Researchers at Texas A&M develop a bossy and nosy standing desk

I hope someone at Apple looks at this photo of their dumb monitor on top of blocks of wood at this standing desk, I have the same problem with mine (it’s on top of books). Perhaps this is one reason they got out of the monitor business. The image is from Texas A&M’s Vital Record newsletter, where they have been doing serious research into standing desks. They previously found that having a stand-capable workstation significantly increased productivity:

The researchers examined the productivity differences between two groups of call center employees over the course of six months and found that those with stand-capable workstations—those in which the worker could raise or lower the desk to stand or sit as they wished throughout the day—were about 46 percent more productive than those with traditional, seated desk configurations.

They also found that people who had stand-capable desks sat for 1.6 hours less per day than those who were seated all the time. This confirms earlier research we covered way back at the beginning of the standing desk craze, which noted that people who have “stand-capable workstations” that move between sitting and standing tend to sit more than they stand.

In their latest work, researchers are trying to encourage users to change it up a little more often, as they design software to have the desk join the Internet of Things.

One challenge with stand-capable desks is that people forget to change positions when they become involved in a task. Therefore, Mark Benden, PhD, CPE, associate professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, director of the Texas A&M Ergonomics Center and member of the Center for Remote Health Technologies and Systems, and one of his doctoral students have tested the use of a computer prompt to remind people to stand at various times throughout the day.

“We are testing to see if we can break up those long periods of sedentary time during the day,” Benden said. “We think technology might be good at encouraging behavior we want.”

They have connected the powered desk to a computer program, so a notification pops up when it is time to move and a click of the mouse will raise or lower the desk. “Yes, lower—sometimes people become so used to standing that they forget to take sitting breaks, and that’s not healthy for long periods either.”

They are getting really nosy too: “The software can determine whether the people are actually at their desks as well as very nuanced metrics of their computer usage, from number of words typed per minute and mouse clicks to where their eyes go on the screen.” Hmmm.

“We know that being inactive for long periods of time is bad for you,” Benden said, “and this is an example of technology actually affecting the very furniture to prompt behavioral change and make good choices that over many years add up to good outcomes.”

Herman Miller's action office© Herman Miller

But will this actually work? After six years at a fixed standing desk not dissimilar from the one in the photo, I am pretty much convinced that Bob Propst of Herman Miller was right back in 1968 when he wrote:

Man's physical machine has evolved to do many things well but no single thing continuously...Proportioning some of our work to standup work stations would do more than anything else to overcome sedentary decline. The office can be a kinetic, active, alert vigorous environment.

His approach was to have people move from one piece of furniture to another depending on what they are doing. Now that almost everyone works on notebook computers with wireless connections, that is pretty easy to do. And I suspect that unless Dr. Benden’s app actually raises the desk instead of just reminding people, that many will just keep sitting.

Tags: Standing desk | Work

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