Around the world’s more cosmopolitan cities, the working environment has gone through something of a transformation. Disney Pixar lead the way by breaking away from the norms of dull, imposing desk and cubicle working spaces to open plan play-pens filled with table tennis, video games and ball pits. Soon to follow were the likes of Google, turning the historically dull domain of web programming into what resembles the brainwashing compound of a Crayola sponsored cult. These days a stroll around the back alleys of San Francisco, London or Bristol will provide glimpses into the world of the co-working hub, where hipsters congregate under the pretence of collaboration, just to sit in what is essentially an office, but one that’s been made to look like your home. Common features of co-working hubs include retro-video game stations, with ornamental Atari 5600s seeing if the can break the high score for dust accumulation, oversized couches so teams of adults can feel like children gathering for story time and the obligatory stand up desk.
Standing desks are not as new as you might think with records of their use dating way back through history with even Leonardo da Vinci being amongst its adopters. Standing desks have gained popularity of late due to purported health benefits, although these benefits have not yet been clearly established and there are no approved health claims that can be associated with their usage. Having said that there are some areas where the potential benefits seem obvious.
First is weight management, as supporting your own bodyweight uses more energy than not. According to recent studies, use of a standing desk increases the heart rate by an average 10 beats per minute equating to an additional calorific expenditure of 20-50 calories per hour which could add up to 306 to 750 calories per week – about the same as a decent gym session.
More importantly is that all this sitting is slowly killing us. Numerous studies all conclude that the more we sit the more we are susceptible to metabolic risk,which is associated with diabetes and heart disease (read more). The more we sit, the higher risk of mortality from all causes.
Sit down, you’re making me nervous
Remaining active is obviously beneficial to health and our world has become configured to sit us down in one chair or another. You’re either sat around on without a job on benefits or hoping to one day earn enough money so that you just sit around enjoying yourself with daily grind of work a distant memory. But does being active and working in an office really mix?
Whilst activity may offer health benefits, standing idle all day also has its cons. A 2005 Danish study following nearly 10,000 working adults over 12 years found that those who did the most sitting on the job were 44% less likely to receive hospital treatment for varicose veins. On top of that, let’s face it you look daft, like you’re about to perform and impromptu DJ set, whilst missing out on all the fun swinging and swivelling that chairs offer.
Sure we should move more, but activity has a time and a place. Standing desks play into the notion that we are all too busy and must therefore find ways to multitask in order that there be no downtime. It is this mindset – that being seen to be working is of vital importance, that poses the greatest risk. The truth of the matter is we are all most likely working too much, unnecessarily, with half of our time wasted on pointless meetings about things that, in the end, don’t really have that much consequence. We’ve all just bought into this meme of saying how busy we are to cover the fact that we aren’t really doing anything and we don’t want to be seen as time wasters. For most of us our work isn’t all that vital to sustaining the human race. Take a day off and the planet will keep spinning. In fact taking more breaks and time off has been shown to improve productivity as it allows us to step out of one mental space, review things in terms of the wider perspective, then return refreshed and with a clear plan of action.
Run or ride to work, hit the gym a lunch or in the evening and spend some time milling around, but in the meantime sit down, answer a few emails and stop worrying about trying to everything at once.