Standing up for office health
Professor Grant Schofield is making a stand for a better, healthier office.
Schofield, from Auckland University of Technology's Human Potential Centre (HPC) based at the Millennium high performance sports complex in Albany, is on a mission to dramatically cut the amount of time office workers spend seated, which a paper published in the British Medical Journal last month suggests could be very bad for workers' life expectancy.
He and colleagues at the AUT's School of Design have created office furniture for the HPC to ensure that people remain on their feet for much of the day.
The desks are standing height, and the seats are designed, quite literally, to be a pain in the arse, the idea being that uncomfortable seats are needed to break our predeliction for sitting.
The British Medical Journal paper indicates that limiting sitting to less than three hours a day and limiting television viewing to less that two hours may increase life expectancy at birth in the US by between 1.4 and two years.
While the study, based on US data, does not mean that someone reducing sitting time to less than three hours will automatically end up living that much longer, it does indicate that a more healthful, and, Schofield argues, alert and productive, workforce could be produced if we reduced sitting time.
The HPC office design is a work in progress, but Schofield reports positive results already. He and colleagues report feeling greater energy levels and alertness, especially during that drowsy spell after lunch and during long phone calls and conferences.
They are currently engaged in building data on productivity they hope will provide proof that those feelings are justified.
Currently, desks of standing height are rare except when prescribed for those with bad backs, but the research suggests they should be at the centre of an office revolution.
Schofield said there is something ridiculous about the drive by the ergonomics industry to create more and more comfortable chairs, which just encourages sitting. A change of tack is needed, he argues.
“The emperor has no clothes,” Schofield says.
“It seems to me that the office is broken and nobody has noticed.”
Schofield would not banish sitting from the office. For certain, solo, focused, high-concentration work tasks, sitting works, but resetting the default from sitting to standing yields benefits.
In an office with standing room only, workers won't end the day exhausted, Schofield says. Standing burns more energy, but not as much as people may think.
If food intake and exercise remain otherwise unchanged, a worker switching to standing as the default setting in the office would end up around two kilograms lighter after a year.
The evidence is mounting for the benefits of standing at work, Schofield said, but he acknowledges that evidence does not necessarily bring about social change, as the obesity epidemic shows. Some good commercialisation will play a big part.
“Proof is good, but proof in itself does nothing because academic papers just sit there, but developing and selling this stuff would be a better way.”
Commercialisation of the intellectual property AUT is creating is at an early stage, but Schofield already has a brand name in mind: “Goya” which stands for Get Off Your Arse.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Has the sale of assets been successful?Related story: Govt lowers asset sales estimate