Next time you have a meeting at work, forget the chairs. New research has found that standing during meetings boosts the excitement around creative group processes and reduces people’s tendency to defend their turf.
“Organizations should design office spaces that facilitate non-sedentary work,” said Andrew Knight, Ph.D., of the Olin Business School at Washington University.
Removing chairs could be a low-cost way to redesign an office space while also tackling the health effects of sitting in one place for too long, he noted, citing mounting evidence that a sedentary lifestyle is poor for people’s health.
“Our study shows that even a small tweak to a physical space can alter how people work with one another,” he said.
Knight explained he became interested in exploring the group dynamics of standing meetings when his university was constructing a new building. He remembers brainstorming with colleague Markus Baer about possible furniture configurations.
“We were particularly interested in the role of a sedentary workspace because standing desks were a new option that was available to faculty members for outfitting their offices,” he explained. “We wondered how this type of arrangement would play out for people working together in a group to achieve a collective goal.”
So the two designed a study asking participants to work together in teams for 30 minutes to develop and record a university recruitment video. The teams worked in rooms that either had chairs arranged around a table or no chairs.
After making the videos, research assistants rated how the team worked together and the quality of the videos, while the participants rated how territorial their team members were in the group process, the researchers explained.
The study participants wore small sensors around their wrists to measure “physiological arousal” — the way their bodies react when they get excited. When a person’s arousal system becomes activated, sweat glands around the feet and hands release bursts of moisture. The sensors pass a small current of electricity through the skin to measure these moisture bursts, according to the researchers.
Knight and Baer found that the teams who stood had greater physiological arousal than those who sat during the meeting.
Those who stood also reported that their team members were less protective of their ideas. This reduced territoriality led to more information sharing and higher quality videos, according to the researchers.
“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,” Knight said.
Knight said he first saw these types of effects when he worked for a software company. The software engineering team held weekly “scrum” meetings that were always held standing.
“From an outsider’s perspective, these meetings always seemed more collective and interdependent than sitting meetings,” he said. “Usually people were crowded around a whiteboard working diligently to resolve a pressing problem. The meeting also seemed more efficient and purposeful.”
Knight encourages organizations to experiment with their offices by removing chairs and adding whiteboards. Both are low-cost options that encourage brainstorming and collaboration, he said.
“We’ve really just scratched the surface on linking group dynamics research with the physical space,” Knight said.
He said he and his colleagues hope to help organizations experiment with different room designs out in the real world.
“Working in the field, with real organizations, will help us to examine the longer-term effects of physical space manipulations,” he said.
The study was published in Social Psychological and Personalty Science.
Source: SAGE Publications