Phrases such as ‘thinking on your feet’ slip into everyday use easily; neuroscientists and their colleagues from related fields like to put these claims to the test. It’s not as simple as taking one idea - say that more blood flowing to the brain gets more oxygen up there and improves brain performance. That would be true but it’s never going to be the whole truth. Multi-factor problems are always intriguing. There are many working parts to bio-psycho-social mechanisms like our brains and it's safe to say they interact. Scientist play with many scenarios and ‘models’ to explore what is going on; people with a disease versus those who are healthy, healthy people who are peak performers versus novices, healthy people working through problems under different sets of conditions.
In a current study comparing standing to work with sitting to work, people are telling me different things about their energy levels and focus. I’m hearing that when energy levels are down, people talk about shifting from sitting. I also hear about taking energy drinks first thing in the morning to get pepped up and then not being able to sit! What I don’t hear about, or haven’t yet, is being too tired / fatigued / weary to stand up any longer. Yet standing and walking require more energy!
There does seem to be a big link between the size and qualities of the desk or desk device you’re standing at, and the tasks that work better in standing versus sitting. You could argue that the work expands to fill the available space. If effective work means you have to have tools like paper that take up space, then for productivity to be stable you have to allow for these tools in the stand-to-work situation. Combine unique work and unique people and you have a whole lot of variety.
Put all this together and you end up, in research terms, with a study size of n=1. One person. That means that to be really exact about the best pattern of work, you have to get a lot of detail from one person and coach them through their own particular set of circumstances. Or potentially show them how to coach themselves, giving them the tools to do this.
This isn’t very efficient. So put simply, if sitting is making us sick, then breaking that up with standing and walking around the office can make us healthier makes sense. If sitting, standing and walking encourages better performance but not always, then any performance-minded boss or team leader would be wise to think about helping employees learn for themselves what works and what doesn’t. This is too important from a business success perspective to leave employees to keep this information to themselves. It should, but often doesn’t, influence how the workplace is designed and the way technology, people and tasks mesh together.
How does standing to work, work for you? Please share!