LINcast U.S. Episode 2: The Real Challenge with Sit-Stand Desks

What's the real challenge with using sit-stand desks? LINcast host Gabe Duverge invited the DESKLINE Director of LINAK U.S. Inc. Michael Cook to explore this problem and how LINAK is trying to solve it in the latest LINcast podcast episode.

How to overcome lack of sit stand desk use in the workplace

Full Transcript

Gabe Duverge: Hello and welcome to LINcast, a LINAK podcast with conversations exploring the latest research and innovation behind actuation solutions. We are improving people's quality of life and working environment through smooth and reliable movement. My name is Gabe Duverge. Today, I'm joined by Michael Cook, the Director of LINAK US Inc.'s DESKLINE division. This division is focused on flexible actuator solutions for sit-stand desks, work tables, and much more. 

For this episode, we wanted to discuss a topic that is challenging many companies out there who are thinking or currently using sit-stand desks. The problem is that it can be very easy to forget to use your desk.

The majority of developed countries are sitting down for most of the day. Between working, eating, commuting, or at home watching the TV. A study in Australia found, among 193 employees in offices, call centers, and customer service centers, that they were sedentary for 77% of working hours. We know that sedentary behavior can lead to many challenges, including adverse cardiovascular and metabolic effects, and it has also been linked to an increased risk of cancer. But there are also health risks if you're standing for too much throughout the day. The key is getting the right balance of both. Frequent changes in posture while working have been associated with higher levels of productivity. So, it's not just about improving the health of the individual, but also about focusing on the health of the company. With this in mind, Michael, could you talk a little bit about what the real issue is?

Michael Cook: Absolutely, Gabe. Today, most sit-stand desk owners know there are benefits to standing. The reality is that we're all busy. We're all super immersed in our professional roles and often forget to move or stand throughout the day, even if we have a sit-stand desk. Surprisingly, we hear that a very low percentage of users actually use their desks, and that's the real challenge. How do we easily motivate people to move throughout the day and gain the health and productivity benefits of sit-stand desks?

Gabe Duverge: That's a great point. Let's start with that. How do we keep this idea top of mind in the first place?

Michael Cook: You know Gabe, this is difficult for many reasons. Like I mentioned before, we're all busy. Secondly, we get tired or have less energy because of the work we're doing while we're sitting. Subconsciously, our bodies are telling us that we need to rest, but in truth we're feeling tired, low on energy, and it's often a sign that we need to stand or move. We can't trust our own bodies to let us know when it's time to stand and there are very few triggers in the work environment reminding us to stand up while working. This point was a significant finding from a behavioral study conducted by KL.7, a behavioral design firm based in Copenhagen, Denmark. At LINAK, we believe that reminders could be a big part of the solution by helping people move more throughout working hours. So, we funded a study to take a look at the effects.

Gabe Duverge: Wow, that behavioral study sounds really interesting. Could you go a little bit more into detail on that?

Michael Cook: Yeah, Gabe it was. Over a three week period, KL.7 monitored 54 office workers, collecting data on over 9,100 observations and 4,500 hours of sit-stand activity. During this time, two types of actions were tested at three different work places using email reminders and physical or auditory reminders. So, office workers either received an email with new content each day at different times or a reminder was placed on their desk for them to feel and hear once every hour.

Gabe Duverge: Once you guys got all the results back, did they confirm what you believed, that reminders could potentially be a part of a real solution here?

Michael Cook: Gabe, it absolutely did. For those that we considered light users, or those that typically stand at their desk less than 20% of the time, their standing time increased from approximately 36 minutes per day to 79 minutes per day. Those considered non-users or those that typically stood less than 2% of the time, they increased their standard time by 12.3 minutes. So, with reminders, the largest group consisting of the light users, saw an increase of over 117% in standing time. That's a phenomenal start towards ensuring that employees see the health and performance benefits of their sit-stand desks.

Gabe Duverge: Yeah, 117% is really a massive improvement. It's interesting, Michael, that you mention the benefits of both the employee and the company. I think that really highlights that there are costs to not standing and taking advantage of your sit-stand desk.

Michael Cook: Yes, Gabe. You mentioned some of the major individual benefits at the start, but studies have shown that standing 15 minutes per hour will increase weight loss, improve mental health, and help make you happier and healthier. In fact, standing 15 minutes per hour could equate to burning 20,000 calories a year. That corresponds to running six full marathons in 12 months. But studies also show that when employees use their desks more, they're better employees. They have reduced sick days, they're more focused, they're more productive, and they're less stressed. According to James Levine, Director of Obesity Solutions for the Mayo Clinic and the Arizona State University, the return on investment is typically between $3 and $7 for every $1 invested in workplace interventions that help people be more active on the job.

Gabe Duverge: But there are two sides to every story, Michael. I have heard some negative press recently about standing for far too long being harmful for your health. 

Michael Cook: You're right. There have been some really misleading discussions out there. One recent study showed that if you stand for extended periods of time, it can lead to negative effects like discomfort and mental sluggishness, but we know that sedentary behavior can have severe effects as well. So, to set the record straight, it's not just about doing one or the other. The real key is doing the right amount of both. Instead of focusing on sitting or standing, businesses should be focused on movement and encouraging a more active work environment. We have to use common sense. 

Gabe Duverge: That's really fascinating, Michael. Earlier you mentioned that reminders are a part of the solution, but are there any other parts?

Michael Cook: A big part of the challenge, as I mentioned before, is not just to help people remember to stand, but to do it in a way that doesn't distract or interrupt their work or interrupt the working environment. It's important when companies or individuals are deciding on technology, to help remind people to use their desks. They use technology that is as intuitive and as simple to use as possible. For example, LINAK recently developed the DPG control panel. Frankly, it was designed to shape behavior. It combines multiple user friendly features, like a comfortable tilt control and an unobtrusive visible light switch that changes color to help remind people to sit or stand. For example, when it's green you're either standing or sitting at the right interval. When it turns orange, it's your signal to move again. 

Most importantly, it was designed around choice and personal preference. Three out of four of the models have integrated Bluetooth, allowing users to configure settings in the desk control app, which is a free download, as well as customize audible reminders to get push notifications for a phone, an iPad, or other mobile device. Soon, there'll be a new development where reminders can be received on a Mac or Windows computer, with additional functionality as well. All reminder types can be chosen based on preference, all without distracting people from work.

Gabe Duverge: Absolutely. These are great points for us to consider, as we gain a better understanding about the workplace and how we can ensure that both health and productivity are a more natural habit for our office workers.

Michael Cook: Gabe, I want to thank you for letting me talk to you about this today. But I'd like to end with a comment. It's okay to sit. Sitting for long periods can be harmful to our health, just like standing for too long can be as well. LINAK, and most companies in this industry, simply advocate a more active way of working, combining a responsible blend of sitting and standing. Lastly, I think if it's too confusing about sitting and standing, there's an immense opportunity for us to rely on experts in the ergonomic community and the active working community to help train us to be more responsible in how we use our work tools.

Gabe Duverge: Thank you so much for joining us today, Michael. I want to thank everyone for listening. You can find more articles and topics on our news page.

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