Moving at Work

November 18, 2019 • aaitken

How many hours per day do you sit at work? Many Americans could benefit from a more dynamic workplace that lets you move more and sit less.

For the past few days, I was in Washington DC for a meeting with architecture students, and we walked. We walked a lot. We would walk to our meetings, walk to a lunch or dinner destination, and walk to run errands or meet up with one another in our down time.  Of course, I have my phone with me wherever I go, and the phone has an app which tracks my steps. Over these three days, I walked 13.5 miles, which is an average of 4.5 miles per day. For those of you who measure your days in steps, that is an average of 9,500 steps, which is pretty good. And, I was able to perform all of this exercise even though I was attending sedentary day-long meetings. Based upon my size and age, this means that I was generally burning an additional 657 calories each day. I loved it. I felt more alive when I arrived at meetings and this exercise helped me focus during important moments.

As I was returning to Columbus, I began to muse about the differences among cities like DC, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco where residents can often live, work, and recreate without the use of a car, and the typical car-centric city. Columbus is challenging, if not impossible, to navigate without a car. And, we get lazy and typically choose to drive. So, it is even more important for designers to encourage the occupants of buildings in Columbus and cities like ours to move. Since many of our residents are walking out of their kitchen, stepping directly into a car which transports them to their workplace with little opportunity to include exercise as part of the day, we must consider this sedentary lifestyle when we design the places where people learn or work.

The Importance of Moving at Work

Studies show that sedentary time in adults can drive up the incidence of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and even death. In a 2012 research program, eighteen individual studies of nearly 800,000 participants indicated an increase in diabetes by 112% in the most sedentary subjects. The research also indicated a 147% increase in cardiovascular events and a 90% increase in the risk of cardiovascular mortality. These numbers are astonishing. It proves what we have sensed for some time. The desk job is killing us, literally.

Given this enlightening data, we at WSA Studio understand that we just can’t keep contributing to the demise of our health through replicating the designs of the past. We are charting a course of discovery and research to find design concepts which drive healthy outcomes for those who occupy the spaces we design.

How Workplace Design Encourages Movement

So, what is it that we should do through our designs that will improve the health of the occupants? The United States Department of Health and Human Services has issued a report which indicates that adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Many of our workplace designs have focused on accommodating a stationary posture for workers. Designers have focused on the individual workstation or individual office, and through our many designs, we strive to improve ergonomics, accessibility, privacy, technological access, and comfort. Additionally, employers have focused on the productivity of individual employees, so the combination of employer expectation combined with the design emphasis has driven a complacent environment, where one’s success has been evaluated based upon their ability to sit and do the work that was required.

Over the past five to ten years, as we have designed spaces to ignite innovation, WSA Studio has found that success is often determined through how we come together collectively. The design of workplace environments has shifted towards this emphasis on the collective. Collaborative environments which support shared experience among employees drive the need for quick response and agile workplace environments, and these shared spaces are an alternative destination within the workplace. Often, these designs include standing height tables for active meetings, adjustable monitors, white boards for presentation, mobile technology carts, and lounge furniture. This equipment provides a great break from the typical heads-down posture of the individual office and encourage movement and can even improve productivity according to a major study of workers in the United Kingdom.

As employees move between spaces, we have infused designs with communicating stairs which encourage their use over elevators and can even serve as the destination for collaborative meetings.

How WSA Studio Incorporates Movement in Design

The successful workplace needs to attract emerging professionals, and this generation of workers is not satisfied with individual or collective performance spaces only. Millennials demand “third space” amenities, those spaces where we participate in non-work-related activities. Beginning twenty five years ago, WSA Studio began to program and design fitness spaces, including yoga rooms, aerobic exercise space, and resistance-based exercise machines. For one client, we even included a sprung wood dance floor with ballet bars and mirrored wall surfaces. However, not every client can afford a dedicated gym. So, recently we began to imagine how the design of shared collaborative space could double as a fitness setting.

We design dedicated conference space as convertible to low-impact aerobics space or meditation settings, and now that large group gathering areas may need to support athletic activities. Ceiling heights, air flow, and specialized lighting controls need to consider this use. To increase the culture of movement throughout the greater campus, many of our designs incorporate storage space for bicycle commuters, walking and jogging paths, and even calisthenic stations.

As we continue to advance workplace and academic design, the WSA Studio design team will explore additional opportunities for occupants to move, and we know that often the best solutions are linked to blending individual space with the collective. We encourage employers to invest in the potential to increase productivity and improve job satisfaction and the overall health of employees through design. We design environments that work.

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