Has the UK sit-stand market finally grown up?

September 9, 2016

er60nomIt is nearly twenty years since we sold our first sit-stand desk but the real growth in interest amongst UK employers has arisen since early in 2014.

Initially driven by publicity about the potential health impacts of sedentary behaviour, employers were bombarded with news, statistics, research and plenty of online ‘noise’ predicting dire consequences if there was not a rapid and immediate transition from traditional office environments to workplaces populated with ‘standing desks’.

Even using the term ‘standing desk’ is misleading to the uninitiated because it implies that simply replacing seated activity with standing activity is the answer. Furthermore, some of the (apparently well-researched and highly reputable) research recommended that we should all aim to stand at our desk for up to four hours per day. The problem, however, has never been about too much sitting: it has been about not enough movement. Standing undoubtedly helps but it is only part of the solution.


Hedge’s 3S’s Ideal Work Pattern

The ‘stand for four hours’ rationale has now been widely dismissed and many who really understand the issues will recommend a 30 minute cycle of sitting, standing and movement such as ‘Hedge’s 3S’ cycle proposed by Professor Alan Hedge .

With clearer guidance, employers can make better judgements and the sales enquiries we now receive seem to come more from a ‘good thing to do’ perspective rather than ‘do we really have to do this?’.

What is also significant is that most large employers are opting for 10 – 20% sit-stand, often putting a pair of sit-stand desks at the end of a bank of standard workstations. By contrast, more and more of our ‘mini project’ orders (typically, 10 – 40 desks) are for smaller organisations equipping all of their personnel with a sit-stand option. It seems that these smaller organisations recognise that they are doing much more than changing the furniture: they are introducing a culture change. As a result, they want to embrace that change, recognising the value of the training we provide and appreciating the importance of proper education to ensure users benefit fully from the new furniture and the behaviour opportunities it creates.sitstandtips

It may simply be that the sort of organisations who come to us do so because of our commitment to training and the added value we offer beyond the desks themselves. Or it could be that sit-stand furniture buyers are becoming more sophisticated and demanding a  more comprehensive package.

Whatever the explanation I like to think that, after nearly 20 years, the sit-stand market is finally growing up!

When Agile Working isn’t Working

May 10, 2016

Agile Working is a ‘hot topic’ at the moment and we hear many stories about how brilliantly employers have implemented an Agile Working Programme (AWP). Such accounts demonstrate how that success has positively impacted productivity, personnel satisfaction, wellbeing and engagement. We hear rather fewer stories about what happens when it fails but I fear that proper investigation would show that the failures outnumber the successes.

I am an enthusiastic advocate of a good AWP but it seems that many organisations fail to grasp the scale and planning required for a successful implementation. Indeed, it is probably fair to say that many of the so-called AWPs that have been described to me barely justify the title. There is much more to do than simply take away some desks and give everyone a laptop or clear some office space and fill it with an apparently random selection of brightly coloured soft seating or install sit-stand desks and assume everyone will know how to use them.

I think that the problem lies in confusion about who ‘owns’ the process. Often it may be driven by Estates or Facilities but the managers involved need to take a broader view than their usual professional perspective. A collaborative, multi-disciplinary programme group is essential and a key member (probably the key member) is the Change Management expert. These specialists understand how to manage the staff consultation process, accommodate the psycho-social factors and implement appropriate training and support. Any successful programme is almost certain to require external assistance or, if the project is big enough, the creation of new roles within the business specifically to deliver the programme.

I would love to hear about your own experiences. Have you been part of one of the successes? Or part of something that failed or never really ‘got going’?


Sit-Stand Desks: What’s all the fuss about? And why now? (Part 1 of 2)

July 7, 2014

(Part 2 of this blog is available here)

Are sit-stand desks new?

SitStandDeskEarly20thCenturyThere is evidence of implementations dating back over a century, but height-adjustable sit-stand desks as we now know them have been available from Scandinavian manufacturers for about 20 years. We have been using electronically-adjustable models throughout our office for over 10 years.

More recently, products manufactured in the Far East (but often marketed as Scandinavian or European designs) have brought the price down significantly. In 2000, a Danish-manufactured 1600mm x 800mm (63 x 31.5 inch) sit-stand desk retailed at £1200 + VAT. Today the UK retail price (before discounts) is less than £700 + VAT. There are also after-market adaptors for existing sitting desks (see Part 2 of this blog).

So is “getting up” a new thing?

Dynamic sitting, movement and changes of posture have been a mantra since before the birth of ergonomics as a discipline. However, the “sitting is bad for you” message is quite recent (but probably not as recent as people think).

The “Sitting Disease”

Type 2 DiabetesAs long ago as November 2007, the Daily Mail published this article in the UK headed “Sitting at a desk all day is as bad for health as smoking”. There were probably many similar articles at the time.

The basis of the research (from the University of Missouri-Columbia) was that prolonged sitting increased the likelihood of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity. These outcomes drew the parallel with smoking (also a cause of these three disabling conditions) and this prompted the “sitting is the new smoking” catchphrase.

Recent publicity, in the UK especially, comes as a result of a Leicester study providing a meta-analysis of 18 studies and published in August 2012. This arrived at a similar conclusion.

Alongside this research, other evidence suggested that even regular exercise or gym workouts would be insufficient to counteract the damage being done by sedentary lifestyles amongst western office workers.

As a result of the publicity surrounding these findings, the catalogue of potential health woes apparently brought about by a sedentary lifestyle have been collectively dubbed the Sitting Disease.

Seeing the wood for the trees

There is no doubt that, properly implemented and used, sit-stand desks are healthy and beneficial to employees. They can increase calorie consumption, encourage movement, reduce sedentary postures and increase productivity.

But they may not!

Much of the recent purchase activity of sit-stand desks has been as a knee-jerk reaction to employee demand. In the US in particular, many retrofit sit-stand desk projects have proved harder to implement than expected. Blue chip employers are now installing successful sit-stand-only desking in new build projects but this is a very different situation from partial implementations in existing facilities.

Culture and training

In the same way that a well-designed chair will not help back problems unless the user is trained to set it up and adjust it, a sit-stand desk may just replace poor sitting postures with poor standing postures. It is also essential that users recognise the importance of mixing activities and remember not to stand or sit for too long at any one time. Taking the chair away and standing all day may solve some problems but will almost certainly create others.

It is therefore important to find a desk supplier who understands the cultural and psycho-social issues of using these products, rather than a retailer who can simply assemble it and plug it in.  It is also naïve to assume that the simple act of providing users with sit-stand desks will be the panacea for all posture issues, instantly eradicating the “Sitting Disease” and increasing productivity!

Users need to understand how to adjust the desk, why they should be doing so, how long they should use the different postures and what “a good set-up” looks and feels like. Otherwise there is a strong chance that the varied use will be abandoned and it will soon revert to an unnecessarily expensive sitting desk.

It is even possible to link the desk controls to the user’s computer and adopt a scientific approach to posture change. For example, SitStandCOACH is a software/hardware combination that prompts users to change posture at appropriate intervals (linked to activity and not just to time).

So what are my options?
What are my options?My next blog will explore product options and provide ideas for implementation, as well as offering some warnings about pitfalls. In the meantime, in no particular order, here are several research links relating to sit-stand workstations. I shall leave you to draw your own conclusions about the veracity of each item!

  • Useful blog article with several research links – http://53eig.ht/1oRyine
  • University of Leicester, 2012: Sitting for protracted periods increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and death – http://bit.ly/1kcwSAs
  • Ebara et al, 2008: Effects of adjustable sit-stand VDT workstations on workers’ musculoskeletal discomfort, alertness and performance – http://1.usa.gov/1kcEH9l
  • University of Sydney/National Heart Foundation of Australia Case Study, 2013: Do sit-stand workstations reduce employees’ sitting time – http://bit.ly/1kcGZp7  (further references in the back of this publication)
  • Choi, 2010: Ergonomic Evaluation of Electrically Adjustable Table in VDU Work – http://bit.ly/1kcKEDd
  • Grunseit et al, 2013: “Thinking on your feet”: A qualitative evaluation of sit-stand desks in an Australian workplace – http://bit.ly/1kcLGz8
  • Hedge, 2004: Effects of an electrically height-adjustable work surface on self-assessed musculo-skeletal discomfort and productivity in computer workers – http://bit.ly/1kcJlEs
  • American Institute for Cancer Research, 2011: Getting Up From Your Desk Can Put the “Breaks” on Cancer – http://bit.ly/1kcxoOY
  • Extensive BBC Article, April 2014: http://bbc.in/1kcxFS6

(Part 2 of this blog is available here)

Active desks – a step too far?

April 10, 2013

LakeDistrictViewApple crumble & custard. Morecambe & Wise. Long walks & the Lake District. Some combinations just work well together.

Other pairings may be worthy individually but less so when united. I would put driving & texting, Rachel & Joey, walking & typing, and cycling & mousing into the latter category.

Treadmill DeskRecent discussions and headline-grabbing stories about the adverse effects of long-term sitting have brought “active desks” back into the limelight. (Active desks provide the user with facilities to walk, cycle or even use a recumbent elliptical trainer when working at an appropriate height desk). I first saw these at an exhibition in the US several years ago and, despite the plausible sales pitch, I was sceptical from the outset.

My issue with these products is that, like physio balls and kneeling chairs before them, their application in the workplace can be misunderstood and, as a result, misapplied.

Walking and other forms of exercise are obviously “a good thing” but how can you combine this effectively with computer work (which is what the majority of us do at our desk most of the time)?

Passive audio/video activities (webinars, podcasts) are viable with an active workstation – after all, we can watch TV whilst exercising  in the gym. By contrast, typing and mousing require a level of accuracy best accomplished when the upper body is stationary. Productivity will therefore decline significantly. For example, users report dramatic increases in typing errors.

Like physio balls, which are highly effective in their proper context (to strengthen core stability muscles through a proper exercise programme), use in the workplace can be counter-productive or even injury-inducing.

In my view, traditional sit-stand workstations, in combination with other exercise methods, are a better solution (and not just because we sell them!). Not only are they cheaper, they also give the user the opportunity to enjoy a mix of sitting and standing activities throughout the day.  This should always be combined with training and education about other simple activities like stretching breaks, walking meetings, using the stairs, parking at the opposite end of the car park and the many other ways that individuals can improve their health and their productivity without any cost to themselves or their employer.

Car ParkPerhaps my subject should be “Active desks – What’s the point?”

I hope I can look forward to some heated debate about this topic – either online or in person!

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