sit to stand working practices. To help your company successfully embrace the sit to stand work trend, we're sharing the health benefits of this work practice, as well as everything you need to get started from a practical standpoint.

The Benefits of Sit to Stand Working

Adopting sit to stand working practices offers a wealth of health benefits, and can have a direct impact on employee productivity.

From a health perspective, sit to stand working offers a reduction in your risk of developing a range of problems and illnesses:

  • A 2013 study found that people who sat for longer periods during their day had significantly higher levels of blood glucose - a warning sign of diabetes.
  • A 2015 study by the University of Iowa found that sit to stand working burns up to 87 more calories a day compared with seated working. This amounts to 435 calories over a five-day work week, and could make a real difference in weight gain or loss.

As well as helping to improve employee health and wellness, sit to stand working offers a secondary benefit: it can boost focus and productivity levels. Thanks to their improved levels of focus, The Draugiem Group found that when using standing desks they were up to 10% more productive.

Sit-to-stand working reduces physical discomfort compared with seated working alone. Employees are able to switch between sitting and standing to make themselves comfortable, meaning they are better able to focus on their work.

sit to stand working

What To Expect When Adopting Sit to Stand Working

There is an assumption when adopting sit to stand working that standing to work is inherently better than sitting. However, this isn't correct: the health benefits from sit to stand working don't come from time spent standing up; they come from the increased movement levels that occur in the transition between seated and standing working.

So while there may be a temptation for employees to spend all day standing - particularly when their adjustable-height desks are new - it's important to note that this won't offer any measurable health benefits. Worse, it could even do more harm than good: if you've spent the last ten years sitting down all day to work, a sudden transition to standing all day will put excessive strain on your muscles, leading to increased pain and discomfort, and a serious drop in productivity while your body adjusts to the change in posture.

Therefore, when redesigning your office to accommodate sit to stand working, it's essential to provide employees with information and education around the benefits of sit to stand working, as well as how to adopt this healthy work habit without taking it too far and feeling the physical strain of the change.

sit to stand working - everything you need to get started

5 Office Essentials for Sit to Stand Working

Equipping your office is one of the most essential factors for determining the success or failure of your company's adoption of sit to stand working. Here are five things that can increase your chances of success. 

1) Desks

There are many different options for a sit to stand desk set-up, including:

  • Fixed height standing desks
  • Manually-adjustable desks
  • Motorized adjustable-height desks
  • Tabletop desks.

When choosing sit to stand desks, there are several factors to consider, that will impact employees' experience of using the desks each day. If you're looking at adjustable-height desks, the method of adjustment is extremely important, as the more effort involved in switching between seated and standing working, the less likely it is that the desks will be used in both positions. For this reason, motorized desks are often a more popular choice, even though they are typically more expensive than the manual alternative.

You should also consider the speed it takes to adjust between sitting and standing positions, as well as the volume of the crank or motor. A particularly loud desk will make employees feel self-conscious about disrupting their colleagues, and make them less likely to switch between sitting and standing as often as they could - meaning they miss out on many of the valuable health and wellness benefits of sit to stand working.

2) Chairs

When making the transition from a seated-only work environment to a sit to stand workplace, it's easy to become so focused on providing all the equipment needed to facilitate standing work, that the seated element gets overlooked.

However, research shows that the average office worker spends 5 hours and 41 minutes every single day sitting down at work - and while that time should reduce with the adoption of sit to stand working, the majority of employees' time will still be spent seated.

Therefore, ergonomic chairs are a must-have - no matter how much time each day employees spend in them. Ergonomic chairs are designed to provide adequate lower back support, and can be adjusted so that each individual can maintain correct posture while sitting down. This is essential for ensuring employees are comfortable when sitting at their desks, so they can focus more easily on their work.

3) Underfoot Support

Just like you invest in ergonomic chairs to provide adequate support and comfort to seated workers, it's imperative to put in the same consideration for standing workers.

Unfortunately, this is often an afterthought, with companies attempting to retrofit underfoot support with of anti-fatigue mats, once they've purchased their sit to stand desks and started the transition process. But while they're great for standing working, anti-fatigue mats can be a nuisance when changing to a seated position.

Most anti-fatigue mats have raised edges, making it difficult to wheel chairs on and off, and the soft material used in their construction can make movement even harder. This usually means that the transition from seated to standing working requires employees to stand up and carry their chair away – repeating the process when they want to sit down.

A better alternative is to consider underfoot support early in your office design process, as this makes it simple to make design choices that incorporate it, instead of trying to add it on at the end. The best option is to build-in underfoot support to your choice of flooring.

Some carpet tiles have a type of cushioning known as open-cell cushion backing. This uses the same kind of technology found in high-performance sports shoes to provide superior underfoot support. This has been found to reduce muscle fatigue by as much as 24%, and heel impact loads by up to 30%, which makes a huge difference to the physical comfort and wellbeing of workers while standing, but without the added disruption (and cost) of standing mats.

4) Privacy

Privacy and confidentiality can both be new concerns when starting to adopt sit to stand working.

Many organizations and their employees work with sensitive data, and as a result, are particularly mindful of workplace privacy. This can sometimes cause problems with sit-to-stand office designs: it becomes easier for standing workers to unintentionally overlook a seated colleague’s computer; and for standing workers, their elevated computer monitors are potentially more visible to passers-by.

Therefore it’s important to address any privacy concerns your employees may have. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of specifying higher dividers between particular workstations, or supplying screen privacy protectors to all employees. Alternatively, it may be possible to group together employees that handle sensitive data into their own working area, to minimize the risk of them being overlooked.

5) Change Management

To make a success of sit to stand working, it's important that the initiative is adequately supported across the organization. Engaging the leadership team is key, but it's crucial that the sit to stand transition doesn't appear mandated by the business.

The best way to do this is to lead by example: senior executives and leadership teams should receive their standing desks at the same time as the rest of your employees, but they should have been informed that their adoption of sit to stand working is essential for encouraging successful adoption of the practice across the organization.

Lack of support from peers can also lead to poor adoption of sit to stand working habits. One successful tactic for encouraging adoption is to nominate 'champions' in each area - someone who will be disciplined enough to switch from sitting to standing every hour. The idea is that others working nearby will see them make the switch, and be prompted to do the same.

Making a Success of Sit to Stand Working

One of the simplest ways to make sit to stand working a success for your company is to set expectations, to help employees understand how much (or little) standing can help make a difference to their health. It's the transition between postures that is most important, so standing for as little as 10 minutes per hour can make a huge difference to health, wellness and comfort at work.

Providing education for employees about the benefits of sit to stand working, and designing an office space specifically to accommodate this new way of working, will mean your organization is best placed to successfully adopt sit to stand working, and reap the health, wellness and productivity benefits it offers.

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Michael Eckert

Written by Michael Eckert