Standing room only… a fad or a future trend?

When a colleague recently told me of the latest space saving office trend – to provide workers with ‘standing desks’, my first thought was that he had to be joking…!  The thought of rows of employees standing at their desks seemed too far-fetched and quite removed from my own experience of the work-place. Surely more of a fad than a trend I thought?

However, after looking into it, I think there may be some legs to the concept (!!). It is already becoming a trend in the US (with corporate adopters including Chevron, Intel, Allstate, Boeing, Apple and Google) and I think it has potential to move out of the ‘fad’ stage here.

The primary driver seems to be recognition from these companies of the importance of staff well-being and health. In the current economic climate getting the most out of staff is more important than ever. Research shows that the best companies to work for outperform the competition because they understand the clear link between healthy energised staff and the bottom line. Benefits of employee wellbeing policies can include:

  • Improvement in staff health, energy & performance
  • Increased staff engagement
  • Attraction and retention of the best people
  • Reduction in staff absence & related costs
  • Reduce reactive health costs such as EAP’s (employee assistance programmes) & PMI (private medical insurance)

From the productivity standpoint (excuse the pun) – results are difficult to quantify.  However I suggest it would improve employee performance.  Whilst there is no direct evidence linking ‘standing desks’ to increased productivity – there is research linking long periods of sitting at desks with various health concerns, including obesity and metabolic syndrome. Too much sitting is also known to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Implementation of ‘standing desks’ as part of a combined approach to work space utilisation could also bring cost benefits to companies wishing to benefit from a more efficient use of space. A range of different working environments are required and evidenced in the very best examples of modern workplaces. Taking Vodafone as an example. At their six-storey building in Auckland they employ a variety of working arrangements.  Staff can sit at the same desk permanently; work at bench-height hubs catering for six to eight people or use smaller single stand-up desks.   Vodafone have acknowledged this arrangement saved them from having to build a whole extra floor – a huge financial saving, not only in terms of rent but also furniture and heating.

So – back to the original question of the blog – a fad or a trend? Well I would definitely put it in the fad phase at the moment as far as the UK is concerned.  I have heard reports of some lawyers opting for these type of work stations in the square mile, but not heard of wider adoptions yet.  What I would say is that what drives trends are underlying needs that are not being met.  Looking at the underlying cultural, economic and corporate real estate strategy shifts, I believe the needs are there.  So – definitely a potential trend to look out for.