The sitting issue

The sitting issue

We sit too much and it’s bad for our health. These two facts are becoming increasingly hard to ignore. So how do you get the work done and encourage staff to be active? Hybrid working and Zoom aerobics might be part of the answer.

There was a time not long ago when people laughed at the thought of a standing desk. At lunchtime, runners were in the minority; if we only stood up every few hours to make a cup of tea, that was perfectly fine. But in all the ongoing updates to various health data, the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle have held firm. Those standing desks that once seemed so funny now look like a pretty good idea.

A report by Stanford University found that people who work from home all the time sit for around 9,2 hours a day, compared to 7,3 hours for those who cannot work from home. Without the base level of movement from even a short commute to the office, many people have little or no reason to move much further than their sofa. But then, travelling into an office every day isn’t ideal either.

The move towards hybrid working and offices within walking or cycling distance from home is at least part of the answer. But what else can you and your team do without switching routines and reducing hours spent seated?

Share the hard facts

Giving people the information and the opportunity to change their activity levels is arguably the first and most crucial step. Sitting for too long is thought to slow the metabolism, affecting the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and blood pressure, and break down body fat. Long periods of inactivity have also been proven to have adverse effects on mental health. Furnishing staff with these basic facts is an essential first step in combating our collective stillness.

Considering activity levels purely through the cold eyes of productivity and professional output carries the same message. Active people are more creative and inventive than sedentary ones, according to researchers at Austria’s University of Graz.

Embrace the behavioural changes

Standing desks and active sitting chairs encourage more movement and improved posture. But there are also behavioural changes to be made. Hybrid working means people still get the action of a commute two or three times a week, but it is balanced with more time at home for exercise and reduced travelling stress. The Stanford University paper suggests that work meetings longer than 30 minutes could incorporate standing, walking, or movement breaks.

It also suggests that some remote meetings should be carried out without video so that people can take part while walking or standing outside (on an exercise bike, or a treadmill, or doing squats in the home gym). The report adds that staff should be encouraged to use the stairs rather than lifts, while exercise equipment such as dumbbells or yoga mats should be readily accessible for people to use in case the urge takes them.

Many companies already enable lunchtime or early morning group fitness sessions. Yoga in an empty meeting room or a Zoom aerobics session not only allow staff to move but also foster an attitude that carving out time for exercise within the working day is ok – and more than that, encouraged. There are other benefits too. When employees know that their bosses care about their well-being, trust and loyalty also increase.

From tech to triathlons

Technology also has a role to play here. Wearable fitness devices, such as watches, can monitor sedentary behaviour and alert people (with an alarm or a vibration) to stand up and move around if they have been inactive for too long. “Gamifying” exercise can even make it fun. Competitions between colleagues, point scoring and leaderboards, or setting collective fitness goals, can encourage team bonding. An entirely remote team could, for example, meet up for social sporting events such as mud runs or triathlon relays, having spent weeks training together and supporting each other online.

There are plenty of ways to incorporate movement into the working day, but the most important responsibility for employers may lie in providing the time for it. Allowing and encouraging staff to take a few moments each day to be away from their computer screens is one of the simplest – and most effective – tools at any manager’s disposal.

“Providing the opportunity for hybrid work is a vital part of this equation because the very nature of hybrid provides extra time, flexibility, and freedom to workers, so they can indeed incorporate changes to their routine that make them more active. When employees are trusted to shape their work patterns, positive change is allowed to happen,” says Joanne Bushell, MD of IWG South Africa, a workspace company that provides a global network of places to work for all kinds of businesses, from home-based workers to corporations.

This mentality shift, combined with modern, thoughtfully-furnished offices (with those readily accessible yoga mats), makes up a large part of the mission. And this should be a mission, because an active workforce is good for business and makes a positive difference in people’s lives.

Published by

Jaco de Klerk

JACO DE KLERK is editor of SHEQ MANAGEMENT and assistant editor of its sister publication FOCUS on Transport and Logistics. It’s nearly a decade later, and he is still as passionate about all things SHEQ-related since his first column, Sound Off, which he wrote for this magazine as well.
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