RAAAF - The end of sitting. Photo by Jan Kempenaers.

The End of Sitting: a tool to prevent the negative effects of sitting

Monday, 25 April, 2016

What do you do when you want to think things over? In what position or environment are you when you get the best idea ever - in the shower, pacing up and down? Riding on your bike watching people go by, or enjoying the beautiful nature around you? Do you get in motion to organize your thoughts, or can you stay still sitting on a chair? And how does that affect your work habits? How do you stay active and productive?

In former times, it was not unusual to do your work in a standing position. For instance, clerks did their bookkeeping standing up, in a very active posture. Nowadays people mostly work in a passive, sitting position. Conventional offices are equipped with chairs and desks. People look at the screen of their laptop several hours per day; I know that I do.

I’ve never explicitly measured it, but I estimate that I spend at least 75% of my working hours on my chair, behind my desk, staring at my screen. By “staring at my screen” I of course, mean working very hard (my boss also reads this blog).

Landscape of affordances

Inspired by an article in the newspaper mentioning the negative health effects of sitting behavior, RAAAF (Rietveld Architecture Art Affordances) together with Barbara Visser took the initiative to design a non-sitting working space. This environment, which was called ‘The End of Sitting’, is a sculpture whose surfaces afford working in several non-sitting postures such as lying, standing and leaning.

The environment consists of possibilities for action; the group therefore expected people to move through the office, selecting a place in the environment to fit their body size, height, etc. 

In one study (by Withagen and Caljouw), they examined the potential benefits of The End of Sitting and whether people used The End of Sitting as the designers intended. The researchers addressed four specific questions: Which posture(s) do people work in? Do people work in similar, or different, postures? Do they change locations during the working session? Do people choose a work surface that best fits their body dimensions? In addition, they examined the overall experience of working in a non-sitting posture.

The end of sitting. Photo by Jan Kempenaers

Sit on a chair or standing up

Participants were to work in two different offices: The End of Sitting and a conventional office consisting of chairs and desks. The work session consisted of preparing a 5-minute oral presentation (with slides) on a chapter of a philosophy book. The researchers recorded the working sessions to analyze using The Observer XT. In the conventional office, the available chairs and desks were unsurprisingly used as objects to sit on and work at.

All but one of the 18 participants spent 100% of the time sitting on a chair. In The End of Sitting environment, participants indeed used different non-sitting postures during the working time. While most worked in a standing position, only 17% of participants worked in just one posture.

Participants reported that they found it more pleasurable to work in The End of Sitting and that this working environment better supported their well-being. Overall, they felt more energetic. The End of Sitting had no negative effects on reported concentration levels and correlated with satisfaction with the prepared presentation.

Who would benefit?

Companies and organizations would benefit from these findings, particularly those that develop a sustainable worker policy. The designers emphasize that of all sustainable means of production, the employee is often forgotten. If sitting is indeed as harmful as research indicates, the working conditions for the employee should also be considered, in order to better sustain employee health.

I admit, I wrote this blog while I was sitting on a chair, behind my desk. But by reading this study, and watching a short movie about sitting versus standing, I most certainly am going to try look for non-sitting postures in which to do my work.

The Observer XT

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To read more about this study, find the original results here:
Withagen, R. & Caljouw, S.R. (2015). ‘The End of Sitting’: An empirical study on working in an office of the future. Sports Medicine, DOI 10.1007/s40279-015-0488-y

Photos by Jan Kempenaers