As much as you might love slumping back in your chair and taking an open-eyed nap during long meetings, a new study suggests that teamwork is done best when employees are standing up.
It's the latest in a long line of research that examines the troubling effects of sitting. Evidence has piled up that “sitting is the new smoking”—that a sedentary lifestyle is linked to an increased risk for depression, heart disease, and diabetes. This is the first research we've seen that applies the anti-sitting argument directly to the boardroom.
The paper, “Get Up, Stand Up: The Effects of a Non-Sedentary Workspace on Information Elaboration and Group Performance,” published recently in Social Psychological and Personality Science, analyzes teams of participants working for 30 minutes on developing and recording a university recruitment video. The teams either worked in rooms with chairs around a table, or with no chairs at all. While working, the participants wore sensors on their wrists that measured their physiological arousal based on the moisture produced by their sweat glands. Once the videos were finished, research assistants rated the teams’ collaboration and the quality of the videos, and the participants rated their team members’ attitudes—namely, how territorial they’d been.
Lo and behold, the people who worked standing up had higher levels of physiological arousal, indicating excitement about the work, and were less defensive about their ideas than those who lounged in chairs. This lack of territoriality led to a better exchange of ideas and more engaging videos. "Seeing that the physical space in which a group works can alter how people think about their work and how they relate with one another was very exciting," lead researcher Andrew Knight of the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis told Eurekalert. Knight himself had experienced the benefits of standing meetings while working for a software company, where groups would regularly crowd around whiteboards and work excitedly rather than lethargically. He found they always felt “more efficient and purposeful," which led him to want to back up this gut feeling with research.
Luckily, standing is free—so testing out these findings firsthand is as simple as getting employees off their butts.