June 30, 2014


Yet Another Reason Why We Should All Stand at Work (Alice Robb, 6/30/14, New Republic)

In the anti-sitters' latest salvo, researchers have shown that standing up may encourage more creative and collaborative group-work. Andrew Knight and Markus Baer, professors at the business school at Washington University in St. Louis, recruited 214 undergraduate students and broke them into groups of three to five. They assigned each group to work together for half an hour to write a script for a college recruitment video, which would be judged for creativity as well as execution. All groups worked in conference rooms equipped with a whiteboard, easels, and markers, but half the groups worked in a room with five office chairs and a table--a "sedentary workspace"--while the other half worked in a room empty of table or chairs. Knight and Baer, who describe their results in a new paper in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, hypothesized that the students in the chair-less room would feel less constricted and come up with more ideas. It turns out they didn't see much of a difference in the end products, but the groups that worked in the unfurnished rooms showed higher signs of engagement and fewer signs of territoriality. Knight and Baer measured engagement by having participants wear wireless sensors that would monitor the activity of their sympathetic nervous system--known by psychologists to reflect arousal. The researchers judged how territorial participants felt over their own ideas by administering a survey after the experiment, having students rate statements like, "Everyone in my group was protective of his or her ideas." "Our results suggest that if leaders aspire to enhance collaborative knowledge work, they might consider eschewing the traditional conference room setup of tables and chairs and, instead, clear an open space for people to collaborate with one another," Knight and Baer conclude.

Being possessive over your own ideas is one of the least helpful things you can do when working with others. And if a simple change of furniture could make people more inclined to prioritize the group goal, it's probably something companies should consider. (Not to mention the health risks of sitting, which are well-established. The most thorough review of the evidence--a 2012 paper in the journal Diabetologia that took into account 18 studies involving nearly 800,000 people--found that the people who spent the most time sitting have nearly twice as high a risk of heart disease and diabetes as those who sat the least, even if they exercise regularly.)

Posted by at June 30, 2014 8:21 PM

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