Is the era of the DESK over?
2016 had us in awe of the Danes and their excellent attitude to the Winter blues with the nesting power of ‘Hygge’ – but it’s not just about hunkering down in front of the home fires, they’re also ahead of us in their attitude to the workplace – or ‘arbejdsglaede’ (happiness at work). If you’ve been reading our blogs and following us in the twittersphere, you’ll know this is very much top of our list when it comes to, well, LIFE really.
Our attachment to the office desk is fraught with danger. Crocodiles? Sharks? Undercooked pork? All of these pale into insignificance when we realise how life-shortening desklife can actually be. The British Journal of Sports Medicine says “Prolonged sitting should be considered within occupational health and safety policies just like other elements of posture.” How does that grab you? All businesses are required to carry out health and safety training for employees, and, although a part of this concerns the ergonomics of your workstation, does anyone without a diagnosed back problem ever actually ask for more health conscious office equipment? Oh, and who actually follows it up and regularly checks your health? After the initial health and safety checkboxes are checked, most of us are on our own – cheerfully off on the road to RSI, neck cramps and circulatory issues.
This isn’t OK. There’s a reason why scientists have even given it the name ‘sitting disease’ (yes, not made up, actually a thing), and that’s because doing too much of it can be extremely bad for your health. The days of the traditional desk and chair are numbered. Already there are a whole number of alternatives available to the mass market, but is the organisation you work for willing to break the mould?
What’s good about desks?
The traditional desk and chair is good for a few things. They provide structure to the office layout, they allow us to organise our things under piles of other things. They provide us with a consistent individual [choose your word] space, domain, territory, kingdom. They allow us to crack on with our work the moment we reach our desk and turn on a computer, so they’re time saving too.
Do any of these good points sound particularly good? Could we find alternative ways to substitute each of these things for something that works more in harmony with a healthy body?
Why is it time for desks to move on.
Aside from the stress that sitting down places on your spine and muscles, repetitive chair sitting affects more than that. Martha Grogan, cardiologist for the Mayo Clinic, says “For people who sit most of the day, their risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking.”
Health isn’t the only pitfall, inspiration is too. If you work in a creative space, the downright predictability of sitting at the same desk day after day can stunt creativity. Claiming dominion over your desk space encourages habit and repetition. Being in constant proximity to the same faces can also prevent collaboration and the widening of friend and colleague networks. All of this is detrimental to both employers and employees.
Creativity is everywhere.
It’s not always practical to do away with desks altogether, BUT offices can be redesigned with key needs in mind. For example, creative spaces can and should be designed with creativity in mind, just as collaborative spaces should be designed with communication in mind.
A popular alternative to the sitting desk is the STANDING desk, where you can move the height of your desk up and down. A 2011 US study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that when workers are equipped with sit-stand workstations, prolonged sitting is reduced and mood states improve. And that’s just the start of it.
Look for alternative health boosters to support day to day tasks. One-to-one meetings lend themselves to being ‘walking meetings’ which can help focus the mind whilst moving the body. When faced with stressful days, encourage employees to lie on a mat, stretch on a bar or generally switch up their workstation (over a drink in the cafeteria for example). All of these things improve circulation and energy levels.
Don’t just recommend taking breaks either, offer things to DO during those breaks. The renowned Artificial Intelligence company Action AI encourages its staff to nurture sunflowers in the spring. Each employee selects a germinated seed and is subsequently tasked with keeping it alive and healthy over the coming months. Rewards are given to the employee with the best looking sunflower by summer amidst fun and healthy competition. A touch of creativity goes a long way.
This Amsterdam design studio looks like a typical workspace, but come 6pm, the large shared desks rise up to the ceiling on their steel cables leaving a clear floors pace which can be used for other things. The room used to belong to an abandoned chocolate factory and all the materials are scavenged or recycled from materials such as flattened car doors and telephone poles.
Along with health and inspiration, let’s add flexible space to the list of reasons to get creative on the humble desk. By being versatile with space, organisations can encourage employees to step out of the 9-5 box and into something rather more stimulating. Why not turn your office into a yoga studio at 6pm, or a painting school, or music class. No really, why not?