Texas A&M researchers found that workers who could stand at their desks were 46% more productive than those with traditional seated desks
New research supports the use of standing desks, finding workers are more productive. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
By DANIEL AKST
When employees stand, they deliver. That, at least, is the implication of a new study of workers who sit all the time versus those who use standing-capable desks.
Stand-up desks have been gaining popularity in recent years, but reports on their benefits have been mixed, and much of the focus has been on whether they help workers to be healthier and more comfortable. Researchers at Texas A&M University now report that, in their study, the workers were indeed more comfortable, probably because they were moving—and that the standing desks benefited their employers as well.
The researchers found that workers at a call center who were given “stand-capable” desks—ones that were either adjustable to standing height or set to standing position—were 46% more productive than workers with traditional seated desks. This was the case even though the workers at these stand-capable desks had less experience on the job.
Beginner’s luck probably wasn’t a factor, the scientists say, since the bulk of the productivity gains didn’t set in until the workers’ second month at the standing desks, and all had been employed for at least 90 days.
The study covered 167 employees, divided into two groups: those with traditional seating and those whose desks promoted standing. The researchers measured productivity by the number of calls per hour in which a worker reached a target client and went through a health-related script, including arranging a follow-up call.
The researchers attributed much of the productivity gains to the greater physical comfort reported by the workers at the higher desks. Nearly three-quarters of those workers said that they felt less discomfort after using the desks for the six-month study. The greater comfort was consistent with prior research showing that standing desks offer benefits to their users—by helping them burn more calories, for example, or improving their concentration and other mental powers.
Some earlier evidence has suggested that workers with stand-capable desks don’t actually spend much time standing. But the Texas A&M researchers found that the call-center workers with such desks really did spend a lot more time on their feet—an extra 1.6 hours a day compared with workers using traditional desks. (The amount of time spent standing was measured by wearable monitors.)
One of the scientists, Mark Benden, who heads the university’s Ergonomics Center, says that merely getting workers to stand probably doesn’t fully account for the team’s findings. As he puts it, “statically standing is not much better than statically sitting.” The key difference, he argues, is that the standing-oriented desks get people to move more: The standers “wiggle, wobble, pivot, lean, perch, etc.,” which is crucial, he says, in today’s age of “technology induced inactivity.” Dr. Benden says that he can foresee the day when a smartphone or some other high-tech device, attuned to our activities as well as our vital signs, will pick a good time to nudge us to get up and move around a little on the job.