Is sitting really the new smoking?

Is sitting really the new smoking?

by Tamara Van Meter

There are a lot of interesting conversations circling our industry at the moment about the connection between physical movement and workplace productivity. Do you spend the day sitting in front of your computer screen? Or running from conference room to conference room in meetings? Does your car double as your mobile office? Do you work from home at the kitchen table? Think about the range of body motion, posture and ergonomics we experience each day. Taking that concept one step further…how does our physical posture impact the way we think, concentrate and create?

Back in December, SMBW’s Tamara Van Meter and Sierra Roman spent the day in Washington DC at Teknion’s Thought Leadership Council Roundtable. With regional peers from VMDO Architects, Smith Group, Perkins + Will, Ballinger, Nelson and Meyer Design; the group reflected on the emerging Cognitive Ergonomics field and its impact on clients and projects. Simply put, as design professionals we should all look for strategies and solutions in our projects that encourage human movement, minimize disruption and incorporate nature.

Our own Melinda Harvey invested in an adjustable standing desk for her work station in SMBW’s office.

Recent studies have linked standing while we work to possible health benefits such as blood sugar control, decreased heart disease and extra burned calories. Interesting fact – Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway and Benjamin Franklin all favored standing while they wrote. Over half of SMBW’s corporate clients are adopting or investigating stand up desks. As they become more affordable, adjustable height worksurfaces have gone from being a medically necessary special request to a mainstream preference from all generations.

Technology introduces an interesting twist to Cognitive Ergonomics. Technology advances naturally promote movement since we are no longer tethered to our desks. However, our beloved devices are also the culprit for 57% of our daily interruptions. One study cited the average employee is digitally interrupted every 2 minutes thanks to email, facebook, texts or tweets. That same employee takes 20-25 minutes to reorient their thoughts if they were engaged in highly focused or technical work. Technology disruption coupled with an open acoustic environment can spell concentration disaster without thoughtful and strategic design planning.

It will be interesting to watch the new generation of workplace design and furniture evolve. Standing room only conference rooms? Treadmill desks? Cell phone restricted quiet zones? Focus rooms? Time will tell but as designers, we must be prepared to create socially and physically supportive environments that promote movement, focus and effectiveness.

And we better get used to standing.