How to work standing up

Sitting is the new smoking, according to recent research. So can chair-free offices really lead to happier, healthier and more efficient staff? Jane Taylor investigates

This autumn Simon Marshall, 33, landed a great new job: lovely leafy location, excellent salary, go-ahead US company. Simon was joining a small, newly-formed UK sales team for software management firm VM Turbo.

Just before Simon started, he got a call from his new boss, Sanjoy Bhose, to let him know that, by the way, the entire team would be working standing up. All day, every day. "It seemed a little bit eccentric," Simon says with a laugh.

Sam Hesketh, 21, also joined Bhose's team in the summer, having already worked a few months at VM Turbo's modest offices in Fleet, Hampshire. Overnight, his job went from sitting down to standing up. "I thought it was ridiculous," he says.

But there they are: Sam, Simon, Sanjoy and three more colleagues, sharp-suited, polished shoes, audio head-sets, laptops and straight backs, all gathered around their bank of standing desks. They come in at 7.30am and finish around 5.30pm. At lunch and break times they can wander off and sit or even slouch around in the bean-bag room down the corridor. Actually, there are a couple of chairs and desks in the main office, available but rarely used.

Incredulous at first, all have become converts to standing up at work, as Hesketh testifies: "The first day, my legs were genuinely ruined. Now I can stand up all day. I was quite worried about my posture beforehand, but when I'm standing it's completely different. It has improved how I am on the phone. I'm more than happy."

The standing desks are part of Bhose's personal workplace revolution. An experienced telesales manager, he says: "I would always stand up and walk around when I was on the phone; it's much more dynamic and makes you sound more fresh. I didn't want the team to be trapped by the mentality of a call centre, so my vision was that we should be more like a trading floor on the stock exchange."

The commercial justification for standing is sound. The best telesales people, it seems, stand up to sell, for the same reasons that Radio 1 DJs these days all stand up to present their programmes. It just makes you sound more alive. But Bhose, at 44 a self-confessed non-exercising workaholic, was also influenced by recent media reports of the health benefits of standing more and sitting less.

It's two years since the UK's chief medical officers officially warned us all that too much sitting is seriously bad for our health. And nowhere do more of us spend more time sitting than at work, hunched in front of our computers for endless motionless hours.

Dr John Buckley, exercise physiologist at Chester University, says: "Most people are awake for 16 hours a day and will spend probably 15 of those hours on their backsides. In fact you're spending almost 23 out of 24 hours a day in a sitting or lying position."

Buckley is leading a research study into the health effects of standing-based office work. He recently revealed some of their findings on the BBC2 show Trust Me I'm A Doctor, after monitoring 10 staff at a local estate agency who were asked to stand up every afternoon for a week.

Two clear health benefits emerge: you burn more calories standing, and your body processes its glucose more efficiently. The first is crucial to tackling excess weight and its knock-on risks of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease; the second is the key to avoiding diabetes – a complex and nasty long-term condition that is also very costly to the NHS.

Buckley is keen to emphasise that an hour's burst of gym work or running at the end of the day is no protection: "You can gain benefits from exercise but some of that can be cancelled out by the sitting."

The perils of prolonged sitting had started to really worry Paul Matthews after 25 years of screen-based office roles. So much so that in 2011 he abandoned his consultancy work with blue-chip companies to set up his own business, Office Fitness Ltd. Matthews supplied the standing desks for Bhose.

He has just dispatched another desk to Rachel Greenham. Employed by an IT firm, she works from home in Devon, where, a year ago, she rigged up her first standing desk from a wardrobe shelf perched on a couple of boxes. Greenham says that in 10 years of desk work she'd expanded five dress sizes. "That and other health issues mean I now feel I've used up my lifetime quota of sitting-down time," she says.

Like Bhose and his team, Greenham found standing hard at first, especially on the feet. But the longer she continued, the better she felt. "People who think they can't do it often assume it means hours of standing still, whereas what happens is you step away, wander, pace, fidget productively."

It's precisely the productive fidgeting that makes standing so much better for us. Buckley has calculated how the tiny incremental calorie-burn from standing adds up over the course of a year. At three hours a day over five days a week, you get to burn an extra 30,000 calories. "It's the same as running 10 marathons," he says.

In the privacy of one's home (with shoes on or off as you fancy), or on the "trading floor" of VM Turbo's small office, the standing and moving around habit works fine. But, Matthews says, "in an open-plan office, it's incredibly difficult to work standing up in a sea of people sitting around you. I was doing it just because I was getting lower back ache. It was viewed with suspicion."

Matthews looks forward to the day when, as in several Scandinavian countries, work-stations come equipped with adjustable height desks and offices incorporate a range of design innovations that encourage more movement and interaction. His own ambition is even broader: to build not just health but fitness into the heart of the workplace, with mini-steppers and walking treadmills under the desk, Swiss-ball chairs, dumbbells ready at our sides for a five-minute upper-body workout.

Sitting, you increasingly hear it said, is "the new smoking". As that message hits home, Britain's millions of sedentary office workers are on the cusp of a revolution. And Sanjoy Bhose, slightly smug and 10 kilos more svelte than when he installed his bank of standing desks, is a clear beacon of change.

HOW TO GET MOVING

* All movement at work is better than no movement. Currently gaining momentum are the following ideas for active offices:

* Remove under-desk waste bins, forcing people to walk to a central rubbish/recycle bin

* Reduce availability of water-coolers or kitchenettes, forcing people to walk farther

* Encourage use of stairs instead of lifts

* Encourage people to stand up to take phone calls

* Remove chairs from meeting rooms. Or remove meeting rooms, using "bird-table" worktops to serve as meeting points instead

* Hold walking meetings outside the building

Jane Taylor is a specialist fitness trainer and writer. ifgingercandoit.com

Sport
footballHe started just four months ago
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Travel
Streets ahead: Venice
travelWhat's trending on your wishlist?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

    Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

    Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

    Day In a Page

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect