People + Process = Performance

Sit-to-Stand: Effective Dynamic Workstations Or Expensive Static Desks? Part 1

Dynamic or active workstations are the hot trend in the office environment these days.  Is this trend a passing fad or an effective solution for sedentary office work?  In Part 1, I’ll do a quick review of what started this trend, define the concept of sit-stand workstations and some of their benefits and challenges.  In Part 2, we’ll take a closer look at challenges to use of these workstations.  In Part 3, we’ll explore the keys to successful implementation and sustained use of sit-stand workstations.


Health & Productivity Concerns of Sedentary Work

Sedentary work has been linked to several adverse health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  In addition, musculoskeletal disorders have been linked to sedentary work, mostly those of the hand/wrist, neck and back.  The impact of those disorders on productivity is significant.  According to a 2002 study (Hagberg,Tornqvist, & Toomingas, 2002), those injuries and disorders translate into a 10%-20% drop in productivity.  Essentially, staying in a static seated position for a long duration results in high occurrences of discomfort, poor health and lowered productivity.


Sit-to-Stand Workstations

The concept of sit-to-stand workstations came about as a method to reduce sitting time by allowing the worker to alternate between sitting and standing at any time by raising the work surface to standing height and lowering it to sitting height.  By alternating positions, the worker changes posture and, when standing, engages larger muscle groups.  Interestingly, the actual energy expenditure change between sitting and standing is minimal as both positions are static.  These workstations allow the worker to change postures while continuing to perform the job tasks.  Studies have shown alternating between postures does not negatively affect worker productivity.


Benefits and Challenges of Sit-to-Stand Workstations

I reviewed several research studies on sedentary and active workstations and overall sit-to-stand workstations, when users frequently switched between sitting and standing, are effective in reducing discomfort in the back.  One study found that switching every 30 minutes was enough to reduce discomfort without decline in productivity.  That said, based on my experience with clients and human factors in general, getting workers to actively switch every 30 minutes is not intuitive or practical.  People get engrossed in their work and, unless an outside force or reminder happens, they will not change their posture that frequently. 


This brings up the whole compliance paradigm with sit-stand workstations.  In order for these workstations to be effective in improving health, comfort and productivity they have to be used appropriately.  Even if users change posture frequently it is thought that using these workstation will have a very limited, if any, effect on body weight reduction as there is little to no movement in standing. 


The success of these workstations for overall feeling of wellness and greater productivity depends on worker motivation and the organizational/department workplace culture.  Workers must be diligent and committed to changing heights throughout the work day over the long term.  In addition, employers must provide a work environment, workstation layout and work schedule that facilitates physical postural changes.  In addition, employers must address the psychosocial challenges by focusing on their culture and messaging to promote and encourage these workstations.  Psychosocial barriers can be very difficult to overcome. 


We’ll continue to look at challenges of sit-to-stand workstations in Part 2.