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Standing Desks? Yoga rooms? Creating Healthy Workplaces in Your New Office

May 16, 2019 | by Jo Cipolla

One of the most important considerations when relocating to a new office is workspace design. Your team spends their day in a variety of physical positions—sitting, standing, walking, etc.—and interacting with a variety of furniture and amenities. The quality of these positions and interactions are crucial to every aspect of your company’s wellbeing, from physical and mental health to productivity and creativity.

The last decade has seen a deep rethink of that age-old office fixture: the desk. Ominous news about the detrimental effects of sitting have led many workers to embrace the standing desk, increase their physical activity during the workday, and do battle against sedentariness. The reasons go beyond long-term health: improved posture and movement have profound effects on energy levels, cognitive performance, and team dynamics. That’s why innovative office designers have begun incorporating mobility and flexibility into their spaces.

Entering a new space is an exciting opportunity for change. Some companies will seek the help of cutting-edge design experts such as SquareFoot client BuzziSpace, while others will turn to DIY solutions. Regardless of the path you take, here are some key considerations for creating a healthy office environment.

The Dangers of Over-Sitting

The multitude of reports in recent years about the perils of sitting have sparked some controversy and confusion—not to mention dread! Starting around 2011, word got around that sitting had insidious effects on par with smoking and obesity, including not only back and muscle problems, but increased risk of heart disease and cognitive decline. Worse, some studies suggested that even regular exercise wouldn’t counteract the damage. Yet soon it became clear that marathon standing sessions were no cure-all, and a backlash of voices even doubted the anti-sitting hype.

But the scientific consensus about sitting-specific dangers is increasingly clear—and worth taking to heart. For instance, a 2018 study by the American Cancer Society confirmed that sitting time is linked to a higher risk of 8 of the 10 most common causes of death. The good news is that the scientific community is also more optimistic about exercise: recently, the National Institutes of Health reported that  “even light-intensity movement for 30 minutes a day may reduce the risk of death incurred by sitting.”

Regular Movement & Optimal Sitting

The key is to sit well, sit less, and move frequently. If the treadmill desk isn’t for you, try taking regular walking breaks and reevaluating your posture, desk, and chair: small tweaks to alignment can have huge effects on wellbeing and performance. There are a ton of new products on the market to improve the ergonomics of our work stations, while professional ergonomists and occupational therapists can help you strike the ideal pose.

The Rise of the Standing Desk

After the initial Chair Scare circa 2011, standing desks were all the rage. Not only was standing the obvious answer to sitting’s harmful effects, but it even improved focus and productivity. A long line of practitioners stood witness to these benefits, from legendary film editor Walter Murch to a host of literary geniuses. Yet it turned out that standing had its own long-term health risks, and can be uncomfortable and tiring for many people. Once again, moderation, movement, and ergonomics are key. Consider standing on a yoga mat or special pad, in addition to finding the right station. Standing or adjustable desk options range from multi-thousand-dollar design masterpieces to sub-10-dollar DIY solutions.

Squatting

Beyond the standing desk, other alternatives have emerged to improve office wellbeing, including the squat. Common in non-Western societies, the squat can benefit joints, muscles, and internal organs. Many of us have lost the ability to squat comfortably, however, precisely because our hips and hammies have been wasting away in chairs! Yet for those who can pop a squat with ease—or want to train themselves to feel comfortable in the posture—it’s an excellent addition to your repertoire, especially for short-duration activities or dynamic rest.

Walking on the Job

Increasingly, mobile technologies allow us to work on our feet while away from the desk altogether. Movement-minded workers are taking calls while doing mini office laps; using voice-to-text apps to compose emails while out for a stroll; or catching up on industry news with podcasts or audiobooks while walking. This is a positive development, as walking is one of the single best activities for physical and cognitive health.

Work-Workouts

In addition to finding new postures, health-minded workers are fitting exercise into their schedules. This can mean not only trips to the gym or studio, but regular walking breaks around the building or micro-workouts in the office. Additionally, some are adding physical movement into the natural flow of their day: making in-person visits instead of email, or always taking the stairs. Thankfully, innovative office designers are creating spaces that inherently encourage healthy physical movement.

Yoga and Meditation

Yoga and meditation are excellent for mind-body recovery or inspiration, which is why many companies offer designated spaces for the cushion or mat. You might envision the classic meditation pose and think, “Hey, that looks like more sitting!”—but as any mindfulness master will tell you, meditation comes in infinite shapes, including standing and walking.

Unique Solutions

Beyond design transformations, companies must embrace a health-oriented culture that encourages freedom and variety of movement. Yet the optimal solution will vary from company to company, person to person. The best way to learn about your team’s preferences and needs is to ask—or, better yet, involve them in the design process. Inviting colleagues to offer their visions will inevitably uncover new possibilities for improving health and performance, while creating a space that feels truly shared and inspiring.

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