Sitting At Your Desk Not Good For Productivity?

from the telecommuters-unite! dept

There's been plenty of back and forth on whether or not telecommuting is a good idea, but a new study in the UK seems to support a more flexible, mobile workforce -- saying that employees who remain deskbound all the time have their productivity stifled and are much more prone to injury (found via the Raw Feed). The study wasn't looking at telecommuting specifically, but the idea of sitting at a desk all the time vs. being able to walk around as you worked. Presumably, the same split would occur for telecommuters who station themselves at a desk vs. those who walk around as well. However, no matter what, it does seem to suggest that forcing people to constantly sit at a desk probably isn't the best way to keep them productive. The thing is, most people know this intuitively. It's why there are breaks during the day so that people can move around a bit. The difference here, though, is that the study didn't just have people take breaks, but actually allow them to work while moving about the office. So perhaps we should go beyond the trend of office-spaces with no permanent offices -- and move on to just making the office a big wandering area where people can walk while they work. It could serve to fight the obesity epidemic at the same time.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. Another Study

    Employee's all walking around the office while they are working? Now that would be an interesting thing to see.

    If my employee was not productive because he had a desk job, guess what? He won't have a job any more then he can walk around submitting resumes and see if that makes him more productive.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 6th, 2007 @ 11:06pm

    Pardon me for being uncreative, but exactly what kinds of work can you get done walking around? I walk around and plan and discuss and think but when the time comes to actually do things, walking around just doesnt work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Jesse McNelis, Nov 6th, 2007 @ 11:19pm

    I find it difficult to think while sitting. So if I have to wrap my head around someone I generally wander around randomly. This was difficult to do with my previous employer who had this idea that if I wasn't at my desk then I wasn't working. Makes for a terribly inefficient and depressing working environment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    DML, Nov 6th, 2007 @ 11:30pm

    Been saying this for years!

    I prefer to work standing up for this EXACT reason! It's nice to have some sort of study to back me up on this. I've been ranting about the counter-productive effect of sitting in a cubicle for 8+ hour chunks for years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    mx_, Nov 7th, 2007 @ 12:17am

    Take a look at Universities

    This has been done, we're just missing it. Anyone who has gone through a university and had to work with laptop knows that homeworks are usually done all over the place. One could park in an empty classroom, in a cafeteria, in a lounge, library, or many other places. I realize that usually offices cannot offer nearly as many facilities, however, if we approach an office from this university perspective, and make parallels between work and homework - the idea starts to brighten up.

    To Max Powers:
    - I'm sure you'll keep yourself extremely productive and in shape looking for sophisticated employees with a website like that. Seriously - either it's a joke, or a really really sad reality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Paul, Nov 7th, 2007 @ 12:23am


    1996 called, they want their web design back.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    yangyang (profile), Nov 7th, 2007 @ 2:01am

    raisable desks

    I once saw a desk which could go up and down at the touch of a button. So, when you are tired of sitting down, you just hit that button and spend a couple of hours working standing up.
    That's a workeable alternative.

    Max Powers
    Damn man, that website hurts my head - too many colours - too many things moving around

    Gotta go and get some painkillers...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    wouter, Nov 7th, 2007 @ 2:08am

    not black and white

    I think the main thing we should take away from this study is that it's healthy to get up every now and then.

    Rather than time all your little trips (get coffee- toilet-talk to coleague) to coincide, we should try to spread them out a bit. get up and go see a coleague instead of using the phone to talk to someone who is just a couple of meters away.

    just my two cents

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    CadNerd, Nov 7th, 2007 @ 3:51am

    I think people who make these observations should also come up with ways to make traditionally desk-bound jobs more mobile. I'm all for it--just figure out a way to use Autocad while moving about the office, please!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    be_free, Nov 7th, 2007 @ 4:06am

    look ar company's like Google and Pixar. Corporate wireless throughout, plenty of small seating areas where people can casually gather in work groups, and even sit outside. a bit depending on what you do of course, this is a no brainer as long as you have the technology to back it up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Evil Mike, Nov 7th, 2007 @ 4:40am

    At my company I program and I walk. Not quite all day long, there are several stretches of time at my desk; but my wandering the office while scribbling code notes or consulting an esoteric manual of hardware specs, perhaps hunting down one of our engineers to query the circuit/relay setup of a... you get the idea. Common sight.

    Besides, if I sit there for too long, my brain starts to get numb; or is that my bottom?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Wolfger, Nov 7th, 2007 @ 4:52am

    now convince my employer

    I need a wearable computer with one of those inch-in-front-of-the-eye "giant screen" headsets, and voice recognition that can replace the keyboard.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2007 @ 5:50am

    Poor supervisors evaluate using poor standards. Instead of evaluating productivity they evaluate on easily observed but often irrelevant standards such as whether a person is at their desk when they walk by or whether they are dressing appropriately.

    The often used argument against telecommuting is that workers can't be properly supervised if they are at home. In many cases that argument would go away if supervisors learned to use productivity as their primary standard.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Andrea, Nov 7th, 2007 @ 6:22am

    working remotely

    I believe that working from home and coming to the office once or twice a week is very very productive. My sister who works for IBM has worked from home for years as do many IBM employees, it saves on office space, and she tends to work more hours as well. It allows for freedom and the company gets more work out of its employees. We are in 2007 and if we want to stop global warming, traffic, accidents wouldn't that be the smartest way. So many people would save on gas also. It should be the wave of 2008.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 7th, 2007 @ 6:51am

    I agree that moving around helps clear the cobwebs from your brain. Sometimes when I'm working on a problem, I need to walk away for a bit and come back to it with a fresh thought pattern. Also, I just go nuts sitting in one place for too long.

    However, I would not encourage such activity on a constant basis, meaning nobody is ever at their desk. That type of environment would be chaos, with people looking for other people all the time, thereby wasting time. Also, one needs to have some base of operations, so to speak. Being able to float around is nice, but coming down to earth once in a while is important too. I'm all for PDAs and wireless connectivity to allow people to move around without being disconnected, but it is important to maintain the proper balance, or semi-productive will turn into non-productive.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    JS Beckerist (profile), Nov 7th, 2007 @ 8:03am

    If you can't sit and think...

    If you can't do the job you were hired for, then find a new job. If you're more productive while walking around, become a postman.

    Don't get me wrong. If you need to walk around occasionally to clear your head that's called human nature. If you need to walk around constantly to focus, that's called ADD and a desk job is probably not for you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    You never know, Nov 7th, 2007 @ 8:04am

    Perhaps some of you missed the point. Being forced to set at a desk for 8 to 10 hours has a stifling affect as well as being detrimental to health, (both I can personally attest to). By allowing the employee to stand and at least pace back and forth while using the phone, dictating or just reading from a larger display helps offset boredom and stimulate lower body circulation. Bluetooth headsets and larger displays that can be viewed from several feet away help, and the employee always set down and type what and when ever they need. Even opening up the work space thus allowing the employee to change the environment (IE move to another seat once in a while) will greatly improve creativity. All this can be achieved with out a huge investment by the employer and save some money in health bennies and attrition of the work force.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Petréa Mitchell, Nov 7th, 2007 @ 9:16am


    When I work at the office, I often get up and walk to someone else's cubicle when I have a question.

    When I telecommute, I stay where I'm sitting and send them an e-mail.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. Employee needs outside job.

    Breaks and lunch should solve the need to move around. Some people can handle a desk job and others can't. Some people need outside jobs, like my brother-in-law. He couldn't last one day at a desk job.

    Hey all, thanks for the comments on my website. I always get "hate it" or "love it" comments, nothing in between.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    nathor, Nov 7th, 2007 @ 1:36pm

    Max Powers: i dont think your mothers "i love it" comment counts.

    Your site really sucks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    ConceptJunkie (profile), Nov 7th, 2007 @ 4:35pm

    Re: Another Study

    Employees who use an apostrophe to make a plural would concern me a lot more.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    ConceptJunkie (profile), Nov 7th, 2007 @ 4:36pm

    Re: Take a look at Universities

    No kidding. 1993 called. They want their page design back.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Matthew, Nov 8th, 2007 @ 7:59am

    Re: Employee needs outside job.

    I didn't want to look, but after your comment here I had to. There is WAY too much junk of there and it loads slowly (I have a 20mb trunk for upload/download so it ain't my end) plus it looks like it was slapped together by elementary schoolers.

    It's time for some research into CSS.

    Back to on point: I am blessed to work in a place where the employee is highly valued and given new levels of personal freedom and power to get what needs to be done, done. Our CEO is absolutely against all forms of telecomute, but in his case it is for the "enrichment of our social culture rather than worry about productivity."

    I'd still like to work from home once or twice a week, especially with gas prices going higher and higher, but certainly enjoy being in the office more han I have before.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Rod Woolley, Nov 8th, 2007 @ 6:32pm

    Re: Re: Employee needs outside job.

    A lot depends on the nature of the job. I am a senior engineer working in R&D. For 7 or 8 years I spent several days at a desk working out of my own small home-office for much of the time. Every week or two I had to travel away for a day or two. I am sure I was very productive especially as my time was not consumed by interminable pointless meetings. Now I work in a large company and am equally productive. Much of my work is done at a desk on a computer, but I also have to move around a lot to talk to people face-to-face (There is no substitute for "face time"), eg to attend the occasional meeting, to go to the test labs. or to the production areas. There is no denying that getting up frequently from the desk & moving around is better for the individual, but I don't think it necessarily leads to greater productivity. With regard to the comment "So perhaps we should go beyond the trend of office-spaces with no permanent offices -- and move on to just making the office a big wandering area where people can walk while they work. It could serve to fight the obesity epidemic at the same time", that is just stupid and illogical! Even though it is true that sitting at a desk all day without breaks and exercise may not be the best, that does not mean you need to jump to the other extreme and toss the desks out of the window!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Telework, Jan 15th, 2009 @ 12:31am

    It's not the number of hours that you spend at the desk matters, It's about the productive hours. So, the dead lines should be task oriented rather than time oriented.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Utsav Chauhan, Jan 19th, 2009 @ 5:45am

    Productivity hampered

    My job profile requires me to be online all the time and believe it or not, I was more than happy to take up this job which didnt require anything but sit on the laptop and answer calls and warm up your seat the entire day. But after a year here, I've started to feel the pain of 'going out' or not doing transactions only online and over the phone or going pitching, etc. (Yes, it is still possible in India). I've started to take 'e-breaks' by visiting my profile on Facebook or playing a quick game of poker or something refreshing. I think moving away from your desk while lunch/coffee helps too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    just knacked, Oct 5th, 2009 @ 8:44am

    taking breaks, tired, knackered

    okay i've been working for 12 years now at a desk. initially in a callcentre environment and now just computer work. But both jobs involved sitting a a desk for 7 hours a day, taking breaks and lunch breaks was good. But when you commute by car to and from work. after 12 years its getting to me. i'm just tired. my body has a problem sitting and staying awake. its too much hard work. I have to lie down which is the only rest i get. in the past my body used to enjoy sitting down at a desk. but now i don't want to look at a screen. i want to do something more active eg. stacking shelves. so then i think to myself whats the use of getting a degree and getting a good office job which you can't tired from after 10 years. now having problems with food digestion and bowel movement etc. skin problems etc. If you got some ideas let me know i'll visit again!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Gaye, Jan 24th, 2010 @ 2:53pm

    Adjustable Workstations

    I do not think that it is realistic to think that all workers can walk around the office while working. However, I do not understand why adjustable workstations have not become more popular. I wish I had a adjustable workstation that would allow me to stand for a portion of my work day.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 9th, 2013 @ 2:13am

    For me, its about how you enjoy your tasks and how you love your job. A motivated person can accomplish his task, therefore productivity increases. Having a good environment specifically with clean office desks could change your mood.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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